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Bird friends

Posted by Prairie Sundance 
Bird friends
May 23, 2021 02:39PM
This is our third year in establishing a small, mixed fruit community orchard in Wisconsin. I am finally starting to scrape enough extra time out of my other jobs to look more seriously at the daydream list for enlisting local help here. Our plan has always been to install hawk roosts to help with rodent problems, and in looking at plans for them I got interested in kestrel and owl boxes, which got me interested in bluebird houses, which got me interested in... well, seeing what other folks are actually doing.

Is anyone out there putting up roosts or birdhouses? Are they occupied? How much time you are spending maintaining them? Have you found one design more effective than another? Does it feel like one species is more effective? Has it felt worth it? Are some of my questions.

Most of the fruit books I read address birds only from the exclusion/pest angle, and a forum search here only brought up a comment by Peter Fisher about bluebirds and purple Martins under the curculio thread. The studies I ran across online give mixed reports at how effective attracting birds actually is, but most seem to suggest that native birds do more good than harm, and I’m convinced that a robust ecosystem is always going to have a lot more going on for the better than meets the eye. So far I’ve been excited to see how many ground nesting birds are using our native, minimally mowed orchard floor, as they are mostly insect/seed eaters, and much of the surrounding land use wouldn’t support these species, (either overworked woodlots or monoculture crop land.)

It seems like with the exception of Hawk/owl roosts, winter is the time to build and install birdy stuff, so we’ve got some time to plan, but it would be nice to get some feedback before I put the homeschoolers to work in the woodshop.


SW Wisconsin zone 5a/4b
Homestead/community orchard
2ish acres with half planted in 2018-2019 with heritage apples, alternating b118, antonovka, and seedling roots
Second half planted 2021-22 with plums, cherries, apricot, peach, pears, etc...
SE slope, trees are planted in contoured berms
Native prairie species for all ground cover

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/23/2021 04:09PM by Prairie Sundance.
Re: Bird friends
May 25, 2021 09:21PM
Check out this inspiring picture of a kestrel-protected block found on the network website, courtesy of Liz Griffith, Door Creek Orchard in Wisconsin. I bet you are practically neighbors, Prairie!

Hmmm, a thumbnail should have appeared. You need to push the 'open image URL' link.

Meanwhile, the coolest bird thing I came across recently is that hummingbirds eat Spotted Wing Drosophila. Hang a hummingbird feeder by your raspberry patch and let the feasting begin! One caveat: be sure to refresh (change) the sugar water every couple of days so as to not have molds sicken the hummers.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire
Re: Bird friends
June 10, 2021 08:25PM
Thanks for making the connection for us, I spoke with Liz on the phone last week and look forward to taking a field trip to their orchard when they are open to the public later this fall. I wish I had done more orchard visits before we began this adventure, and this prompted me to find the Wisconsin orchard directory and identify orchards to visit that seem like they may be in line with some of our goals.

I’ll attempt to paraphrase some of what Liz shared with me in case it’s useful to others.

They do indeed have several kestrel boxes placed in the middle of their orchard blocks, and for the first 4 or 5 years had several kestrels occupying them. The last several years the starlings have taken over, and they haven’t been able to dislodge them. They clean them every spring and add fresh chips.

They have many bluebird boxes in the hedgerow/ orchard perimeter. Most of these are occupied with bluebirds and tree swallows. They clean them and leave them open during the winter to keep mice from nesting in them.

They see some bird damage in their grapes which could be attributed in part to the bluebirds, though probably not the tree swallows. They find an insignificant amount of damage in their apples.

She couldn’t quantify the benefit, but believes in the benefits of a healthy ecosystem, to that end they also have extensive prairie and pollinator plantings and maintain bat boxes.

Also was cool to hear about sheep in their orchard, but that’s another topic...

One resource I found that has a lot of great tools for assessing birds in ag settings is this publication [d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net]
13-99% reduction in overwintering codling moth!

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 06/10/2021 10:02PM by Prairie Sundance.
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