Saturday, 1 June 2013

Magic Moments at the Nest Box

This term I’m teaching a short course to my Jr. High students called “Environmental Stewardship”.  One of the projects we have undertaken is building nest boxes under the guidance of local birder Andrew Stiles.  He uses recycled and recovered wood to construct a simple design that, with precut wood, takes kids about an hour to nail together.  You can find out more about the design and his program on his website.  I also came across this short video of him putting one together and talking about the different types of nest.
One of our decorated nestboxes
We enjoyed a sunny afternoon on the walkway in front of the school putting our nest boxes together and later decorating them.  As many of last year’s boxes had ended up abandoned at the back of the classroom, I wanted to take it one step further this year and actually visit some appropriate habitat to put up the boxes.  With Andrew’s help we picked a spot on the west edge of the city and headed out.
Student and parent volunteer attaching a box to the fencepost
I was a little skeptical about how much success we would have with attracting birds, due to the urban location, and late May timing.  But then something magical happened….
Another student and parent at work - take a look in the upper right, just above the horizon!
At first just one pair of Tree Swallows appeared in agitated flight overhead.  I thought that we had disturbed a nest somehow but couldn’t see any possible nest site.   Then two more pairs arrived circling and swooping along the fence as we made our way down the line putting up the boxes.  Finally the penny dropped as one pair landed on the box, the female inspecting inside while the male kept watch from the wire.
Tree Swallows, Tachycineta bicolor, at nest box
Can there be any better way to connect with birds than putting up a nest box that you have made and then watching as, seconds later, it is occupied by a mated pair?  Of course teens will be teens and there was a little feigned indifference but I’m certain that those tree swallows connected with some students that afternoon and made them appreciate the natural world just a little bit more.
Photo by Prairie Birder, Charlotte Wasylik, used by permission
Hopefully the above sight will greet any students that (carefully, quietly, and briefly!) check on their boxes in a few weeks time.  That photo was taken by “Prairie Birder”, barely out of Junior High herself and with a huge passion for birds.  You can find more information and examples of nest boxes on her website here, here, and here.


  1. Congratulation on the new tenants. I haven't checked my boxes yet, so I don't know what's going on inside (I will have to check them soon)!

    1. Thanks for the feedback (and the photo)!

  2. Andrew Stiles here, and good news that in 2016, of the 15 birdhouses on the fences by Stoney Trail that you set up, 8 had a family of Tree Swallows grow up in them!