Counting Houses

Puddock Hill Journal #31: Birdhouse occupancy measures progress and inspires.

Like most backyard gardeners, we don’t have the resources at Puddock Hill to measure our progress or regress by quantifying very many things. There is no team of entomologists to tally the arthropods. No expert bird counter to number the flock. No scientist to assess the soil. We mostly know how we’re doing through subjective anecdote and less than rigorous observation.

With birdhouses it’s a bit different. While I don’t monitor the boxes during nesting season, when I clean them out every November I can easily confirm the occupancy rate.

Well, easily but not 100% accurately, because there are some caveats. I don’t know how many times a given house was used over the year nor how many eggs were laid nor how many birds fledged. Nor do I know what to make of the occasional nest that just doesn’t look quite right to me. These are all things expert naturalist would track with precision.

But I do know how many nests I see every November when I open up our fourteen birdhouses to be cleaned. Usually, the occupancy rate hovers around two-thirds. This past year, it ran to 93%—with only a single unused birdhouse. I’d like to take credit for that progress, consider it the payoff from several years of assiduous backyard stewardship, but I also have to concede it might result from factors beyond my control.