Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Clay Bowl Bird Nests....

Other parts of the USA might still be experiencing winter but here in South Texas spring has arrived and that means birds are courting and building nests.  So I’m spending a lot of time bird watching.  Years back I started making birdhouses and nesting baskets.  In the mid-1980s we lived along the banks of Falcon Lake in Zapata County at a place five miles from the nearest highway.  People showed up on weekends to make noise and generate varying levels of chaos but otherwise the place was quiet and without visitors.  The lake’s shoreline was about 100 feet from our 28-foot Avion trailer and all around was dense South Texas Brushland.  I built nesting platforms by weaving carrizo (Arundo donax) into baskets and placing them in the woods.  The doves (both mourning and white-winged) used those baskets as platforms on which to build their nests.  In the 1990s we lived in a cabin we called “The Good Earth Cabin” and in those years we built birdhouses, wove nesting baskets, set up feeding stations and watering sites.  We’ve got a place in the Texas Hill Country and have focused much of our work there on providing bird habitat for the last twenty years.  Here at our place in the South Texas woods we have perhaps created the best birding mecca of all with seven watering stations, four feeders, dozens of birdhouses and an array of bowls and baskets.  One of my favorite bird nesting platforms is a clay bowl.  Mine are mostly handmade using clays from along the Rio Grande about seventy miles south of here.  My late father (Ramon J. Longoria) owned brick plants in Mexico and when I was young I had access to good clays when I’d visit the factories.  A friend and I formed at least fifty clay pots.  Most of the pots have broken over the years but I still have several and I’ve placed them in trees close by.  Doves use clay pots more than other types of birds but I’ve also had wrens, mockingbirds, and even a green-jay use pots for nesting platforms.  It’s fun making your own clay pot or weaving bird nesting baskets of natural materials but you can always use a clay pot purchased at a nursery store or places like Home Depot or Lowe’s.  You don’t need a large pot and something around 4-6 inches in diameter and no more than four inches deep serves well.

After Easter you might consider asking people to donate their Easter baskets for nesting platforms.  Find a quiet place in the woods or around your garden and place them where they will be relatively hidden.  Remember to use only Easter baskets that are made of natural materials like cane or willow or some other wooden source.  Don’t use plastic Easter baskets and if you happen to get an Easter basket that has been made of cane, for example, but has been painted a bright color then you should strip the paint leaving the basket in its natural (non-painted) condition.  Bright paint might attract predators or those who might want to harm the nesting birds.  Those of you living in places still in the midst of winter can start acquiring clay pots or woven baskets.  In the beginning start out with maybe a couple or three clay pots and perhaps a half-dozen baskets.  Don’t be disappointed if you don’t have results the first year.  It might take some time for your local birds to get used to the contraptions but sooner or later they will start using them.  By the way, this afternoon I found where a bird built a nest inside the rotating multi-lock mechanism at a ranch gate.

I even use my old clay bowls as watering stations.

The clay bowls will last years but it’s important to secure them well to ensure they stay in place.  Take some time to examine the tree and then place the bowls in such a way that strong winds and swaying branches don’t topple them.  You can encourage nesting by placing a small container with dog hair or perhaps dryer lint and even pieces of string or fishing line cut about three or four inches long nearby.  In winter clean out the clay bowl and prepare it for the upcoming nesting period.  Make sure the bowls have drain holes to allow water or melting snow to drip out and keep the nest dry.

The great old chief looks after the safety of the birds

You must check your woven bird baskets every year prior to the nesting period.  I wouldn’t advice leaving a cane or willow basket in the tree for more than a couple of years.  They are easy to make or if you decide to buy them are not expensive and it’s prudent to replace them after about 24-months.  In a later post I’ll explain how I make my willow or cane bird baskets.  Give clay bowls and woven baskets a try and see what results you get.

A couple of bowls awaiting cleaning.

Clay bowls can also be used for bird seed

About the only nest this pot would provide is a nest for killer bees.  We’ll keep this one in the shed.

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