Julia Etel and her sons Leo, 9 years old (on right) and Dean, 7 years old, have spent the past few weeks building nesting boxes for native birds and mammals. In fact, the trio have set themselves a goal- to build 100 nesting boxes from their home garage. Despite enjoying this home project, they view their efforts as a dire necessity.
“After the November 2019 fires, my boys and I were feeling quite helpless and devastated by the extent of the damage to our surrounding bushland and people’s properties. Whilst we weren’t in a position to rebuild human homes we felt that we could have a go at building homes for native birds and marsupials,” says Julia, Veterinary Surgeon at Pacific Vetcare in Coffs Harbour.
There are a large number of Australian birds and mammals that need to use tree hollows for shelter or to breed. According to Ecologist Alice McGlashan, there are about 114 bird species and about 83 mammal species in our region that use tree hollows in these ways, as do many lizards, snakes, and frogs.
The recent fires have resulted in a loss of tree hollow habitats. Without these tree hollows, those birds that only use hollows to nest, simply won’t breed. Some birds are territorial, including Kookaburras, and Crimson Rosellas. Where there are no suitable tree hollows within a Kookaburra pair’s territory, they simply will never breed.
Those birds and mammals that need hollows to sleep by day such as sugar gliders, owls and many possum species, will likely either be taken by predators, not survive the cold winter months, or perish in search of a tree hollow elsewhere.
We visited the trio to discuss their important project and to find out how the community can help.
Can nesting boxes make a difference at a time like this?
With so many bird species and mammals in our region reliant on tree hollows either for shelter or to breed- we know that building and placing well constructed nesting boxes in fire ravaged areas, we can aid and encourage fauna to return and regenerate a new abundance of wildlife.
Can anyone have a go?
None of us had any carpentry skills when we set out on this path. But we had the passion and drive to give it a go! Using plans and dimensions and adapting them to off-cuts from Sawmills and old hardwood fences has definitely challenged us though. Our aim is 100 boxes (from our garage) and we have reached 41 already! The team at Tree-O Furniture Gallery in Raleigh Industrial Estate have gotten involved. The plan was to stage workshops there for interested locals to learn more. Our latest crisis will probably put a stop to that unfortunately.
So you’re encouraging our community to get involved?
Absolutely. Our aim of 100 boxes feels like a drop in the ocean but if more people get involved and make 5 or 10 or even 20 boxes, the collective contribution will be more substantial. The difference that it can make to our local wildlife population will be greater with more people getting on board!
Materials and Tools for Making Nest boxes – based on plans by Alice McGlashan- Ecologist.
- Untreated hardwood timber, marine ply or exterior ply.
- Stainless steel or galvanised screws.
- Stainless steel or brass hinge, and external hinge screws for the lid.
- Hole saw or jig saw for making entrance holes.
- Hand saw or power saw to cut the panels.
- Screwdriver or power drill (best to use screws, not nails).
- Ruler/tape measure.
- Pencil for marking out design.
- Sandpaper to smooth rough edges.
- One to two inches of sawdust or wood shavings (from untreated wood), oruntreated fine wood or bark chip for bedding, to emulate a decaying hollow.
- Paint the nest box with at least two coats of a water-based (non-toxic) external quality paint to significantly increase the durability of the nest box. Choose a pale colour such as Flooded Gum (Dulux colour), to prevent overheating of occupants on hot sunny days.
Installing Nest Boxes
- Place the nest box away from human disturbance, busy roads, and driveways, and also out of reach of non-native predators such as cats, dogs and foxes.
- Install in a location that is protected from direct sunlight during hot summer afternoons (east to south-east side of tree).
- The installation height sweet spot is 4-5m. Most species will use nest boxes at this height range, and a tall ladder will enable easy installation and access for monitoring and maintenance.
- Installation within the cover of leafy branches is preferred by many species, but some species do prefer open aspects for easy access such as microbats.
- Tall ladder, ladder holder and person installing the nest box.
Monitoring and Maintaining Nesting Boxes
- Monitoring is important to enable removal of feral pest species, such as European bees, Indian Mynas and Starlings.
- Annually or bi-annual nest boxes checks enables problems such as feral species invasion to be rectified, and repairs to be made so that native animals can continue to use the nest box.
Nesting Box Plans- follow this link to a basic nesting box design and more detail about nesting boxes for Feathertailed Gliders, Antechinus and Pygmy Possum.