By Mark Klym
Build a nest box for two beautiful but different birds.
Wood ducks and prothonotary warblers are quite different birds, but they have this in common: Both prefer to nest in cavities in trees located over or very near water. Loss of wetlands and associated nesting cavities can be offset somewhat by providing nesting boxes, which both species accept readily. Since the birds prefer the same habitat, nest boxes suited for both can be combined into one unit - a condominium for birds.
The smaller nest box for the prothonotary warbler is mounted onto one side of a wood duck nest box, and the two are then placed on a free-standing pole with a predator guard. Generally, nest boxes in Texas should be constructed with heat in mind. Use nominal 1-inch-thick lumber for greater insulating value. Leave a 1/2 -inch space between the top of each side piece and the roof for ventilation. Make the box deep to create a cathedral ceiling effect, allowing heat to rise. If possible, mount the box in a shady location. Extend the back several inches above the roof and orient the box so the back shades the roof. Even better, use a double roof with a small air space between the two pieces. Finally, cut 1/4-inch notches in each corner of the bottom to allow water to drain.
The dimensions on the accompanying diagram are approximate, but placement of entry holes the proper height above the floor is important. The entry hole for the wood duck should be centered 16 inches above the floor; for the warbler, 61/2 inches. Also, note the length of 1/4-inch hardware cloth inside the front of the wood duck box; hatchlings use their toenails to climb the "ladder" and exit the nest box.
The roof of each box is attached only to the front and back. One side of each box is fastened to both front and back, but the other is attached to the front and back only at the top, using one nail at the front and one at the back. This allows the side to be swung outward for cleaning following each nesting season. Drill a hole through the front of the box and into the side at the bottom; use a common nail as a locking pin to keep the side in place. By mounting the prothonotary warbler box on the side of the wood duck box that will face away from the sun, you can provide additional shade.
Plans for wood duck boxes can be obtained from Ducks Unlimited at www.ducks.org. Illustrated instructions for constructing a prothonotary warbler nest box can be found at www.50birds.com.
The wood duck's gaudy plumage makes it a favorite of artists, photographers and birders. The prothonotary warbler also delights the eye, receiving its name from the colorful ceremonial robes worn by members of the Roman Catholic Church's College of Prothonotaries Apostolic. Having two of nature's most beautiful feathered jewels sharing living quarters seems like a smart thing to do.