Outdoors Column: Spring Cleaning

Spring seems to be a bit late this year. I was beginning to think we were going to skip it altogether and just go from winter straight into summer. Signs of spring are beginning to show as the snow has finally melted and the mud has set in. It is time to clean nesting boxes for wrens, bluebirds, and wood ducks.


Wrens are easy to please. Just about any type of bird house will make them happy. It can be a house specifically designed for wren or a fancy little house made just for decoration. If it is in a location they can get to, they will call it home. When they choose a house, it takes only a few hours to fill it with sticks and twigs and be ready for the season. Even if you put out a house intended only for decoration, make sure it is in a location you can tolerate if wrens move in. Last year, my wife hung a fancy bird house on the porch near where we have our coffee in the mornings. The opening was much too large for wrens and there was too much activity in the area to worry about blue birds adopting it. It was just supposed to hang there and look good. It took about an hour for a pair of wrens to spot the house and proceed to stuff it full of twigs. The wrens spent the next couple of weeks yelling at us when we tried to use our porch. It was a relief when the babies finally left with their parents. Wrens can be very loud and protective of something they consider theirs.


Bluebirds are a bit more particular about their housing. They prefer a rectangular box with a hole one- and one-half inches in diameter in the front. They like to be in an open sunny location with some brush nearby. They also like to start a new season with a clean house. We clean our bluebird houses each spring and check them occasionally throughout the summer. If we find a house with nesting materials but no eggs or babies inside, we clean them again. Bluebirds will use the same nesting box three or four times during a season. If there are several pairs nesting and each pair raises three or four babies three or four times each summer, soon you will have a lot of bluebirds. This is the reason I build more houses each year. A person can never have too many bluebirds.


We have one wood duck house. We clean it out each spring and put fresh wood shavings in it. A pair will usually move in, but they seem to find cavities in dead trees just as easily as depending on us to provide housing. The main reason I maintain the nesting box for the wood ducks is so we can watch them come and go. The female will fly toward her house at high speed, fold her wings at the last second, and pop into the box. It looks like it should kill her as she hits the back side, but she must be able to go from sixty to zero in a few inches. We have yet to be watching at the time the ducklings bail out of their nesting box and bounce off the ground. We see them swimming around the lake after the fact, so we know their hatch was successful. Survival while swimming around with large bass is much more tenuous.


Once the spring house-cleaning is done, we are ready to sit back and watch the assorted birds come and go.