Monday, September 7, 2015

Who's peeking out of the nesting box?

Last year, I optimistically watched my husband attach a wooden nesting box to a sycamore tree’s trunk on our property. I felt sure wildlife would soon come to check it out. Eventually, some creature — perhaps a bluebird or a screech owl — would raise a family within its rough-sawn walls.

The nesting box’s position couldn’t have been better. From my seat at our kitchen table, I looked across the lawn to the tree. Raised about 15 feet above the ground and facing toward the house, the nesting box was directly within eyesight. If anything was going to happen, I would see it.

Unfortunately, not much happened.

A few wasps buzzed about and some anole lizards checked it out but for most of the year that was all the action I observed until one day when a not-quite-full-grown bluebird sat on its roof. I felt my hopes soar when the bluebird landed. 

An immature bluebird checks out the nesting box

It poked its head into the hole and flitted about. I wondered if it was old enough to nest. If not, would it remember where the nesting box was and return when it was ready to mate and raise babies? I waited to see what would happen, but nothing did.

Months went by. The nesting box sat empty. And then one day as I was at the table eating lunch, I gazed up from my meal to see a little face looking out of the nesting box hole. I quickly put down my fork and picked up the camera, turned it on and zoomed in for a closer look.

Peeking out of the nesting box hole

My Canon camera has a wonderful zoom lens that can pick up the smallest details on far-away scenes. As I zoomed close to the box’s opening, I was surprised by what I saw.

Cute little bugger

Instead of observing one of the cavity-dwelling feathered creatures I’d imagined, my eyes caught sight of a fur-covered critter. A squirrel — a seed-stealing, wood-gnawing, rat-with-a-fluffy-tail fiend — had taken up residence in the wooden box house. As I gawked at the sight of the unwelcome dweller, the unrepentant animal stared back with a self-satisfied grin.

“How nice of you to install this snug and cozy home,” I imagined the squirrel saying. “It’s close to three birdfeeders and conveniently located right next to a den my mate just built in a clump of bamboo.”

Unlike animals that have only one home, squirrels can inhabit not one but three nests. The male has a nest. So does the female. And then there’s another built entirely to contain a litter of young. Once I realized a squirrel had moved into the nesting box, other things began to make sense.

A few weeks back, I had watched a gray squirrel carry nesting material in its mouth from one stand of Giant Timber bamboo to another. 

I suspected a new nest was in the making as I watched a squirrel transfer nesting material from one location to another

The squirrel already had built a leafy nest, known as a drey, in a stand of bamboo about 60 feet from our house. The drey was a loosely woven bowl-shaped structure made from small branches interlaced with leaves, moss and pine needles. When I saw the squirrel moving about with a mouth full of fibers, I figured it was in the process of building another nest nearby. Although I tried to find the new nest in a second stand of Giant Timber bamboo, leafy foliage blocked my view, and I was unable to spot it.

Although I couldn't spot the squirrel's nest in the bamboo, the wily critter had no trouble spotting me from its bamboo perch

Now that I knew a gray squirrel had taken up residence in the nesting box mounted on the sycamore tree right next to the bamboo, I realized what probably had happened. In my attempt to create a wild bird haven, I inadvertently encouraged gray squirrel procreation in a series of treehouse resorts.

Ah well, we don’t always get what we want, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy what we get. Maybe, from my kitchen table vantage point, instead of watching a mama screech owl raise her babies, I’ll soon catch some baby squirrel action.


  1. I actually like squirrels and they can be entertaining, too!!

    1. It has been suggested by some that the squirrel peeking out of the nesting box might be a flying squirrel instead of a gray squirrel. Something new to ponder...(and research and learn about!)