Spring: A good time to learn the art of building bird boxes

| March 24, 2020 1:00 AM

Spring at the sportsmen’s club can mean a lot of things but for one particular season it meant wood duck boxes.

They were pieced with one-by boards sawed at the local lumber mill and as we fifth-graders gathered around in the silence that fear brings — because we were in the presence of old guys who liked suspenders with their checkered shirts and language mistakenly referred to as colorful — we learned the virtue of the task we were about to undertake.

They are pine boards, the mill owner’s fifth-grade grandkid extolled, and then we screwed them together, were given a flyer with instructions and a list of tools required to make the nesting boxes. The size of the hole in the front panel was paramount, we learned. It required a special bit and drill. We were invited the following weekend to accompany the old men and their coffee thermoses as they trundled lowland roads to the edge of a stream where the boxes were nailed to trees.

The placement of the big, wooden bird houses required another page of instructions that cautioned against trying to hang a wood duck box alone. Someone had to stabilize the ladder on soft ground. That way, 12 feet up, another person with a bunch of nails clasped in their lips, and a claw hammer dangling precariously from a back pocket, could safely, and on jittery legs, hoist the box at a height that gave wood ducks a splendid view of the surrounding real estate.

It was up there, a few inches below fatal falling distance — or a terminal drop of the hammer or the box — that wood ducks would be safely out of reach of predators.

Except for raccoons, because they did what they wanted.

There were mishaps that spring, and miscalls. Hammers were dropped from 10 feet or more, ladders tilted in the muck making for a precarious work up there in an Aspen or cottonwood tree. We kept an ear out for the pronunciation of special words we later learned to employ ourselves.

Clothes were torn, and faces scratched by branches.

I don’t remember if we hung a box on Bron-son’s Creek, but years later I remem-ber the soft peeping sound that meant wood ducks. They zipped up the creek and their wings made a cacophonic whir as they shot past. Their colorful heads and glistening eyes caught our attention as we bobbed along the brown banks for spawning panfish.

Some streams had boxes but no birds. Others had birds but no boxes. So, it goes.

The lesson was to help out wildlife however you can, and it briefly made me a master craftsmen of the nesting box.

During spring break we sized them up for bluebirds and wood ducks alike.

The bluebird houses were hung on fenceposts and we were a little proud to learn, years later, that they made a difference. Both the bluebird and wood duck populations — once dastardly — burgeoned in that part of the region, due at least a little to kid-made nesting boxes.

There is no lesson in this, except that it’s spring break and young men and women have time on their hands — maybe a lot of time — to get out of the digital woods or be mentally winded on the PS4 or XBox.

They could of course, and it’s just a thought, be out in the woods or wind hanging a bird box.

The birds like it, and there’s some real adventure out there dangling one armed from a tree limb with a leg wrapped around a ladder anticipating having a new batch of birds nest along some stream, or marsh, or hay field.

And, potentially, there’s another language to be learned.

It may not be clean fun, but a little blood and dirt never hurt anyone.

Ralph Bartholdt is a staff writer for the Coeur d’Alene Press. He can be reached at rbartholdt@cdapress.com