Category Archives: Bird Houses

Here’s Looking Back

Owlet in the nest box – looking back at you

Last July our post Here’s Looking At You was about Barred Owls in Sandy Springs with two great photos taken by our friend Cindy Mayer.  She has a piece of wooded property with pines and thought it would make great habitat for the owls.  We offered to make an owl nestbox for her in return for more photos if it were used by the owls.

She and her husband paid a tree service to put the nest box way up in a pine.  And she was right about the location!  Today she sent us photos of a young owlet in the box.  It’s a great story, as told in her own words.

Owl box mounted on a tall pine

“After we moved into our house about 3 years ago, we spotted two adult barred owls in our backyard & neighbors indicated they’d unsuccessfully nested in a tree stump across the street the previous year.  That was enough to set me on a mission!  I researched owl nest boxes including where & when they should be placed with hopes of enticing the owls to raise a family in our yard.  We live in a forested neighborhood near the Chattahoochee river.

There’s a clean stream a couple of properties away & our property consists mostly of mature trees such as loblolly pines, tulip poplars, sweetgum trees & southern magnolias with a few maples, redbud, dogwood & oaks.”

“The nest box sits about 35 feet high in a tree in the central rear of our backyard, which abuts an elementary school.  There are more trees on the other side of the fence & a little-used gravel pathway for walkers.”

Owlet in the nest box

“I’ve been watching & listening for any evidence of an owlet for the past few weeks since I saw activity in the in the nest box.   This afternoon I saw what looked like an owl’s tail sticking out of the doorway of the nest box, so I ran downstairs to grab the camera & headed outside. And when I got there, I saw two big eyes & a ball of fluff sitting in the doorway, & talons, too — silently staring at me! How exciting!! ”

“I only saw one owlet, although there may be more inside the box. And he was much bigger than I expected!  So I guess the family was further along than I realized when I first saw the action in the nest a few weeks ago.  But I am thrilled there is at least one little one. And by the way, every “serious” birder I share the story with tells me that it is very unusual for owls to accept a nest box so soon after being installed.”

Thanks for the story and photos Cindy and for all the great things you do for wildlife. Such an inspiration–what we do in our own yards matters!

Remember Wildlife in Cold Weather

Northern Cardinal

Female Northern Cardinal in the snow

All of a sudden it’s about to be cold here in Atlanta.  Later this week the nighttime temperatures will be in the twenties.  So while you’re all warm and toasty in front of the fire, remember there are little guys outside trying to survive the cold.

You  might think it’s no big deal; wildlife has been living outside in the cold for millions of years.  But consider the fact that urban wildlife faces a little tougher challenge with a reduced supply of food, water and shelter and the added disturbances of humans.

January 23, 2016

Pine Warbler on Suet Feeder

Food – Keep bird feeders stocked and if snow or sleet covers the ground, toss a little extra on the ground. And remember to keep your bird feeders clean and free of mold.  Suet feeders are especially popular in cold weather.

Song Sparrow - Melospiza melodia Peachtree Park, Atlanta, GA - January, 2016

Song Sparrow eating native grass seed

Also, a great source of free food is seed heads from summer and fall perennials–leave some standing and enjoy watching the appreciative birds.  (see our blog out Brown is Beautiful for more)

River Oats

River Oats left for seed

Other wildlife will benefit from dried nuts, or fruit such as cranberries.  Roasted peanuts are good, but do not toss out uncooked peanuts. Peanuts are legumes not nuts, and raw peanuts consumed in quantity can be fatal to squirrels or chipmunks. [2]

Water – Make sure a couple of birds baths are always available and not frozen  (see our blog Surviving Cold Weather).  Both birds and other critters will thank you.

Screech-Owl Box

Screech-Owl Box can be shelter

Shelter –  “‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm’.” – Bob Dylan.  OK, sorry – drifted off for a minute.

There are many forms of shelter that help wildlife.  Birdhouses can provide protection from the wind and biting cold. One year we had a Downy Woodpecker roost each night in a bluebird house in the front yard.

Leaf piles, logs, rocks and ground cover help all manner of small critters and insects.  Native bees will nest in the stems of perennial plants, which is another reason to leave them in place until the spring.  Even the shrubbery next to your house can provide critical shelter on very cold nights.

Don’t disturb – especially after dark.  This paragraph from What The Robin Knows by Jon Young tells why:

What The Robin Knows“…conservation of energy is a major priority for all animals, but especially for birds, almost all of whom run on a very lean energy budget. (A chickadee startled from its roost on a very cold night in the dead of winter loses the vital heat trapped in its feathers.  This bird may well die before dawn.)”

Try to avoid walking next to shrubbery where you think someone might be sheltered after dark.

Now, go enjoy your hot mulled cider.

References and Additional Information

[1]  Humane Society of the United States: Fall into Winter: Help Backyard Wildlife Prepare for Cold Weather
[2]  Northwest Seed and Pet: Danger of Feeding Raw Peanuts to Squirrels
[3]  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Bird Feeding
[4]  What the Robin Knows – Jon Young

Monthly Journal – June, 2016

June was hot and dry.  Everybody’s looking for shade and water.  As a follow up to our last post, Bruce Hallett sent us three great photos of one of the juvenile Cooper’s Hawks enjoying his birdbath, which are below.  There is still nesting going on and the birdhouse on the Nature Trail closest to the garden area has a brood of Carolina Wren chicks.  They are keeping their parents busy and making so much noise you can hear them 25 feet away.  Remember there are those who are just beginning to nest, such as American Goldfinches ( see our blog from July last year Late Starters).

Monthly Journal – April, 2016

There’s been much nesting activity in April, as there should be.  Three of the four houses on the Peachtree Park Nature Trail have occupants and there is  a Red-bellied Woodpecker pair nesting in a snag on the trail: (see the recent post Nesters on the Nature Trail).   The bluebird house in the Darlington Road triangle is occupied, and Bluebirds are competing with Brown-headed Nuthatches for a box three houses down.  Birds are nesting in shrubbery in multiple locations in our yard and Carolina Wrens in the oven vent.  This is occurring all over the neighborhood, and most likely in your yard.

Also, Goldfinches descended in mass in the trees inback of us for several days and emptied the thistle feeders every day for a few days.  The morning chorus at sunrise continues to be quite loud; some singers go on almost all day, like the Brown Thrasher below.  It’s a great time of year.

Brown Thrasher singing in a dogwood tree

Nesters on the Nature Trail

Trail Entrance

Peachtree Park Nature Trail – Darlington Commons Entrance

The Peachtree Park Nature Trail is a gem tucked in along the southeast boundary of the neighborhood.   When you walk this path, have you considered how much wildlife this little spot of land supports?

As a part of Ryan Tuemler’s Eagle Scout merit badge, he built four bluebird-size houses and installed them along the trail.  Here’s the cool part: three of Ryan’s four houses have birds nesting in them right now!  The one closest to the community garden appears to still be waiting on occupants.  Thanks Ryan!  Hope things are well at West Point and wish you were here to see what you’ve done.

Birdhouse #2 has Eastern Bluebirds.  This video shows they are hard at work feeding their chicks.

Take a stroll down the Nature Trail and tell us which bird you think is in house #1 and house #3.  Please read our notes on etiquette and take care not to disturb the hard-working parents.

While we were checking out the birdhouses yesterday, we noticed a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers who have built their own nest in the top of a snag near house #3.  So awesome to see in our neighborhood!

Thanks to all the volunteers who helped establish and are maintaining this trail!

Notes on Etiquette

Juts a few things to remember when watching nesters:

  • Keep a safe distance from the birdhouse: 20 – 30 feet is good – you can see a lot from this respectful distance.
  • Be patient. Bird parents are especially skittish when they’ve got babies. But if you’re quiet and still, they will think you’re safe and continue feeding.
  • Don’t go up to the birdhouse and certainly don’t touch it.
  • Don’t check the house early in the morning.  Also, avoid the nest at dusk and at night.
  • If you think you’ve disturbed the birds, then back up a little and give them some more room.

Nesting season is off to a great start!  Let us know who you have nesting in your yard.

Nuthatches Need Your Help

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatch populations are declining in many areas.  In fact, the brown-headed nuthatch is considered by some experts to be the least common nuthatch in North America.  Brown-headed nuthatches prefer mature pine forests, and loss of this habitat has played a major role in their decline. [1]

They are small industrious birds and are fun to watch.  It’s easy to tell when they are around because their call sounds like a small squeaky toy.

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatches nesting in a snag

The good news is that, so far, they seem to be doing well in Peachtree Park.  We’ve noticed them nesting here in birdhouses and snags for the last several years.

But that’s not to say that they don’t still need your help.  It’s nesting season, and you can do a lot for this little bird by putting up a birdhouse.  Atlanta Audubon’s Nest Boxes for Nuthatches page has information on how you can buy or build your own nest box along with other information about the Brown-headed nuthatch.

Below is a short video of a pair nesting in a birdhouse mounted on a snag just down the street from us (thanks for leaving the snag!)  The video was recorded yesterday and today.  We think they are still building the nest because you can see nesting material in one Nuthatch’s mouth at the beginning of the clip.

These photos were taken in Peachtree Park and there are two additional Brown-headed Nuthatch videos on our Bird Videos page.

[1]  Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Birdhouses in High Demand

It is spring after all.  It’s time.  Stake out your territory, find a mate and start a family.  Here are three houses that have boarders and another with a serious prospect.

Our friends Greg and Stephanie three houses down have a Bluebird house on a pine snag in their front yard, but Brown-headed Nuthatches beat them to the punch.  We’ve seen Nuthatches nest in a box and once their chicks fledge, the Bluebirds will come along behind them with their own family.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens here this year.

And some Nuthatches are checking out a house in our front yard, but so far no takers.

Brown-headed Nuthatch - Sitta pusilla Peachtree Park, Atlanta, GA - March, 2016

Brown-headed Nuthatch inspecting our birdhouse

In the back yard Carolina Chickadees have found their spot and one of the building projects close by is helping with insulation for nesting material.

And some really good news: the bluebirds who have used the house in the Darlington Road triangle are back!  They’ve been coming back to this spot almost every year since 2007.  Watch our video from 2014 on Bluebirds in this house.

Eastern Bluebird - Sialia sialis Peachtree Park, Atlanta, GA - March, 2016

Eastern Bluebird on March 25, 2016

If you’d like to build a house of your own, check out our page on birdhouse dimensions.