Nest Box Project

Why do birds need artificial nest boxes and why are we making them?

There are birds in the farm that nest in naturally occurring tree cavities. These are usually holes on the trunks of old and mature trees. When a branch breaks off from a tree, maybe from strong wind during a storm, the broken off part starts to rot. The soft, rotten parts attract insects and cavity-building birds like woodpeckers. Woodpeckers use their strong beaks to expand the cavities. Later on, when the cavity-building bird like the woodpecker moves on to another tree, other birds move into the cavity that the woodpecker created. Birds like owls cannot build their own cavities. They use the cavities that were built by other species.

Studies have shown that oftentimes the lack of available nesting sites is the only thing that prevents certain bird species from breeding. In our place, we can see that we don’t have a lot of suitable nesting sites for owls and other cavity-nesting birds. We have very few mature trees. A few years back, our caretaker even reported seeing a Scops Owl nesting on the ground! We hope that the Scops Owls that we hear in our area nest in our new artificial nest boxes.

How do you make a nest box suitable for the tropics?

Our main considerations were making the nest boxes durable and heat-proof. We came upon big pieces of tree trunks from felled trees in our city neighborhood. This was a good opportunity for us to copy the design of a successful project in South Africa where they made artificial nests for Ground-Hornbills out of hollowed out eucalyptus logs. They installed 29 artificial nests. The hornbills started using the nests immediately.  After two years 21 of the artificial nests were being used! There were only 6 natural nests being used in their area. They recorded the temperatures inside the artificial nests and natural nests. They found that the interiors of the natural nests reached much higher temperatures than the temperatures inside the artificial nests. They think that heat stress contributes to breeding failure. The temperatures inside the artificial nests were more steady and they think that may be one of the reasons why the artificial nests were so successful.

How do you build an artificial nest box out of logs?

These are some of the pieces of wood that we collected.


We hired people with real woodworking skills (not us!) to cut the logs in half, then hollow out the inside.

Then they made a hole on one side. The two sides are bolted together.

Galvanized steel topper that we hope will prevent the wood from rotting and swelling.


Surprise! The craftspeople painted the tops to match the trunks!


The finished products, ready to install!

What does it look like? Are the birds using it?

We installed 4 artificial nest boxes at the farm. We placed them in the areas where we have heard Scops Owls. It’s still early days, so no action at the nests yet.

If I were a Scops Owl, I would nest here!

Nest #1
Nest #2
Nest #3
Nest #4

How do you maintain an artificial nest box?

The downside of our design is that it will be challenging to clean out! The nest boxes of the South African project have removable tops. I think this is where they access the nests to check on the chicks and do maintenance work. The tops of our nest boxes are fixed. We are told that we should clean out the nest boxes after every nesting season. This is mainly to remove parasite populations that can build up inside the nesting box. I think the nest boxes are small enough to easily take down wash out. We could vacuum it if there’s such a thing as a battery operated Shop Vac! The wire that holds up the nests will also need adjusting as the tree grows.

What about other designs?

We are also going to try other designs. There’s a successful nesting project in Bacong, Negros Oriental that uses a very simple and open design. It looked so simple that I found it hard to believe that it would work! Now I’m thinking that one advantage of a very open front is that the heat won’t build up too much inside. I also saw an intriguing design from the US that has a small mirror so you can check the inside of the nesting box with binoculars from the ground!

We are crossing our fingers that the owls or other birds like the nest boxes!



More birds for August

We’ve been seeing a lot of these guys near the house.

This Lesser Coucal seems to have claimed the bamboo fence as his hang-out.

Lesser Coucal


This week we noticed a string on the Pied Harrier’s leg. I am hoping that the Pied Harrier gets the string off somehow.

Pied Harrier and Large-billed Crow in a battle!


The Pygmy Flowerpeckers are still on the Aratiles tree. Now that all the ripe fruit are gone, they are eating the green fruit!

Pygmy Flowerpecker


This Cisticola was a bit further away from the house. It has become one of the easier birds to photograph. It calls out loudly while perched on an exposed branch before diving back into the long grass.

Golden-headed Cisticola

Awesome birdy August

We are having an awesome birdy August! We added three more new birds to the farm bird list! That makes SIX new birds for August!

  • Striated heron Butorides striata
  • Clamorous Reed Warbler Acrocephaus stentoreus
  • Yellow-wattled Bulbul Pycnonotus urosticus
  • White-bellied Munia Lonchura locugastra 
  • Ruddy-breasted Crake Ponzana fusca
  • Philippine Green Pigeon (formerly known as Pompadour Green Pigeon) Treron axillaris
Yellow-wattled Bulbul

We’ve now seen three kinds of bulbuls at the farm:

  • Yellow-vented Bulbul  Pycnonotus goiavier – One of the most common birds at the farm. It’s a garden bird and is never found in mature forests.
  • Philippine Bulbul Hypsipetes philippinus – This is a forest bird! It is usually seen in forest edge and advanced second growth. I always keep an eye out for these birds because I think they assist in reforestation by bringing in different seeds from forest trees and plants. I’ve been seeing more of them in our area. 
  • Yellow-wattled Bulbul Pycnonotus urostictus – Another forest bird like the Philippine Bulbul. It is usually seen in lowland early second growth and forest edge. I only saw one bird that perched in front of me for a few seconds. Maybe we’ll be seeing more of them as our area becomes more and more forest-like.

We also had a returning bird. A few years ago, we had two Pied Harriers Circus melanoleucos, a female and an immature, that hung around the farm for three months. This was in November 2013 until January 2014. Then they both disappeared. Later in 2014, we saw a female Pied Harrier. We wondered, was this the same female? Did something happen to the immature? There were no more sightings in 2015 and 2016. Then this month we saw a female Pied Harrier! It’s possible that it’s the same one from 2013!

Pied Harrier

This month I also had my best views ever of Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea at the farm! I thought that I would be seeing a lot of these birds in our area. In the early days, I even wrote about seeing one when we first toured the farm and how it was a “sign”! But, they weren’t as easy to see as I imagined they would be .. until now!

Black-naped Monarch, female

This month, they were right near the house and very visible!

Black-naped Monarch, male

We are only halfway through August! I’m looking forward to the rest of the month!