Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 24, 2012
Birding festival graced with good weather for outside activities
by Jessica Brophy
Fair skies and warm sun drew birding enthusiasts to Deer Isle from all over the state and beyond for Wings, Waves & Woods, the three-day celebration of birding. While some of the indoor talks and workshops were not well-attended, said organizers, the outdoor birding walks were a hit, and kept people circulating in the sunshine with binoculars around their necks.
Mike Little, Executive Director of Island Heritage Trust, said people turned up for a nature walk on Saturday from as far away as Texas, Michigan, Quebec, Connecticut and all over the state.
“Overall, it was very successful, though I think the indoor programs suffered because of the beautiful weekend,” he added.
Events of the weekend included several birdwalks and boating trips to view coastal birds, workshops on birding photography and painting and more. More than 20 people attended a presentation with live owls on Saturday by Birdsacre Sanctuary of Ellsworth, and both puffin-siting boat trips were nearly full, said Little.
A keynote lecture on Saturday evening by birding expert Bob Duchesne focused on how to learn birdcalls and drew 42 attendees. Downeast Audubon member Sue Shaw said Duchesne offered tips for breaking down the 300-plus birdcalls into a more manageable beginning, starting with birds you are most familiar with in your backyard.
“Then choose a group of birds, such as warblers, and learn that group,” said Shaw, who is partial to warblers herself. “Tracking down a bird and seeing it sing will help put it in your mind.”
Bring all the birds to the yard
Shaw and Sal Rooney held a workshop on Sunday on constructing proper birdhouses to attract bluebirds. Downeast Audubon maintains more than 100 birdhouses across the Blue Hill Peninsula and on Deer Isle.
There are several elements that make a good birdhouse, Shaw and Rooney explained. First, ditch the perch found on many decorative birdhouses.
“The perch is just a handhold for a predator,” said Shaw. Predators such as raccoons and bears seek bird eggs and birds. “The bluebird doesn’t need the perch, it just zooms inside.”
It’s important, said Shaw, to be able to open the birdhouse, to check on nests if you are monitoring the birds, but more importantly to clean out the birdhouses each season. Shaw recommends cleaning the birdhouses in the fall to remove springtime nests, and again in the spring, as birds will use the birdhouse for shelter over the winter.
Birdhouses built for bluebirds, or most birds, should measure four inches by four inches at the base, inside, and be at least that large or open up larger toward the top. This allows the birds enough room to nest, but also allows the birdhouse “owner” to use a peat planting pot or berry container at the base for the nest to be constructed in, thus making checking the nest or cleaning out the birdhouse a cinch.
Birdhouses need to have ventilation near the top, and drainage holes at the bottom to allow air circulation.
Birdhouse openings should also be a certain size, depending on what kinds of birds are wanted. A bluebird requires an opening of 1 1/2 inches. Chickadees only require 1 and 1/8 inches, and the tufted titmouse 1 and 1/4 inches. That means chickadees and tufted titmouse may nest in boxes designed for bluebirds, but larger birds like cowbirds won’t be able to nest.
It’s important, too, to have a metal reinforcement around the opening, to deter gnawing or pawing predators from gaining access to the nest through the opening.
While a birdhouse can be hung on a tree, Shaw recommends bringing the birdhouse a few feet out from the trees on a pole, with the bottom of the birdhouse at least five feet off the ground. Ideally, the birdhouse should face south and face an open field or yard, rather than trees.
Another element to include, or add to pre-existing kits, are scratched grooves or a bit of screening on the inside of the birdhouse between the bottom of the house and the opening. This allows small baby birds like chickadees to climb out to the hole when they are ready.
“Unfortunately, if you don’t have those in there, the babies will die,” said Shaw. Grooves can be scratched in the wood with a screwdriver, just enough to give the baby bird’s claws some purchase to climb.
Island Heritage Trust sells birdhouse kits for those who would like to bring bluebirds and other visitors to their yards. Painting the birdhouses is not recommended, as the paints may have toxins. Shaw and Rooney recommended hanging new birdhouses in the fall to allow them to weather over the winter.
In general, landscaping that is “pro-bird” stays away from exotic and invasive non-native species. Birds love crabapple trees, especially Sargent Crabapple trees, which have the smallest and most nutritious apples. Mowing fields toward the end of summer or in early fall will allow nesting birds the opportunity to raise chicks. Shaw said monarch butterflies love milkweed, and if a gardener doesn’t like the look of wild milkweed, there is an ornamental version that monarchs like just as well.
“The fewer chemicals you use in your yard, the better,” said Shaw.
Wings, Waves & Woods is co-sponsored by the Deer Isle-Stonington Chamber of Commerce, Downeast Audubon, Island Heritage Trust and Penobscot Bay Press. For more information about the festival, visit Wings, Waves & Woods’ Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.