Birdhouse Festival


(This column was first published in the March 17, 2003 issue of The Buffalo News.)


Can it be that spring is just around the corner?


The equinox, I understand, will occur this Thursday, March 20 at 8 p.m. At that time the balance between nighttime and daytime hours will be exact or, to put it another way, sunrise and sunset will be twelve hours apart.


Hard as it is to believe, we may soon see an end to this remarkably cold winter, this rare season whose Arctic blasts completely froze not only shallow Lake Erie but the much larger and deeper Lake Superior as well. (Oddly, the Arctic seems to have replaced the cold it sent us with too warm weather. They had to reroute the Iditerod dogsled race in Alaska because of open water.)


This winter froze me too. I can recall no less comfortable season since my two years in Minneapolis where we had 40 below zero temperatures (on either scale) with 40 mile per hour winds and where all the robberies were by villains wearing ski masks, since everyone else was also wearing them.


So I'm thinking ahead. In a few days masses of migratory birds will begin arriving. In fact, some of the more venturesome -- and foolhardy -- are here already. Red-winged blackbirds are visiting feeders and tree swallows are forlornly hovering over still ice-bound ponds. Red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks are sailing over the few poor souls manning the Southtowns hawkwatch. Along the river oldsquaws (now renamed long-tailed ducks) and goldeneyes and buffleheads are courting with their strange antics: among them head bobbing and flicking, tail shaking and running their beaks along the water surface. Meanwhile, those drab overwintering robins are being joined by big early migrants, the Labrador robin subspecies with their bright orange breasts.


Us old timers won't be misled by these signs of spring. We know that March and even April can be discouraging months and snow is not unknown even in May. (My mother was married in early June on a day in Rochester when snow flurries were detected.)


For those of us left then with time on our hands before the hiking boots and golf clubs are resurrected and we can get out into fair weather, I have a suggestion.


Build and set out birdhouses.


Don't wait until the birds are here to do this.


Birdhouses can range from old plastic jugs with holes cut in them to ornate multi-storied purple martin apartment buildings. They can be carefully constructed and ornately decorated or they can be a few unpainted boards tacked together, the latter often attracting tenants sooner.


And if you are good at carpentry, you should consider entering your birdhouse (or birdfeeder) in the Buffalo Audubon Birdhouse Festival competition to be held at their Beaver Meadow Visitor Center on April 26 and 27.


Awards will be given for Best of Show as well as in each of four categories: for adults: Birdhouse and Birdfeeder; and the same for children 12 and under. In each category three awards will be given for: craftsmanship, design for a specific species, and best construction from recycled materials. To learn further details you can call the Center at 585-457-3228 or visit their website at Deadline for entries is April 15.


Even if you don't enter this competition, you should mark that weekend to visit the recently upgraded Center at 1610 Welch Road in North Java. The birdhouses will be on display and there will be workshops on attracting birds to your yard.


And for those of you who, like me, cannot handle a hammer or saw, there will be birdhouses and birdfeeders on sale there as well.-- Gerry Rising

Two of the many websites that provide plans for building birdhouses are the North Carolina State University Building Songbird Boxes site and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Birdhouse site.