WILD Nest Boxes for Urban Birds

By Keith Ashley, Coordinator: Paton Center for Hummingbirds

Recently I found myself in a curious situation: sitting on the floor of a high school MakerSpace—what we used to call “shop class.” I was brokering a business deal with fifteen teenagers—a tough crowd if ever there was one. Mr. Perales and I had to leave the room so they could hash out the proposal amongst themselves.

Fortunately I’d come prepared with a very reasonable offer, thanks to the vision of Tucson Audubon’s Nature Shop Keeper, Whelan. We will pay these students a very fair amount for the American Kestrel and Western Screech Owl nest boxes they’re learning to build, and then we’ll sell them further as part of our Nest Boxes for Urban Birds (NB4UB) pilot project. Although we haven’t had any Kestrels nest yet, the Screech Owl business is booming.

A sleepy owl on a sunny day photographed by Carrie Merkle, box built by Dave Montgomery. Carrie and Dave built their box for a Kestrel according to plans distributed by Tucson Audubon during the Winter Appeal in December 2013 as part of the Nest Boxes for Urban Birds pilot project. They are quite pleased to have a Screech Owl for their current tenant.

We’re offering to pay the students plenty so they can invest in more wood to build more boxes (and perhaps some automatic urban chicken feeders, vegetable storage bins, and traditional ollas for sustainable gardening).  They’ll also be building skills as business-minded carpenters—and hopefully building an interest in supporting local wildlife into the future.

Eleven of the fifteen said “yes” to the venture. Screech Owls all over town breathed a sigh of relief.

These students are “Changemakers” from the Western Institute for Leadership Development (WILD), a new and visionary charter high school just off 22nd Street. The school is committed to providing students with real world projects and results while these students transform themselves and the larger community to create a more equitable and sustainable world. When I heard Academic Director, Luis Perales, M.S., talking to the MakerSpace students about a “triple bottom line” of “planet, people, and profit” for their business, I knew I had found a hopeful place.

Students at the Western Institute for Leadership Development working on their first round of nest boxes.
The next trick is getting these students down to the grasslands in Sonoita so they can see the future site of our Win-Win for Azure Bluebirds and Arizona Vineyards conservation project, and perhaps deliver a couple of bluebird boxes they’ve built. Then it’s on to the Paton Center and the Patagonia Mountains. I don’t think we can expect anyone to love and fight for a world they’ve never seen.

Eastern "Azure" Bluebirds in the Patagonia Mtns.

If you happen to be reading this, and happen to have some carpentry skills, and happen to be looking for a great volunteer gig, we’d love to have a few folks help us out in the MakerSpace from time to time. The students meet afternoons, 2:20 to 3:30, Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you’d be interested in working with these youth to help them hone their nest box building skills—even once or twice a month—contact me at Kashley@tucsonaudubon.org.