Written for beginning bird lovers and professional ornithologists alike, this book will help you discover the fascination and importance of nest box monitoring. Although the research and photos are for Western birds, the general principles are applicable throughout the United States and Canada.The book is very thorough. Not only is information given on creating homes for wildlife and putting up nest boxes, but has tips on how to have the best results, invite certain species, and safeguards from predators. The author outlines the stages of the nesting cycle; lists problems such as weather and predation giving solutions; and information on checking and monitoring nest boxes. To check out what species of bird a nest belongs to, a bird nest identification key is provided. The references have additional information for permits, organizations, and books. There are 150 color photos taken by the author and Beverly LaBelle of birds, their eggs, nests, nestlings, and nest boxes.
1. Birds in Nest Boxes: How to Help, Study, and Enjoy Birds When Snags Are Scarce by Charlotte C. Corkran, photos by Beverly A. LaBelle and the author, Naturegraph Publishers, Inc. 2004, 144 pages, $15.95, softcover.
Charlotte Corkran has done a masterful job of synthesizing an enormous amount of technical knowledge and common sense into a handy guide about birds that nest in boxes. This book was written primarily for an audience in the northwestern United States and western Canada, but readers throughout North America will find the information about cavity nesters and nest box management useful.
Adults and children who build and manage nest boxes are usually excited and satisfied by participating in the “hands-on” conservation activity. Enthusiasts can learn about the breeding cycles of many types of birds because nest boxes can host chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, Wood Ducks, goldeneyes, mergansers, kestrels, owls, wrens, flycatchers, titmice, and swallows.
It is easy to get people to build and put up nest boxes, but significant problems arise when boxes are neglected and subsequently provide homes for nuisance species. Corkran rightly says that control of exotic House Sparrows and European Starlings is crucial to a successful nest box program.
The House Sparrow “is the most aggressive species in the region for taking over nesting cavities from the native birds,” she writes. “Known to puncture eggs, kill nestlings, and even occasionally kill the incubating females, it is a serious factor in the decline of native bird populations. It must not be permitted to raise its own chicks in your nest boxes. If you are not willing to deal with House Sparrows (even humanely kill them, if necessary), then you should not put up nest boxes where they occur!”
The remedy may seem harsh, but peaceful co-existence between House Sparrows and starlings and our native cavity-nesting songbirds is simply not possible.
Birds in Nest Boxes is a “Nest Box 101” short course. It includes information on primary and secondary cavity nesters, species that nest in burrows and caves, even birds that nest under loose tree bark. Corkran explains the value of natural snags in yards and parks and on school grounds, and that we also need to manage woodlands for a diversity of young and old growth. She discusses incubation, nest site preferences, managing nest boxes, and how to solve common problems. The book includes basic dimensions for nest boxes for various species, but it does not have detailed specifications for building nest boxes. Books and websites containing that information are referred to in the text.
This book provides many keen insights about cavity-nesting birds, and numerous color photos add greatly to the content.
2. Snags are standing dead trees which provide holes, natural dwellings for birds and other forest creatures. But the processes of eventual tree decay and humans cutting them down does lead to snag elimination. This book goes far beyond the traditional how to build the common "bird house". You get a wealth of ideas on alternative dwellings, called nest boxes, so you can enjoy and observe birds at all phases of their development. The author's straight forward text and full color photographs guide us in the basics of the nesting (hatching) cycle. Here we see images of young birds being patched prior to first time flying. We also get a thorough explanation of different nest boxes that might be used not only for birds, but also for squirrels and bats. A strong suit for this book is that it centers on nest box placement and maintenance. In the process of maintenance the author brings in common sense guidelines for things to look for when cleaning out these dwellings for the next year's occupants. So it is imperative that you look for or construct boxes for easy opening. Monitoring can both be fun and provide long-term information on what types of wildlife populate your area. To help you in this activity and those who wish to read more, the author provides us with a functional index, sets of references consulted, suggested basic equipment checklists and organizations that may be of service. For me personally the book nudged me to go out and clean out those "bird houses" that I have on my own property. And it gave me the necessary information to create some home grown nest boxes, small hollowed out sections of a water oak tree, which I recently gained from an unwanted guest, Hurricane Rita. --Chuck Hamsa Reviewers Consortium, September 2005