For the Birds

It’s hard to believe that spring has sprung which means I’m back to property improvements and home planning. Not surprisingly, being my own construction manager has so far been a roller coaster ride. Some days I feel overwhelmed and convinced I’ll never pull this off. Other days I can almost see my vision of a little sustainable home becoming reality.

Things are moving slow and it’s certainly going to be a long road ahead. It’s ok though because moving slow means I’m learning a lot. Being able to spend time on my land has been an incredible gift. I’ve been able to walk every inch and get to know the neighbors, both human and wild. The more time I spend here the more my plans shift and evolve.

My primary goal is to be a good steward of my land and so I spent much of fall and early spring single-handedly doing a ton of property cleanup. I tore out about 2,000′ of barbed wire and built some pretty impressive piles of old pipes, fencing, and random farm junk. Finally this week I got everything hauled off the property and it felt so rewarding!

Even better though? I am so incredibly excited that two days ago I completed my first conservation project: the installation of seven beautiful bird nesting boxes on my fence posts! True to form the wildlife on my property is going to have 5-star digs long before I will.

Installing Nice Nests.

Last year I heard about Valley local Patrick Hannigan, who is the owner of Nice Nests. He builds gorgeous, species-specific bird nesting boxes from reclaimed materials. He also provides habitat assessments and site consultations to help you identify what species of birds you may attract and where to place your nesting boxes.

The big open shrub steppe and agricultural space surrounding my land is a huge bird magnet and indeed I’ve been majorly bird nerding this spring. I’ve had visits from bluebirds, swallows, turkey vultures, harriers, and kestrels and the beautiful song of the meadowlark echoes across my property. I knew I had to get some bird nesting boxes on my land.

A sampling of some of the amazing birds I’ve seen on my property over the last week.

A few weeks ago I sent Patrick an email and within a week he came out for a property visit with his daughter. He gave me a wealth of information about birds as well as the native flora on my land. We talked about my building plans and he even offered some incredible site planning tips. It was really fun to talk with someone so knowledgeable and friendly with a clear love for nature.

He said my open space would attract nesting birds with no trouble so last weekend I paid him a visit at the Twisp farmers market and bought seven nesting boxes. I have to say, it was impossible to choose, they’re all so beautiful! I picked 4 boxes that will house swallows or bluebirds, 2 smaller ones for wrens, nuthatches, or chickadees, and one larger box to mount high on my pole barn that I hope will attract either a kestrel or a saw-whet owl.

On Tuesday Patrick stopped by to install the nest boxes and I was so excited to see my very first vision for my land come true!

Patrick installing nest boxes on my pole barn and fence posts. My ladderphobia is legendary so way better him than me up there!

Patrick told me he wouldn’t be surprised if I saw immediate activity at the nest boxes and sure enough, the very next morning as I sipped my coffee, I found myself in the middle of fascinating bird drama. The first bird to take notice of the boxes was a northern flicker, though the boxes were much too small for him. It was funny watching him trying to make it work.

Several sparrows and starlings were the next to take a look, mostly sitting on top of the boxes once they figured out they also couldn’t fit. About an hour later the beautiful tree swallows that have been flying over my land swooped through and two of them were very quick to notice the new additions. One of the swallows stopped, investigated the box, and went right in. Yes! I was so excited!

As I grabbed my camera to get some photos another swallow came swooping in and pretty soon the two of them were engaged in an acrobatic fight, seemingly over the nest box. I couldn’t believe that I had perfect timing to catch some photos of this amazing show. Caught in the middle was an unsuspecting sparrow who had been sitting on top of the nest box.

After 15-20 minutes one of the swallows flew away, leaving the victor to his box. Don’t feel too bad for the loser though, he discovered another nesting box along the fence line and quickly took it over. Both swallows hung out for a while on the boxes, going in and out, flying away, then returning. It didn’t even take 24 hours to get bird activity and now 48 hours later the swallows are returning to the boxes, so it may be likely they’ve chosen them as nests for this season.

I’m so excited to see who takes up residence in the rest of the boxes this year, especially the larger one. Despite all the challenges I’m likely to face building my little home, it feels really fulfilling to have done some good for the land and the wildlife. I have so much space that I’ll certainly be adding more nest boxes each season. Yay for the birds and a big thank you to Patrick at Nice Nests for helping me complete my very first landowner nature project!