Nov 18 2012

Going to the Birds (Again)

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I’ve done it again (my badgering at its best).  This time I convinced hubby to build a kestrel nest box. (Remember when I begged him to install hummingbird nests and the hummingbird cam? That was after the first time he built platforms for our nesting roadrunners – all at my insistent whining urging).

Meet Kessie the kestrel, our frequent visitor the past month. This is the first time we’ve ever seen kestrels on our property, so of course I was excited. They’re part of the falcon family. Click to enlarge.

Hubby scrounged for leftover building materials to construct the nest: unused wooden countertop remnants, plywood, house supplies.

All the pieces to the puzzle, waiting for assembly. Note the grooves in the piece to the far right. These are actually “steps” so Kessie can exit the hole with ease. Click to enlarge.

Here’s the constructed box, 25” tall and 10” wide, leaning against Betty’s tire. Click to enlarge.

Everyone’s house deserves a good coat of paint, right? Click to enlarge.

And we all need good bedding – especially for swaddling the little ones. Sawdust is apparently the preferred nesting material. Click to enlarge.

According to The Arizona Game and Fish Heritage Fund, the nest box should be up by March to attract nesting kestrels. Nice to be ahead of the game for once.

Ready for new tenants! Here it is, about 12 feet in the air next to a saguaro, overlooking weedy desert plains – good hunting ground for kestrels (they like to eat insects and rodents). Click to enlarge.

If I were a kestrel, I think I’d fancy this mountain view. Click to enlarge.

The thing we’re learning about birds: if you wish to attract them, you must build the best possible nest, suited to each specific bird. You must have things just right so the bird can step in and out, enter and exit, hunt and protect its young.

For Writers/Readers: Building bird boxes … building fictional worlds … They’re not so different, are they?

Writers: Similar to a bird-box builder, we secure the right materials – voice, engaging characters, setting, unique plot, lively dialogue, conflict – building the best possible novel to attract agents, publishers and – most importantly, readers. I’ve been talking a lot with friends lately about ‘what’ seems to be attracting the attention of publishers these days. What do you think? Shorter books? Longer books? Certain genres? Particular themes? Specific writing styles?

Readers: What kinds of books are you attracted to? What makes you swoop in and investigate a book? Do you think a country’s “mood” dictates the type of fiction people wish to read – i.e. lighter fiction during hard times, darker fiction during up times? Does it matter? What books make you feel at home in your nesting box?

So, now that the careful construction is complete, we wait (again – not unlike writers on submission or those seeking agents, or those waiting for reader feedback). With any luck, we’ll have a pair of kestrels in the spring (be sure to check back!). Note the black dots on the back of the kestrel’s head. To other predatory birds, the obsidian markings look like open eyes and detract from assaults. Click to enlarge.


21 Responses to “Going to the Birds (Again)”

  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    You and your hubby are THE BEST! I have crossed my fingers and toes that Kessie makes him/herself at home. Who wouldn’t with digs like those? Incredible!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Gotta give hubs the credit for this one. All I did was build. They are supposed to lay 4-5 eggs. Can you imagine little ones peeking their heads out of that hole when they’re ready to fledge? Can’t wait!

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    Your husband is a saintly bird home carpenter, Melissa. Proof you two are a good match! (And I am still reeling with admiration for his jeep fixin’ skills on the fly – those are pretty darn impressive.)
    My husband and son built several bird houses a few years back and got no takers. I hope you get your Kestrel family. I think you’re spot on about everything having to be just right. Good luck!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Saintly is correct. And, yes, his handyman skills sure do come in handy out here in the rural desert! What kind of bird houses did you guys build? Bummer that you had no takers. Fingers crossed that the kestrels return – esp. since they’ve been hanging out so much out-of-season!

    Next on the docket: barn owl box. (Don’t tell hubby!)

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    Wow, I am SO jealous! What a gorgeous nesting box. First the hummingbirds and now kestrels? I can’t wait to see the kestrel cam featuring Kessie and Kessie juniors! 🙂 And a barn owl box next? Time for a trip west…

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    Melissa Reply:

    We ARE planning to do a new kind of camera INSIDE the box if we can! I hope they take to ti!

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    Julia Munroe Martin Reply:

    That is AWESOME!! Can’t wait!

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    If I were Kessie, I’d move in lock, stock, and barrel!

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    What a gorgeous bird! I hope we get to see a family in the spring.
    We have an owl box in our back yard that was installed by the people who lived here before us. It’s in just the right place, but I’ve learned that barn owls won’t use it. There are great horned owls in the neighborhood and that keeps the barn owls away, so our box is destined to remain vacant.
    Not sure what publishers want other than a completed manuscript, which I don’t have at the moment, so I need to get busy!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes – great-horned owls will attack barn owls, which is why I was so surprised a few years back when I discovered great-horned owlets along a ridge of the wash, then walked only 1/4 mile and found fuzzy, adorable baby barn owls in another hole in the side of a cliff. An anomaly for sure for them to be living so closely to one another. That’s why I’m not sure how well barn owls would do here. We hear the great-horned owls chanting outside our window during the spring. Such a COOL sound.

    We both need to get busy on the ms-compeltion task!

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  • avatar Joe W Says:

    SO impressed! I love kestrels, and they need all the help they can get as a species.

    Still, we see kestrels here. I want to live somewhere you can see roadrunners! (Only seen them a few times while on visits to Arizona.)

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    Melissa Reply:

    The roadrunners are delightful – such animated birds and with fabulous personalities. The female of our ‘pair’ disappeared a few years ago and the male never found another mate. Sniffle. Sniffle. (The babies were a real treat)

    So, Joe – what do you think: male or female kestrel?

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  • avatar michele Says:

    You post made me swoon all morning! I’m new to birding and LOVE seeing what others like you are doing to attract these beauties. I haven’t seen a Kestrel in person, but supposedly we have them here in NC. On a recent bird walk we saw a Cedar Waxwing, and I have to tell you I almost cried, he was so beautiful. 😉

    We get a lot of Chickadees, Cardinals, Song Sparrows, Eastern Bluebirds, Tufted Titmice and Carolina Wrens, a few downy woodpeckers, mockingbirds and blue jays will stop by to say a quick hello. Now that colder weather has approached we are seeing lots of dark eyed juncos. They make me so happy. I would love to talk hubby into making a few homes. We were thinking of making a few winter brush piles and roost boxes. Please, please keep us updated on Kessie! Did you happen to see the HBO documentary, Birders: The Central Park Effect? It made me nutty for birding around our house.

    I’m a mood reader, no doubt about it. I’ll read whatever we’ve chosen for book club, or if a friend has highly recommended a title. But my personal reading is dictated by what I’m curious about at any given time.

    Right now I’m reading Life Of Pi to my 12 year old so we can see the movie this week. I’m reading Ragtime because a friend said it was fantastic. I’m also in the middle of Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, and the Stories Of John Cheever, just because. I think life (what my children are studying in school, holidays, movies that are based on books, current trends and issues) does dictate what I read at times, and then my own curiosity eeks out space as well. During bad times I seek out the comfort of CS Lewis, David McCullough, lots of historical fiction makes me feel all nesty. 😉

    Thank you for such a lovely post, Melissa!

    xomichele

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    Melissa Reply:

    I adore your love of birds and your enthusiasm. I’m kind of new to birding as well (and fortunately have a handyman hubby to build nest boxes.) I’ve never seen a cedar waxwing, but hear they’re beautiful. My most exciting sighting was a western tanager (a bright yellow, orange, red bird that looks like a small parrot — on its way to S. America). Juncos are SO cool, as well. We have them in higher elevations. I didn’t see the documentary, but can understand how motivational it must have been for you!

    I think a lot of people are mood readers. For the most part, I seem to always gravitate toward dark dramas (the goal always: to cry). Though I’ve recently stretched my reading wings and have been enjoying historicals as well as some historical/fantasy/literary. What fun to have so many choices!

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    I adore the new birdhouse! I’d never heard of kestrels before; how very cool. I love birds of prey. I can’t wait to see a post about that cute house being home to some baby birds. =)

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’ll keep you posted in case we get some takers for the house! I know you love your birds of prey. Me, too!

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  • avatar Joe W Says:

    I think it’s a male. A little less vividly colored than some I’ve seen, but that could be because it’s a desert race. (A guess.) Then again, I could easily be wrong–but the darker wings seem like a male to me.

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    Such a beautiful little dwelling. I would set up shop in there for sure! 🙂 I’m drawn to authors who are not trying to fit a “style,” but are just trying to tell a story in the best way they know how. Like The Orchardist, for instance. We couldn’t figure out her POV, but knew that we just LOVED it!

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  • avatar Lisa Ahn Says:

    What a gorgeous bird! I love the link you make between nesting and reading/ writing. Curling up with a good book and a cup of coffee is my nest, truly.

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    It must be nice to have a such a handy guy around!! I can’t even imagine.

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  • avatar Girl Parker Says:

    How did I miss this post? Just beautiful and I’m quite impressed with your hubby’s handiwork. I have house-buying fever – unaffordable – but YES, I’d love a mountain view like that! That will be a happy happy bird. I really hadn’t considered my DC girl’s house (one POV in the WIP) and now I am. Thanks!

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