Room & Board For The Birds

Last summer I observed an amazing natural drama being played out in the field across the road from my house. A great many swallows (easily hundreds—maybe even thousands) showed up for two days to feast on a pestilential quantity of small white moths.

The moths were flitting all over the field and the swallows were swooping and swallowing for hours. There were so many birds over the field, flying and swooping in graceful arcs from all directions, that I was amazed none of them collided with each other. Maybe some did.

The two electric wires that span from pole-top to pole-top down the road were lined with so many perching swallows. All the while, birds were leaving to feed and others were returning from feeding forays to perch and rest. It was as if a whole vast community of swallows had gathered to harvest the field together. And, surely, they were having a good time of it.

Bird activity like that is indicative of a healthy and properly functioning ecosystem. It is also a testimony to how wild birds can be a help to mankind in the work of stewardship. That is, of caring for the land in a responsible, sustainable manner.

Where did all those swallows come from? How did they all know an abundance of food was presenting itself in that field at that time? There are so many mysteries like that in the natural world. But this isn’t really a mystery because I know what happened. All those birds were alerted and invited to the feast by the two swallow families that live in nesting boxes by my garden.

For at least the past ten years I have had four bluebird nesting boxes around my garden. Every spring, we get one or two bluebird couples and the other boxes are settled by swallows. Both birds are a delight to have around the garden. They sing and swoop, raise their clutches of young’uns, and keep watch over my “crops.” They earn their keep by eating insects.

You gotta love birds like that. And if you’re a serious gardener, I dare say, you gotta provide homes for birds like that.

Here’s a picture of one bluebird nesting box that is beside my garden:


If I am weeding or otherwise working in my garden near a nesting box, the birds are not happy with me. But I can get remarkably close and they’ll still tend to their parental duties of feeding their chicks. I like to think we are friends. We have an excellent working relationship. But if I sit eight feet away from their nest with a camera, waiting to take their picture, my friends do not cooperate at all. Would that I could get a picture of mother bluebird standing on the top of her home, gazing across the garden. I can see that scene and enjoy it myself, but I can’t seem to get a picture of it to show you. The best I’ve been able to do is get this photo of a swallow peeking out the “front door” of its house:


The house shown in the above pictures is a Peterson bluebird nesting box, which is considered by many bird enthusiasts to be the best ever bluebird house design. My boys and I made a bunch of them years ago. The Peterson is easy to assemble and will last a very long time.

My bluebird houses have copper-clad roofs. They are high-class domiciles. I don’t suppose the birds care about things like that, and that is a credit to their species. Even still, I like a copper-clad roof because it should last a very, very long time.

If I ever own more land, I will most assuredly make lots more bluebird nesting boxes and place them around the open fields or larger garden areas. I love the idea of providing homes for these beautifully created creatures, and getting their help with insect control in return.

Build the nesting boxes and the birds will move in. It’s as simple as that.

You can get free Peterson bluebird box plans here: Free Peterson Bluebird Box Plans


brierrabbit said...

Anybody who can get both tree swallows, and bluebirds to nest in his garden, is doubly blessed. Here in the Ozarks of Missouri we have both birds in great numbers, they are everywhere, but nobody tires of them. We also have another bird, native only to the central states, that also is common here. The scissortail flycatcher. These lovely things are black and white, with salmon colored underparts, and long streaming tails. The males do a stunning sky dance courting females. Look them up in bird book, or on the web, and see what I mean. They are nesting farther east these days, now seen in western Tennessee. I'll bet their in Kentucky soon.

Anonymous said...

I have a wren that surveys the yard from my tall tomato cages, and sometimes hops down to pluck bugs from the leaf mulch. He trusts his fleeing ability, as he'll let me tend the garden close-by.

Swallows are mesmerizing when swooping and looping when feeding. One twilight evening last year about a dozen of them worked over my neighborhood, moving from yard to yard. A couple came within an armlength; I could hear their feathers. So incredible.

Raking hay on grandpa's farm, I could lead a flock of hundreds of barn swallows as I turned windrows. What a blessing to marvel.

Now there can be no delay in building proper bird houses.

Anonymous said...

"...the swallows were swooping and swallowing for hours." I always wondered why they called them Swallows. Hmm.
Apparently Purple Martins are a pleasure to have, too. When we moved in here a couple years ago we cleaned up the existing Martin house but have only had a chickadee family residing. I think I will look at putting up some more bird houses around the garden. Maybe a bat house or two, as well.
Thanks for sharing, Herrick.

Dreamer said...

Kaleesha made mention of bats and that was my question. Do you have any bat houses? I hear they really keep the mosquito population down.

Unknown said...

I installed two bluebird houses this spring and immediately had a family of bluebirds in one of them. The other stayed empty for a long time. Now they are both being used, but by house sparrows! ARRGGGHHH! Do you have any trouble with that with the Peterson Box? I read somewhere that the sparrows do not like the smaller floor size...

Jim Janknegt said...

I added an additional garden next to a large pond I built several years ago. I am amazed at how many toads I run into in my garden. I love having them around. It is a great ideas to cooperate with nature and try and attract bug predators rather than using pesticides. We also have three Martin houses which continually attract Martins each spring.