A large (18 inch) roosting box with lid removed showing the perch inside.
Many bird species will use nesting boxes for the spring and summer, but then migrate south when the weather turns cold. However, there are other species that spend the winter here that can benefit greatly from another kind of box, called a roosting box. A roosting box is different from a nesting box in that it provides shelter during long cold winter nights and more than one bird, often many more, can use the same box at the same time. In fact, the more birds in the box, the warmer and more energy saving it becomes, at least to a point.
You might not think that three quarters of an inch of wood can provide much shelter. After all, we live behind walls with six or more inches of insulation and ceilings with four times that much. But we are trying to keep our homes at much higher temperatures than the birds require. Just a little cover can protect them from wind and the coldest of temperatures and make a difference in survival.
Much of the value of the roosting box comes from its design. Roosting and nesting boxes differ in several important ways. For instance, during spring and summer, it is important for a nestbox to be able to release heat build up from sunshine and tiny bodies. There are gaps and ventilation holes built in to the top area of the box. With a roosting box, the idea is to keep body heat trapped inside, so there are no ventilation holes.
Another difference is that the entry hole for a nest box is near the top of the box. With a roosting box, the entry is near the bottom, again helping to trap heat and to allow more birds to use it.
Orientation is yet another difference. Nesting boxes are oriented so the entrance is to the north or east and preferably placed where it will be shaded from afternoon sun. Clearly, roosting boxes will have a different orientation—facing south and in full sun if possible.
Here are a few other tips for roosting boxes. Keep the entrance hole to about 1.5 inches. This will help to deter non-native starlings which will aggressively take over a box if you let them. Larger birds such as flickers and screech-owls will require a three-inch hole.
A metal plate fastened around the entrance hole will discourage woodpeckers and flickers from making a hole intended for chickadees into one they can fit in.
On the inside of the box include staggered dowels that will serve as perches for the birds. In a bluebird-sized box six perches each about six inches long are about right. This allows a lot of birds to use the box at the same time. Woodpeckers appreciate horizontal grooves cut into the front inner surface to give them something to cling to during the night.
The size of the box doesn’t matter so much so long as it isn’t too small. Larger boxes can accommodate more birds and that is a good thing. Also, the box can be wider than it is tall so long as you stick to the basic building plan.
If you can, attach your roosting box to a metal pole and at least six feet off the ground. If you do fasten it to a tree, wrap the tree just under the box with metal roofing sheeting (https://www.amazon.com/Therwen-Aluminum-Flashing-Sealing-Prevention/dp/B0C68MM9SD/ref=sr_1_62?crid=20SQ1YYUUR5MM&keywords=roofing%2Bmaterials&qid=1699231064&sprefix=roofing%2Bsheeting%2Caps%2C222&sr=8-62&th=1) of at least 20 inches to deter predators. You can also fashion a downward pointing cone that will do the same thing.
I have several different free plans available on my website, www.nature-track.com. Just click on the Naturalist Corner tab on the top of the home page. Each one is a little different and each has some conflicting advice. Use the recommendations above if you note a conflict.
Providing a roosting box or two is a great way to attract birds to your backyard and to do something meaningful in helping them survive. It is worth the effort to purchase or build one.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.
I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho