Lonely Birdhouses Seek New Homes

Reclaimed Bluebird houses attract birds that feast on garden insect pests

Hand-crafted Birdhouses, Built for Eastern Bluebirds

In 1992, Joe Krall embarked on a huge project. He created a “nest box trail” which would include over 500 birdhouses near Guelph Lake in Wellington County. His goal was to create safe nesting places for Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows – birds that eat flying insects including mosquitos and fruit tree pests. The hard part for Joe wasn’t building the birdhouses. As a tool and dye maker he easily had the skills to create a sturdy birdhouse that would last a lifetime. He covered each house with a sheet metal roof to protect the wood and included a side hatch that can be opened with a screwdriver. Joe’s bigger challenge was monitoring those boxes. For 23 years, he hiked the trail on a daily basis to record the numbers of baby birds born on the site and his findings were meticulously written up in notebooks that he carried from birdhouse to birdhouse. In 2014 he tallied up the numbers:

  • There were more than 32,000 young birds born in those boxes.
  • That number includes almost 2,000 Eastern Bluebirds and close to 30,000 Tree Swallows.
  • The houses also attracted hundreds of House Wrens and Black Capped Chickadees.
  • He also kept track of the number of eggs he found, the number of birds that died in the nest, and other details.

The End of the Trail

But now it’s the end of an era. At 67, Joe is retiring and moving away. He has found new caretakers for some of his birdhouses, but others, scattered around the region, need to be removed and relocated and so I travelled to Guelph with fellow adventurers Cliff Changoor and Gaetano Luciano to come and help Joe pack up some of the houses (you can see pictures of us in the slideshow below) to distribute as birdhouse kits in Ontario. Joe says he’s slowing down in his “old age” but he seems powerfully fit and strong as he digs up birdhouses, cleans them and hikes them back to our car. We had to run through the brush to keep up with him. “When I planted these birdhouses, they were in an open field. Over the years forest has grown up around them and birds will not nest here anymore,” Joe says. We worked in the early morning for 4 hours, digging out posts and removing the birdhouses. We cleaned each birdhouse by scraping it out with a plastic scraper and found brush, feathers and sometimes dead baby birds. Left out in the open and neglected, these houses would no longer be attractive to nesting birds as they will only nest in a clean and well-maintained birdhouse.

How to Care for the Houses – and their Inhabitants

Birdhouses need to be cleaned each year in the early spring. Just scrape out the old nest to make room for a new one.

Birdhouses need to be cleaned each year in the early spring. Just scrape out the old nest to make room for a new one.

Our next task is to find new homes for each birdhouse. But for those considering putting up a birdhouse in their garden or community orchard, what advice does Joe have? “Take care of them. Paint them. Be gentle with the birds. Watch them. Don’t bother them. And you can learn from the birds,” Joe says. And yet he still encourages the new caretakers to open the boxes from time to time to check how the babies are developing. “You can open the boxes when you want to know how many eggs are there or babies. Opening the boxes once per week is enough.” “Birds are under stress when you bother them. I just check how many babies are there, whether they are healthy, or if there is a dead baby or un-hatched egg, I will remove it and mark it in my history. And everything is ok.” He suggests that we clean the birdhouses twice a year by scraping out the previous nest with a scraper. Don’t use chemicals or soap. Joe learned a lot from the birds over the years. But now he’s moving away. He will be taking 50 boxes with him to create a small trail in the region where he now lives and he will see how they do. “All things come to an end,” Joe says. He seems both sad – and relieved to know we are finding new homes for his beautiful birdhouses.

Orchard People is offering these reclaimed birdhouses as complete kits – The kit includes one of Joe’s beautiful individually numbered tin roof birdhouse, a pre-drilled galvanized steel post and the screws and bolts for $48.00 plus HST. They are available for pickup in Toronto. To order your birdhouse contact Orchard People at info@orchardpeople.com or click on the email link to the right. Your birdhouse is waiting for you!

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Quick Facts about Eastern Bluebirds

  • They eat huge numbers of flying insects including fruit tree pests
  • Many organic orchardists mount birdhouses so Eastern Bluebirds (and Tree Swallows) will help to protect their trees from infestation
  • Eastern Bluebirds breed between early April through July
  • They line their nests with grasses, plant stems, pine needles and feathers
  • The female usually lays between 3 to 6 pale blue eggs
  • The female incubates the eggs for about two weeks
  • The male often feeds the fledglings
  • The baby birds will leave the nest after as little as 15 days

Email Us to Order Your Reclaimed Birdhouse Today

Your kit includes a hand-made reclaimed birdhouse, a pre-drilled galvanized steel post, and the screws and bolts to intall it for just $48.00 plus HST. Available for Toronto pickup only. CURRENTLY SOLD OUT. MORE STOCK TO ARRIVE IN SEPTEMBER 2016.