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North Hills Monthly

Help Birds, Bats and Bees by Providing Nesting Boxes

Feb 29, 2020 10:51AM ● By Kathleen Ganster

Mason bees, Photo courtesy Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania

Birds, bats and bees are all important to the environment, but all have suffered from decreased nesting areas due to development. The good news is that more and more people are building and providing homes for all three of these important creatures.

“There is a general trend in people asking, ‘What can I do to help our local wildlife with all of the habitat loss?’ and this is where bird boxes come into place,” said Ken Knapp, assistant naturalist at North Park.

Both North Park and the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania provide workshops and classes to help those who want to provide local wildlife with more nesting opportunities. North Park’s Latodami Nature Center provides informational programs where those who attend receive a birdhouse to place on their own property.

“Our ‘Owl Prowls’ are very popular, and we give out owl houses at the end, making it easy for people to help wildlife,” said Knapp. While Latodami doesn’t currently offer classes, they do have volunteer opportunities to make bird boxes.

The Audubon Society also offers informational presentations. “We offer programs on bee, bat, and birdhouses, often in a program focused on a general life history of those species,” said Chris Kubiak, education director, Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.

Numerous kinds of materials can be used to construct homes for bats, birds and bees, and supplies don’t need to be costly.  

“I would use wood for all three as it is more available and less expensive,” said Kubiak. “You can use recycled wood for these homes, though you can also use hard black plastic or vinyl for bat homes.”

The volunteers often use recycled wood at North Park when they are building birdhouses, according to Knapp, and there are some basic carpentry skills needed. “You have to be able to saw the wood and place the screws, but it is pretty easy,” he added.

Knapp has found “very easy” plans to make bluebird houses, using only one 8-foot long board.

“Bluebird boxes are a wonderful place to start. A lot of birds will use them, and with these plans, you really don’t need to have a lot of skills,” he said. House wrens, chickadees, and tree swallows often utilize bluebird boxes for their nests.

Knapp said that amateur carpenters don’t even need to put a hole in the boxes; they can easily just leave a slot in the construction. “I called the Bluebird Society to check, and they said the birds have no preference. The hole seems to be one of the trickiest parts of the houses to make, so that eliminates that,” he said.

Making it even easier are kits, and of course, houses and boxes that are already constructed.

“We supply already constructed houses as well as the materials (hollow tubes) needed to build mason bee houses,” said Kubiak, referring to the Audubon Nature Store at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve, headquarters of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. There are also nature stores at Audubon’s Succop Nature Park in Butler and in Yellow Jacket Square in Sarver.

While bird and bee houses are fairly easy to construct, Kubiak said bat houses are more challenging, and specifications have recently changed. “Materials need to be darker so that the bats can warm up in the sun, and they also need to be waterproof,” Knapp explained.

North Park is now recruiting volunteers to assist with cleaning out the existing bluebird boxes throughout the park and monitoring the nests a couple of times throughout the year. To entice helpers, Knapp is offering a bonus.

“We will give anyone who volunteers for this project a bluebird box to put on their own property. That makes it very easy,” he said.

Regardless of whether you decide to make a nesting box or purchase a bat or bee house, it is important to do something, Knapp said. “Bats, bees, bluebirds, chimney swifts—these have all been in decline in recent years and they need our assistance.”

Want to Help?

For more information on programs at Latodami Nature Center at North Park or to volunteer, visit https://sites.google.com/site/latodaminaturecenter or email Knapp at ken.knapp.latodami@gmail.com. 

For more information on Audubon Society programming, visit www.aswp.org

For more information about the National Bluebird Society, visit www.nabluebirdsociety.org. Both organizations also have Facebook pages.

Housing Tips

Kubiak offered the following tips for placing bird, bee and bat houses:

• For bees, anywhere near nectar sources like gardens, woodlands, or farms and meadows is a good choice. 

• Mason bees like to have houses positioned toward the morning sun. 

• Birdhouses depend on the species. Not all birds nest in birdhouses, so Kubiak suggests that if you want to attract a screech owl, place the house in a wooded location. For bluebirds, place the house in a more open savanna or farmland type setting. 

• Bat boxes should face south and be placed at least 10 feet off of the ground.