I can’t help but feel reinvigorated every spring with the return of birds to Sweet Pepper Ranch, our horse motel in Nampa, Idaho. Actually, some birds, like western meadowlarks and robins are here all winter. We just don’t always notice them as much because we don’t see or hear them as we do in the spring, when they become more active entering breeding season and begin territorial calling.
I have been hearing the lovely meadowlark’s solitary call, watching them on fence posts as I ride in my outdoor arena. And as I ride I watch American kestrels check out the assortment of nest boxes on our property while hunting field mice.
Over the winter, in preparation for spring, we put up a couple of new nest boxes. The most exciting was for barn owls, which do a great job with rodent control. So much so that our county actually installs barn owl nest boxes on private property as a natural rodent control method.
Western meadowlark, Installing barn owl boxes, killdeer nest
Barn and cliff swallows also nest in Southwestern Idaho, returning to our area about mid April. Swallows are veracious insectivores and will eat hundreds, maybe thousands, of soft-bodied flying insects each day. I love watching them dart and dash through the hay fields, scooping up troublesome insects all summer long.
Killdeer have also returned to Sweet Pepper Ranch. I first noticed them several weeks ago with their raucous, unmistakable calls. Like the swallows, they overwinter in Central America. These birds forage for insects in fields, mudflats, and shorelines - or in our case - driveways, parking lots, horse paddocks, and hay fields. When nesting, killdeer often feign the broken wing act to lure a potential predator away from a nest. Last year we had a killdeer nest in the middle of a horse paddock - which I had to keep vacated for three weeks while we waited and waited for the cute little babies to hatch.
All over most of North America violet green and tree swallows will nest in boxes and can be encouraged to live and hunt bugs in your yard by hanging a couple boxes. Check out HCW's tip sheet: The Swallows are Coming, for more ways to attract these highly beneficial birds.
I think us horse people see ourselves and our horses as an extension of the outdoors, we like feeling close and attuned to nature. You too can make the coming summer’s farm chores easier and more fun by enlisting nature’s help. Try some nest boxes on your property!
Also, take a look at ways to put good bugs to work on your property by attending the new, upcoming workshop on attracting beneficial insects and pollinators!