Don Torino's Life in the Meadowlands: It's Time to Put Up Those Birdhouses!

Flicker – Credit Jim Macaluso

As old birders like to tell newcomers, no season is ever the same as the last, and as we are now all very much aware that could not be more true when it comes to all humankind this spring. But if there is any positive at all for birders and nature lovers to be spending more time at home it is that we will all be a firsthand witness to spring migration right in our own backyards. We’ll see how our little stand of trees and gardens is as much a wildlife habitat as any nature center or park. 

Tree Swallow

Just as there is a housing shortage in the Garden State for people it is the same for most of our feathered friends. Anyone who has lived in New Jersey has witnessed firsthand the devastating loss of natural wildlife habitat right in our own neighborhoods. When many of us were growing up there was always a pond, a patch of woods or a grassy meadow that we loved to play in.

But take a look around your town now, where has it gone? It is now a shopping mall, a housing development or a parking lot. And now try to imagine if you are a bird returning to those places in the spring to nest. Where do you go? The good news is that we can give many bird species a helping hand by putting up nest boxes, or what are more commonly called birdhouses. 

Bluebird

Birds such as Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Eastern Bluebirds and many more are cavity nesters, which mean birds that either make holes in dead trees or use the natural cavities in trees for laying eggs and raising their young. Unfortunately, due to habitat destruction and homeowners cutting down older or dying trees that are preferred nesting places, good nest sites have become too few and far between. We can turn that around a bit and help out our feathered friends by substituting man-made structures that closely replicate the kind of cavity they would use in nature.

Wren

USE the Right Nest Box in The Right Place! 

Placing the right birdhouse in your backyard is critical if you want to encourage birds to make your backyard their home. Just because you put up a Bluebird house does not mean that you will get a bluebird to take up residence. To do it right you will need to match the right nest box to the correct habitat.

By all means if you have Bluebird habitat, which is large, open fields then go for it. But if your yard is like most of suburbia then you may have more success inviting Black-capped Chickadees and House Wrens into your backyard habitat. 

If you are located in a more wooded area than birds like White-breasted Nuthatches and Northern Flickers may be added to your list. Depending on the species some bird houses can be hung from a tree branch with success and others will need to be placed right on the trunk of the tree. Still others will need to go very high up and or will need to be close to water. It will depend on the species you are trying to help.

Some common mistakes

 If you avoid a few common birdhouse mistakes you will have a better chance of having birds call your backyard home this spring 

  1. Keep birdhouses far away from feeders! Most birds like to be secretive when nesting. Birds such as Blue jays and Grackles can be nest raiders so keep your houses as far away from bird feeders as possible to have the best chance of a successful nesting season
  2. Get houses up early! Birds start looking for places to nest as early as February so you want to have your boxes out as soon as possible. Some birds will have second broods or arrive in late April from migration, so you will still have a good chance if you are a little late. The most important thing is getting some nesting places up wherever you can.

Some Birdhouse Basics 

Ventilation

It is important for functional houses to have good ventilation. Panels of wood that are ¾ inches thick help provide insulation from the heat. Holes near the top of the house allow for the heat to escape. 

Easy Clean Out

A side panel that opens allows for easy clean out of the nest at the end of the season which helps to keep the pest population down. 

Adequate Drainage

Holes at the bottom corners allow for drainage. Drainage holes in the middle of the bottom will not adequately allow for drainage.

Perches

Perches are not necessary and actually allow unwanted birds and predators a place to sit and access the hole.

Birdhouse specifications for specific species 

Name -Size of floor – Ht.entrance above the floor -Diameter of hole -the height off ground -Habitat preference

Chickadee 4″ x 4″ 4″– 7″ 1-1⁄8″ 5′ – 15′ Woods/edge

Titmouse 4″ x 4″ 6” – 8″ 1-1/4″ 5′ – 15′ Woods/edge

Nuthatch 4″ x 4″ 6″ – 8″ 1-1/4″ – 13/8″ 5′ – 20′ Woods/edge

House Wren 4″ x 4″ 4″ – 7″ 1-1⁄8″ – 11/4″ 5′ – 10′ Woods/yard

Carolina Wren 4” x 4″ 4″ – 7″ 1½” 5′ – 10′ Woods/yard

Screech Owl 8″ x 8″ 9” – 12″ 3″ 10′ – 30′ Woods

Wood Duck 12″ x 12″ 10″ – 18″ 4″w – 3”h 6′ – 30′ Woods near water

Woodpeckers

Downy 4″ x 4″ 8″ – 12″ 1-1/4″ 5′ – 15′ Woods

Hairy 6″ x 6″ 10″ – 14″ 1½” 8′ – 20′ Woods

Flicker 7″ x 7″ 10″ – 20″ 2½” 6′ – 30′ Woods

By putting up nest boxes and setting aside a part of our backyards for wildlife we can help restore the balance to the natural world around us and bring about a healthier and happier world for our wildlife and for our children too. It’s something we could all use right now.

 Spring is out there and as it has done for eons it rejuvenates our spirit and revives our soul .

Today birdhouses are made from everything from recycled material to the traditional cedar. If you plan to make your own you can use one-inch thick pine boards or of course cedar but which will be tougher to find. Also, do not use pressure treated wood.

If I can answer any questions or help you get started on your backyard habitat please let me know at greatauk4@gmail.com

Stay well all, see you soon.

DeKorte's Wonderful Flora and Fauna

Kingsland Overlook Trail with Forsythia Bush

A big thanks to Mickey Raine for sending these wonderful photos taken Tuesday at DeKorte Park. A great way to brighten the day!

Daffodils on the Kingsland Overlook Trail
Daffodils on the Kingsland Overlook Trail
Ruby Crocus on Kingsland Overlook Trail
Tree Swallows
Tree Swallow
Green-winged Teal
Northern Shovelers
Northern Shovelers

Don Torino's Life in the Meadowlands: The Promise of Spring

Song Sparrow

No matter where you live you can open your door and hear the Robins, Cardinals and Song Sparrows singing their spring song as they have done for eons past. Take a closer look and you will see the new, tiny, yellow flowers of the Spicebush and buds on the Serviceberry preparing for the reemergence and renewal of  life of the season ahead. The Osprey has returned and the Tree Swallow hopes for our help as it searches for its special nesting place to raise its family once again.

As we hunker down at home with our families and experience fears and anxiety that we have never known in our generation, nature is continuing on. Despite our very human frailties, our new limitations and our lives being altered nature continues to endure, unafraid and uninhibited, all around us just waiting for us to give a glance and pay some notice and let it know that we are aware of its eternal existence. Not that nature needs us but rather it’s patiently waiting for us with the song  of a Wood Thrush  or the  sight of a wildflower to realize we are as much part of nature as all the wild creatures that endure to survive each and every day. 

Robin

Over the last week I have seen more and more people craving nature and walking the fields and woodlands of our local nature centers and parks . What seems like a long time ago but just a few weeks back we were begging everyone to get away from their phones and computers and get outside. Now there is no need to urge them to seek out nature as we all now realize, instinctively, that we need nature to heal our pain and soothe our souls . 

We will have a ways to go before we come out on the other side but make no mistake we will. With great tragedy comes great understanding; now we have come to appreciate or rather have been harshly reminded of how much we really need each other, how important nature is to have in our lives. It is my hope that we never forget either of these important lessons and we begin a new and better relationship with the natural world and each other.

Stay well, see everyone real soon.

IMPORTANT MESSAGE ABOUT LITTERING AT DEKORTE AND RIVER BARGE PARKS

Littering is absolutely prohibited at DeKorte and River Barge parks. Park visitors found littering will be ejected immediately. The volume of litter that has been found at DeKorte Park and River Barge Park recently is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Litter is not only unsightly and unsanitary but extremely harmful to wildlife and the environment. If this very basic rule is not respected, NJSEA will consider appropriate action including referral to the appropriate authorities for the imposition of fines or closing the parks for the protection of nature and our own employees. 

Don Torino's Life in the Meadowlands: A Grackle's Story

It seems that the only time I hear comments concerning the Common Grackle is when the evening news portrays them as swarming hordes of creatures bent on pecking your eyes out like from an old Alfred Hitchcock movie, or when I get calls from homeowners that are feeding the birds and want to know how to make them just go away and stop eating all their bird food. 

Well let me just start off by just saying I LOVE GRACKLES! Yes, I said it! I really do love the Common Grackle. Despite all their negative PR I relish the days when the Grackles cover my backyard, flocks descend upon the forests filling it with the loud buzzing calls and yes, even those upset phone calls when I get to tell folks that Grackles are so very cool and that they should be enjoyed.

Now I am not going to try to win you over by telling you how beautiful the Grackle really is with their wonderful glossy-blue iridescent colors and golden eye which gives them a very cool intense look; or tell you about some of the very unusual things they eat like crayfish, leeches off of turtles, frogs, mice and much less popular other birds ( pretty neat depending who you are ). But what I am going to tell you is my own personal Grackle story that I hope will make you see Grackles in a new and better way from now on.

It was a beautiful sunny Mother’s Day afternoon in the backyard of my wife Pat’s family home in Oakland. As everyone sat there talking about the family news of the day a Grackle flew into a nearby cedar and as Grackles do started to sound off loudly. But this Grackle seemed much more distressed; its cries were loud enough to bring it to the attention of even the many non-birders that relaxed on the deck trying  to talk over the now louder cries of this big black bird. “Don, whats that bird want?” someone asked me as if I could wave my hand and quiet it down.  

So now my curiosity made me approach the bird closer as I knew just from its erratic, unusual call that something was not right. But as soon as I got close the bird flew across the street to a nearby pond. Ok, I said to myself that is that. The bird is gone which now would just leave me guessing to the Grackle’s situation. But no sooner did I sit back down then the same Grackle retuned calling out even louder this time to the attention to everyone on our Mother’s Day celebration. 

So once again at everyone’s urging, as if I am the bird whisperer, I again approached the bird calling from the cedars. But again as I approached it flew from the tree across the street to the pond while still calling and crying away. And now for the second time I sat back down now more puzzled than ever. What did that bird want? 

I looked for a nest in the cedar tree that I thought it may be protecting but nothing was there and now totally puzzled I sat back down and tried to enjoy the sun and the family talk, but that did not last long.

Now for a third time the Grackle returned  screaming, wings flapping, with a sound of more desperation recognizable to the birder and the non-bird lover alike and again as I approached it made a beeline across the street and to the pond.  But this time I decided to follow this poor bird as best I could to maybe see what the worry and fear that seemed to grip this creature was all about.

The continued cry of the Grackle went nonstop as I crossed the street to the pond but now suddenly I heard two birds, one seeming higher pitched but just as desperate and  frantic as the first and it was then I realized what the alarm and panic was all about.

Baby Grackle

There hanging upside down by one foot from a chain link fence was a baby Grackle. Flapping and flailing away as the adult bird continued its raucous calls. I walked closer and gently flipped the little bird’s foot from the joining link in the fence careful not to break or injure the tiny leg of this fearful, thrashing baby who was trying even harder to get away from me. 

No sooner than I successfully flicked the little one from the fence the adult bird who now I recognized as the mother began following the baby along the ground trying to get some food in its mouth. 

As I watched them scurry along the fence and then closer the shrubby area of the pond and finally out of sight my common sense mind was not sure what I had just witnessed. Was this bird asking for help? Was it trying to get someone to follow it the way a dog does in a movie ?

I looked around partly in disbelief but mostly in total amazement. I shook my head and returned to the family gathering across the street. I sat down quietly trying over and over to process what I just experienced. Then someone asked, “What did that darn bird want?” Needed someone to help its baby, I quietly and reluctantly replied. 

I remember just getting some laughs and giggles and then the conversation turned to the Yankees and how lucky we were to have such a nice day. Till this day I try to process the events of this special Mother’s Day, still in some way attempting  to be sure I saw what I really saw and if I did then from that day on it would change everything as I understood it, as of course it has.

We need to forever discard any beliefs that wild animals are not highly intelligent or don’t  have feelings or emotions the way we know them. Needless to say although I loved birds from childhood I now know what  I just felt in my heart that all life is special no matter how rare or common and they want nothing more than to protect their family even if it means getting a human to help on occasion.

So the next time you see on the news a reporter acting as if a flock of Grackles is something to fear I hope you will recall my story and remember that the Common Grackle is not so common after all, and that all wildlife needs a helping hand every once in a while, even if it interrupts a family gathering and especially a Mother’s Day now and then.   

DEKORTE PARK POLICY EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the following policy for DeKorte Park visitors is effective immediately until further notice. Thank you for your cooperation.

• Park hours 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

• While the park is open for public enjoyment, buildings and restrooms are closed to the general public

• For those doing business with the NJSEA, please follow instructions posted to entranceways

• Park gate will close promptly at 6 p.m.

• If locked in park call the Lyndhurst Police at 201 939-2900. 

• Parking is prohibited outside the park gate and along Valley Brook Avenue. You will be summonsed by the Lyndhurst Police.

·CDC guidelines regarding limitations on gatherings must be followed

·Please enjoy nature on your own