The most impressive Bird Houses I ever saw were located in Moncton, New Brunswick. That was almost 60 years ago. The Moncton Transcript of July 3, 1965 reported our presence there: “Peter Iden of Downsview, Ontario, has been obtaining information from various naturalists, ornithologists and biologists across Canada for a book on bird finding across Canada. Mr. and Mrs. Iden with their four-year-old daughter are visiting Moncton naturalist Charles Mc Ewen on Irishtown Road”.
The McEwens had a huge group of nesting boxes for Purple Martins in their front yard. There was a continuous stream of the swallow to and from these boxes. The book, incidentally, was never published due to sudden lack of interest by the publishers, but the nesting boxes stuck in my mind.
Nesting boxes became my main interest, because their lack was obvious to me as a Park Naturalist in many locations in and around the city. Thousands of trees, mainly dead elms, were being cut down in the in the city and its outskirts. Toronto’s beautifully treed avenues had become mostly bare.
I had already been involved in a self-generated study of Red-headed Woodpecker presence in the Toronto Area. That bird had similar nesting habits to Bluebirds and became very special to me and a birdwatching buddy who was an airplane mechanic at the airport (nick-named “Red” by his colleagues because of his bright red hair). We were out at lunch break every day to observe and record the habits of these birds.
Red-headed Woodpeckers had practically disappeared in southern Ontario. At the same time there was also a major decline in the Bluebird population because of habitat loss due to dead tree removal and pesticide use. Another reason were the foreign birds introduced by the settlers, such as House Sparrows and Starlings, who were aggressively competing for Bluebird and Red-headed Woodpecker nesting places.
I am not certain whether it was our Moncton visit that prompted me to start my Bluebird Nesting Box Building Project, but by late 1979 it was well under way. The project involved Boy Scout Troops in the area of Thornbury and Meaford, around the location of our cottage there. The Bluebird was the species of my choice, because it had become a rare bird in that area with the concentration of many new apple tree farms and residential building activities. Red-headed Woodpeckers were almost unknown there.
The Bluebird belongs to the same bird family as the Robin and the Thrushes. The Robin builds cup-shaped, messy nests anywhere, whereas the Bluebird requires tree cavities or nesting boxes. The early farmers had built and hung nesting boxes around their farms to encourage the Bluebirds to keep down the insect pests harmful to their crops. Bluebirds eat grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, beetles, worms. sowbugs, snails and berries.
In Part Two I will zero in on choosing the right kinds of bird houses for the right species of birds.