Bird nest boxes gives kids a nature experience

By Beth Carter 29 November 2013
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A new program bringing birds and nest-boxes to schools gives kids a chance to help native animals.

HOLLOW TREES AND habitats are important shelter for Australian birds and wildlife and a place to nest in. Loss of these habitats to land clearing and urban development are putting pressure on many endangered species as they leave nowhere to breed.

“Hopefully nest boxes will help by recreating some of those spaces,” says Simon Cherriman, 2010 Australian Geographic Young Conservationist.

Gill Basnett and Simon began running ‘Nest Box Workshops’ in schools two months ago to promote the importance of natural habitats for Australian species in suburban areas. Gill is an ecologist and environmental educator and consultant. Simon has been sponsored by the Australian Geographic Society for his work on wedge-tailed eagles, and has been building nest boxes since he was 10years old.

“I remember thinking ‘surely a wild animal won’t use this, it’s just a square, man-made box in a tree, not anything that looked particularly natural,” says Simon, who first built a box to appease his dad. “It was for a possum that was living in our roof, and to my surprise, the possum moved out and into the box soon after I installed it in a tree.”

Taking nest boxes to schools

The workshops aim to get school students thinking about sustainability, by undertaking long term projects, and by showing students that they can create a connection with local wildlife. “We believe it is vital for our students to be involved in authentic actions so that they feel empowered and know that they can have a positive impact on their environment,” says Catherine Bishop, deputy principal at Ardross Primary School, just south of Perth.

Simon and Gill bring students a hands-on workshop and a talk on the importance of recycling. “Most of us think of recycling as just putting cans and newspaper in yellow lidded bins,” says Simon. But so many materials can be reused instead of going into landfill. Our boxes are made from scrap or ‘rescued’ plywood, which was donated to us.”

The workshops provide school students with a number of pre-made boxes in kit form.  Nest boxes can be any size, but schools groups use three designs. “Big boxes are suitable for black cockatoos, and the smaller nest boxes provide good habitat for parrots and possums,” says Simon. Students put the boxes together in small groups and paint them, before they are installed high in the trees.

Birds nesting in boxes

Ardross Primary School, in Western Australia, which took part in the workshops six weeks ago, has seen increased bird life already. “There is still a lot of bird interest here. Some pink and grey galahs spent a week trying to get into the small parrot box near the classrooms, so we felt sorry for them and got a box with a bigger hole from a local Men’s Shed. They moved into it the next day,” says Catherine.

The boxes have been designed to keep away other inhabitants, like bees, by ensuring there is a small amount of airflow under the lid. The nest boxes are also designed with specific birds in mind; those placed in areas with parrots have aluminium reinforced corners to stop them being chewed. “The kids found the piece of wire that had been attached to the inside of the box as a ladder, on the ground below the nest. They think the birds didn’t like it and have chewed it off and thrown it out,” says Catherine.

It goes further than just putting the boxes in the trees; students maintain a diary and monitor the birdlife around the boxes. Students keep a ‘Nest Box Book’ and make daily recordings of what birds and animals are in or on the boxes. “We have a notebook in the office area which the children write in when they see birds doing interesting things… The kids have been documenting everything,” says Catherine.

“Ideally in the future there’ll be red tailed black cockatoos nesting all over Perth. There’s only one record, and that was last year and in a nest box,” says Simon.