Opinion: Birds compete for housing

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Commentary by Ward Degler

I built a birdhouse last summer, and a family of wrens made it their home for two batches of youngsters. Halfway through the season I realized I had glued the house up tight so there was no way to open and clean it at the end of the season.

The solution was to cut one half of the roof off, clean out the old nesting material and reattach the roof with screws. I hung the house back in the front yard tree on Sunday, hoping the wrens might soon return.

Fast-forward to Monday morning. While sipping my second cup of coffee, a pair of black-capped chickadees landed on the birdhouse, went in and out several times and flew away. A few minutes later they returned for a second look.

In the real estate business, a second visit usually means the prospective buyers are ready to write a check for a down payment. I’m not sure what it means to chickadees, but while the female inspected the inside, the male sat outside chirping and fluffing his feathers. Then both birds flew away, presumably to meet with the mortgage company.

A bigger surprise came some time later when a pair of bluebirds stopped by and gave the house a thorough going over. The female spent a lot of time inside the house. While the male was sitting outside on the stoop waiting for his wife to finish her inspection, the chickadees returned. The male bluebird immediately drove them away.

My daughter is a member of the Missouri Bluebird Society and assures me bluebirds are very particular about where they set up housekeeping. She gave me a set of plans for a bluebird house and cautioned me to follow the specs to the letter.

A local master gardener also gave me a set of plans designed by a leading ornithologist. They are as specific and uncompromising as the Missouri design.

Meanwhile, my bluebirds are checking out something that was cobbled together from a sketch done by a Cub Scout den mother to give her charges an easy project to build with little more than a hammer and a handful of nails. I figured if a 9-year-old could do it, I have a fair chance of getting it right.

A lot of birds died a number of years ago because of pesticides, including our bluebirds. They returned a year ago. I don’t know where they nested last year, but I was going to make sure they had proper houses to consider this year.

Meanwhile, the chickadees have returned for another look, along with a pair of cardinals, a couple goldfinches and several sparrows. But so far, no wrens.


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