Why are birdhouses called “birdhouses?” Think about it. The birds don’t live there year-round, or even all summer in our climate? In fact they only use them as nesting sites. Hence, the correct term should be “Nest Boxes.” I learned about this recently when I was “schooled” on the science of birdhouse (whoops, nest box) building.
Shortly after posting my blog “White House Garden: Up Close & Personal,” I got an email from Cecila Gossen, an avid “Everyday Tourist” reader and visual artist who not only noticed from the photos that I was missing a signature nest box in my garden, but offered to give me one of hers. She was obviously not impressed with my three-storey backyard one that is literally falling apart.
We arranged for me to drop by her studio, located in the funky Burns Visual Arts Society building in Ramsay. Not only did we catch up on what was happening with her art (a future blog) and at the BVAS (the oldest artist's cooperative in Canada), but I was schooled on the rationale for calling her funky folk art inspired birdhouses“nest boxes” and all of the dos and don’ts of building and positioning them.
I was doing it all wrong. It was the stuff of a horror movie, given sparrows yearly use ours.
Nest Boxes 101
- My birdhouse was in full sun, which would bake the young babies. It should be in the shade, ideally hung from a tree.
- I had only cleaned the house once in probably 20 years. You are supposed to clean it out every year. If you don’t, fleas invade and eat the young.
- You should have an open area under the roof to allow for air to circulate. Mine didn’t have that.
- The floor should also have some open space to allow water to drain out. “Oops” again.
- You also shouldn’t have a perch under the entrance hole as it allows other birds and squirrels to perch there and snatch the babies. Mine did. Who knew?
- If you don’t get any birds to nest in your box after two years, I was told to move it to a new location.
Back Back Story
Turns out it all started after Gossen entered the Calgary Herald's "For The Birds" birdhouse contest in 1995. While she didn't win her friend and fellow University of Calgary art student Linda Hodgin saw the popularity of the contest and potential to make some money. So too did the owner of Nichrista House and Garden shops and soon they were flooded with requests for funky nest boxes. They named their business ICARUS who, in Greek mythology, was the son of the master craftsman Daedalus. It became so successful that it paid for tuition and parking for both of them. That’s entrepreneurship!
Today, she knows the measurements by heart. Each box has 14 parts, and they used to make 30 at a time, which meant 420 pieces had to be cut, painted and left out to dry before assembling. Today, she makes six at a time as it takes almost as much time to make six as to make one.
Gossen still makes a few nest boxes each year and donates them to fundraisers. Funny thing – the bidding always stops at $120 she says regardless of what the charity is. Her nest boxes can be found as far away as Virginia, Florida and London, England.
My New Nest Box
My colourful and cheerful new “nest box” is now proudly hanging from a tree in our front garden (actually it is on the neighbour’s tree) where it can be enjoyed by all the children being dropped off and picked up at the Honeybee Daycare across the street, as well as our four young neighbours. FYI, is sent Gossen, a photo of her nest box it in the garden and she approved its location.
I wonder how long it will take the neighbour kids to discover it. Will I get any nesters this year? And yes, I promise to clean it out in the fall and every fall, if I get tenants.
I also wonder if the nest box qualifies as public art, as it was created by an artist, is a unique design and has been installed in a public space?
As for my old nest box, I am in a quandary. A family of sparrows (the second this season) is still using it. Do I take it down, clean it out and retrofit it now, to meet the new “nest box code” or wait until the fall? I can’t imagine what it is like in there in 30+ degrees temperatures. Or, should I simply retire this nest box after this year?