Housing crisis

Curious nature: For cavity nesters, a housing crisis

Nests in primary cavities include woodpeckers, some chickadees, and wrens. These birds dig their own homes with their strong beaks and are sub-classified between strong and weak diggers.
Courtesy picture

Spring and early summer in the mountains mean more feathered friends are looking for a mate and a safe home to raise their young. Not all birds are built the same, and not all birds are built the same.

When we think of a bird building a nest, images of round wicker baskets come to mind. Birds that build differently especially need a helping hand. Presentation of the cavity nest.

The name cavity nester reveals the distinctive feature of these species. They are birds that have evolved to nest in a cavity, which in North America includes about 85 different species.



There are two types of cavity nesters: primary and secondary. Nests in primary cavities include woodpeckers, some chickadees, and wrens. These birds dig their own homes with their strong beaks and are sub-classified between strong and weak diggers.

Strong diggers like the woodpecker can carve through hard and soft woods, while weak diggers like a few species of chickadees and wrens require rotting or decaying wood, called snags. Secondary cavity nests do not create their own cavities, but rather build on those already made. Swallows, bluebirds and the mountain tit occupy abandoned cavities, holes in broken branches or man-made structures. Once the cavity is established, they furnish their new home with comfortable and insulating materials.



For these birds, housing has become increasingly difficult to find. Habitat loss has gradually become common for cavity nesters. Human development is the main reason why there are fewer suitable trees.

Lack of understanding of a balanced ecosystem has led forest management to remove snags to limit forest insect pests, knock out fuel for fires, and appease aesthetics. When we look at a problem in our ecosystem, we perceive the death and potential danger of a fallen tree.

While the latter is understandable, snags are truly teeming with life from baby birds, insects and fungi, providing nutrients in the soil for years to come.

Weak diggers like a few species of chickadees and wrens need rotten or decaying wood, called snags.
Courtesy picture

One thing we can do to help these magnificent creatures is to avoid cutting snags where they do not pose a danger to human structures or safety. We can also loosen up the aesthetics of our lawn to provide real substance to the ecosystem, as birds love accumulated leaves, sticks and untended shrubs.

Passive involvement is a wonderful way to be an environmental steward, but for those of you looking to become more active, there are ways to encourage and help wildlife.

To show some love to our wildlife, we can provide clean water. If you are somewhere without a natural water source near your home, a fountain can help. An even more effective way to help is to install a birdhouse, usually called a birdhouse. They require a bit more care as they need to be carefully placed and monitored.

Building a birdhouse can be a creative outlet, but if you don’t have the time, a store bought one will work just fine. The key points for placing a birdhouse are that they must first be placed away from potential predator threats. This means that away from busy roads and away from branches, predators like cats can climb. They also require monitoring to ensure that the location you have selected is a healthy home.

Watching is also a wonderfully rewarding way to watch a bird family grow. You can witness the whole cycle and use this experience as a way to involve your children in the process.

Residents of Eagle County can certainly relate to these cavity nesters through similar housing barriers, but we can always embrace positive changes to slowly alter the trend.