Friday, February 20, 2009

Its February. Time to THINK SPRING

The weather has been very capricious this past few weeks. We’ve had days when the temps hovered around 20, and then snow, and then buckets of warm rain, followed by ice and more freezing temps. Earlier in the week we had warmth and sunshine, with highs in the 60s. Today, though, it feels like your face will get blown off every time you step outside, and its only barely twenty degrees. This weekend we might see some more snow.

Ah, wintertime in DC. Ain’t it grand?

No matter what the thermometer reads, however, it is time for those of us in the Mid-Atlantic to begin thinking of spring if we want to welcome birds and beneficial bees to our gardens. So today I’m going to write a little about what you should do for the birds. Next week, I’ll post something about helping out the bees.

Right now the birds are very active in our neighborhood. On the way to school one morning my daughter declared that spring must be close because the birds are singing so loudly all around. (Thanks again for that noisy blessing, Rachel Carson.) Anyhow, this caused a debate about when spring actually begins between the members of my family.

My son is all about what month it is: March is when I call it spring, he says, because that is when it feels right. My husband is all about the date. Until the actual, official calendar says its spring, he won’t allow anyone’s statement to the contrary to stand uncorrected.

To me, spring begins in February, because that is the right time to think about bird boxes. Phooey on the calendar. Some guy made that up a while ago and so what. The birds know better.

Chickadees and wrens have already been seen out in our yard, checking out nesting spots. Both are cavity nesters, and both species like to find and claim potential mates and nesting spots at this time of year. So if you want to attract these to your small urban yard in the DC area, now is the time to put out boxes. They are both voracious insect eaters and so even if you aren’t a bird watcher you will rejoice when you see them carrying bugs into the box to feed their young this spring. So will your tomato plants.

If you are lucky enough to live in a large rural area where meadows are available, then now is the time to put out bluebird boxes, too. I used to volunteer as a bluebird monitor along a rural trail near Baltimore when I lived up there, and I can recall that often, right after we put up a box in January or February, we’d find evidence that the birds had been checking it out. Sometimes there would be bird droppings on the top of the box, and other times there’d be actual nest bits inside. Seeing a bright blue bird sitting on top of one of our boxes on a gray February day was always a treat.

As always, no matter where you live and what your yard’s habitat potential may be, you’ll want to make sure to buy a box that has been specially designed with a certain bird species in mind. Boxes that are simply wooden cubes with random holes may attract desirable species sometimes, but often they end up housing the aggressive and exotic species, like English sparrows and starlings. Helping to deter these species will help all the native birds in our area, so it is worth it to get the right box even if the price tag seems a bit daunting. Also, take comfort in the fact that a well-built, high quality box can last many, many years, whereas the cheap decorative ones fall apart before the season even ends.

If you’d like to read more about my past experiences with building boxes with my kids, the Voice newspaper archives.

Two good places to buy boxes locally are:

Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase

Wild Bird Center in Wheaton

Both places have helpful staff members who are very knowledgeable.

1 comment:

John's Arts & Crafts said...

Interesting! new blog on the Hx. of the Ladybug: