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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

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December 2003

Habitat at home

Attract birds and wildlife to your backyard year-round with simple-to-construct shelters and feeders.

Maureen Mecozzi

The Home Habitat Workshop

The needs of life are simple: A safe, comfortable place to raise a family, somewhere to loaf with friends, good food and refreshment in familiar surroundings.

Similar amenities attract wildlife; offer them in your backyard and it's likely you'll have wild visitors throughout the year. Properly built and located, the shelter and feeder projects featured here will fulfill those basic needs. The time and effort you spend to construct one or several of the projects will be rewarded with frequent opportunities to view and study wildlife at close range.

Providing backyard habitat for nesting, shelter and feeding becomes more important as wild habitat decreases due to land development and demand for forest and agricultural products. When you add your projects to the available habitat base, you'll help strengthen and support wildlife populations in your area and beyond.

The Home Habitat Wookshop

The toolbox

Even if you're the type who feels the safest way to use a hammer is to let someone else hold the nail, you can build the projects featured here. No special tools are required; the usual suspects lying on the basement workbench will do. Nor do you need special skills other than the ability to measure twice, cut once.

Here are the tools you'll use, depending on the project:

  • Caulking gun
  • Electric or hand drill
  • Hammer
  • Handsaw or table saw
  • Paintbrushes
  • Router
  • Safety glasses
  • Scissors
  • Screwdriver
  • Staple gun
  • Tape measure or yardstick
  • Tin snips

Of course you'll wear safety glasses when sawing or drilling lumber, and provide guidance and supervision when children handle sharp or pointed tools.

A word about wood

Lumber is sold in standard sizes, but much to the consternation of novice carpenters the boards are actually narrower and thinner than the standard size indicates. For instance, a 1 x 8 board is about of an inch thick and 7 inches wide. In the project plans, lumber dimensions that contain no inch marks refer to the standard size. Inch marks (") indicate the actual measurement.

Redwood and cedar resist decay and will last a long time, but they are expensive and are prone to splitting if you don't pre-drill holes before driving nails or screws. Pine and spruce are cheaper alternatives; you can get good results with grades 2 and 3 of these woods, and your project should last for several years.

Exterior grade plywood, either " or " thick, can replace the standard 1-inch thick lumber mentioned in the project plans. Avoid plywood sheathing and underlayment – the plys will separate when exposed to the weather.

don't use wood treated with preservatives such as creosote, pentachlorophenol (penta), or green copper/chromium/arsenic salts.

Hold it together

For added strength and longevity, use rust-resistant nails and screws – galvanized, zinc-plated aluminum or stainless steel. If the project plan requires glue, waterproof wood glue gives the best results against the elements.

The finishing touch

Over time unfinished wood will weather to a soft grey and blend nicely into the natural surroundings of your yard. You can stain or paint the exterior if you like; the birds and bats won't mind. Semi-transparent oil-based stains work well provided they do not contain penta. Latex stain is less durable. If you want to use paint, first treat the wood with a water repellent. Let it dry for a day or two, then apply one coat of an oil-based primer followed by two coats of latex house paint.

Maureen Mecozzi is a contributing editor to Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.

Produced by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Nesting shelf, windowsill feeder and suet feeder designs from "Shelves, Houses and Feeders for Birds and Mammals," G. Barquest, S. Craven and R. Ellarson, North Central Regional Extension Publication No. 338.

Bat house design courtesy of the North American Bat House Research Project, Bat Conservation International, Inc.

Publication number: CE-4009-03