We have birds of prey such as hawks and owls, plus the fish-eating herons but most of our common birds are insectivores. They keep insect populations down and are integral to the health of the GVM ecosystem. You may see swallows in good numbers flying over our lakes. Birdhouses commonly attract house wrens and nuthatches. If you watch a house wren feed its newborn chicks selflessly day after day you will see how efficient they are at capturing bugs.

You may also see or hear woodpeckers, sapsuckers and flickers hitting trees for insects. Flickers will often “drum” on houses to the dismay of many residents. Sometimes this is due to a lack of dead trees around for them in nest in. Building homes for them to use can sometimes deter their effects on your home. Regardless of method you use for deterring them, remember all birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act making it illegal to kill a bird or even collect its feathers. This link has helpful legal tips for managing damage from northern flickers: Preventing Woodpecker Damage

Black-billed Magpie
Photo by John Popp

Another common bird is the black-billed magpie. Here you can see them riding the backs of deer to pick off the ticks on the deer’s body. This is a mutualistic relationship. You may also see them on the backs of cattle sometimes.

Don’t be surprised if you encounter a wild turkey here.

Mountain Bluebird Nesting Boxes

You can help re-establish the once-thriving Mountain and Western Bluebirds in GVM by putting up nesting boxes.

Using plans from Cornell Ornithological Lab, a few of us have built some nesting boxes designed for Mountain Bluebirds. The boxes are best placed in pairs at least 100 yards apart, with 10 to 20 feet between boxes in a pair. Aggressive competitors like swallows can nest in the first box, leaving the second for bluebirds. Put each on a post or tree 4-6 feet height, facing east. The boxes should be up by mid March as the mommas come first to select nests.

For the DIY’ers, you can download the plans. It takes one 5/8″ x 5 1/2″ cedar fence picket per box.

If you put out nesting boxes in previous years, you should remove the material and scrub the inside with a mild detergent and water. The right-side panel swivels out at the bottom. Houses previously occupied by Bluebirds will have the box filled with materials nearly up to the bottom of the hole. If you clean out the materials, new mammas will move in to the old boxes.