Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Avian Nesting Box Installation Part 1: Where It's Wet

Today's post is at the request of a friend - you can check her website out here.

Birds and people share at least one very large challenge in life: finding safe and cozy housing. The similarities end there. Us bipeds must simply navigate the real estate/building/mortgage payment system (we'll not discuss the current mortgage debacle here). Birds, however, must find housing (nesting spots) in the midst of competing with each other and other species for food, water and space. Space - that's the rub. Us humans, via our own struggle to survive and thrive, have converted and/or degraded a large proportion of natural space that once held safe and cozy nesting spots for birds. But we can do much to help. One way is to actually build and install nesting structures. This post shows part of one such effort carried out by ACRES Land Trust employees and volunteers and a Boy Scout/Eagle Scout project.

This post pertains to the installation of a wood duck box in a pond scenario but some of the materials and techniques can be applied to other species/installations.

Wood ducks start arriving back in NE Indiana toward the end of February looking for nesting sites. Now is a good time to start planning out your installation process so you are ready to install once the ice thickens, but before the ducks arrive. Want more information? Click here.

For wood ducks, here are some placement tips:

So here's what we did once we had all our tools, the duck boxes, the posts and the baffles hauled out onto the (appropriately thick) ice. Check with your local ice fisher-persons for ice safety tips and never venture onto a frozen water surface unless you are prepared.

First, locate your installation spots (per placement tips above) and then chop a hole through the ice. Our holes were about 6 inches in diameter.

Drop your metal post into the hole and let it rest on the bottom of the pond. We used sturdy steel highway sign posts that were donated by the local highway department.

Prepare you duck box for mounting onto the post. We had to make sure the side of the box would swing out to allow easy mounting to the post and to allow for cleaning of the box over time.

Once you've found a volunteer who is an engineer (and can also fabricate his own designs!), get him to make a post driver, paint it a pretty blue, carry it out onto a frozen pond, lug it up a ladder, and... that post firmly into the bottom of the pond:

Depending of the water depth, you might need more than one section of post. If so, you'll need to drive the first section down, then bolt another section on as such:

Once you've got your post firmly set into the bottom of the pond and also have enough (4 feet) above the water level, you can slip a 3-4 foot length of baffle (stove pipe in this case) over the top. The baffle serves to keep predators from climbing up the post. Don't let the baffle drop into the hole. You'll attach it to the post in the final step.

Size-up you box height:

Lug it up into place:

Bolt it on:

Earlier, when we bolted our sections of post together, we noticed that our bolts were extra long and, therefore...

...ended up being perfect for attaching our baffles:

You can also just put a nut and bolt anywhere along the post to position your baffle just under the bottom of the duck box. Then you'll just need to drill a hole near the top of the stove pipe and guide it onto the bolt from the prior step.

Add a flatwasher, lockwasher and nut, then tighten.

You now have safe and cozy (we put saw dust in the box) housing ready for move-in! You can see here that the box is far enough from the edge of the pond that predators cannot climb a tree and drop onto it from above. You can also see how the stove pipe baffle would be quite a challenge for a predator to surmount from below.

Proud and happy install crew:

Another box we installed later that day on another nature preserve:

Lessons from this install? Do your research, get good help, don't skimp on materials, ask for donations (there's a lot of generosity out there) and use due caution on the ice. The deeper lesson: when you find your passion, run with it - you will find free fun, deep friendships, and meaningful projects. But, we should know that by now:

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

Mahatma Gandhi

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