Here are a number of questions that I have been asked around nesting logs and their answers.
Q. I have a nesting log in a tree in my garden. A black collared barbet made a hole near the top (though the cut out hole was at the bottom) but the pair have never come back to nest- we may have frightened them as we had lunch in the garden. Should I leave the log there, is there a chance another bird may use it, or should I discard it?
A. One of my nesting logs is in my driveway with lots of cars and people moving about each day, and they happily remain in the log. I would hazard a guess in that with them making the hole at the top, that they might have started to high and either there is a hole in the roof, or a crack in the side. Once the cavity has something like this they will abandon it as it is long longer waterproof and will have a draft.
Q. We have two pairs of barbets in the garden, how far apart should we place the breeding logs so that they both will have a place two breed. The one pair have moved into one log and chased the other pair away.
A. They should at least be outside of sight of each other, but the further away the better. I have mine on either side of the house, but there are quarrels among them, but they both breed successfully .
Q. Why do barbets not use the holes that have been pre-cut for them near the top of the nesting logs that have been provided for them ? Our barbets insist on going straight through the roof of their logs .Is it worth my while to open up the holes on the side of the logs as they will be large enough for the barbets .
A. They generally do this as it is softer for them from the top than the side. I have had that they use the hole on the side but still make a hole from the top. If they use the top as a perch they will also peck at this when they sit there. The best solution is to fix a piece of pine wood on the top. This will deter them and make you light last longer. Fitting one of those plastic “saucers” that you can fit under a flower pot to the top of one of our logs will also work.
Q. Wonder if you can help me? I have 2 Sisal nesting logs that I have used for 2 seasons however the barbets have opened the top of the logs. Can I seal it with anything until I can get around to buy new logs?
A. It probably depends in how much the damage there are at the top and bottom, and if you still have enough log left to be able to fix it. The best method is to attach a thin piece of pine wood to the top and bottom. You can also use hardboard, but then you need to varnish this else it won’t last. The problem is to get it fixed onto the top and bottom as using screws in the sisal usually do not last. If you get new logs put the pine wood on from the start and use quite a bit of cold wood glue and screws to do this. The screws are just to keep it all in place until the glue has dried. Cover the whole area with the glue and ensure that it also penetrates the sisal a little bit. This will form a hard layer once dry, and with the wood should make your logs last a few seasons longer. Check the sides of the log for cracks or holes every season as well, and fill these up with wood filler, if possible
As to fixing your existing logs, use the glue and screws as described above, but as the contact surface is reduced due to the hole, I would suggest to get an old bicycle tube (racing bike is the best) and use it as an elastic band tying the top and bottom and securing the wooden covers. Don’t tie too tight as this might crush the whole log, just enough that the covers won’t budge.
Q. I came across an old feather pillow I’d stashed away in the attic, and I have been wondering if I can supply my birds with these feathers? Seems a waste to throw it away. What are your thoughts?
A. The down feathers in a pillow should be very usable to the birds. Put it in a netting bag or pouch where the birds can pull it out, but the feathers will not blow all over and attach this somewhere fairly visible to the birds, but with enough safe perches to approach and to take the feathers from. It may take a bit of time before they find it though.
Q. Can you kindly advise the predominant rain direction for Pretoria East Moreleta Park (or other areas)?
A. This unfortunately is not that easy, as areas differ. We in Johannesburg mostly get our storms from the Western side (either South-West or North-west ) But the slant of the rain is usually more South to South-east. I would think that Pretoria is not that much different as we are often under the same storm cells. To really know you will have to observe the rain in your area. From where the rain approaches you area is not that important, what is important is angle and direction that the rain actually falls from.
Q. I read that the log needs to be on the underside of a sloping branch. Does the angle of the slope matter? Or should it be more upright?
a. The best place is on the main trunk of the tree, or if it is a tree with multiple trunks on one of them, rather than on a side branch. Tree trunks in most cases do not grow perfectly upright and will have a slight slant to it. Thus try and place it on the trunk so that there a a small slant with the top overhanging on the side of the hole. this helps that water has a less chance of flowing into the hole. Just keep in mind that ideally you do not want to face the hole into the direction that your rain usually falls from, as this will allow water to get in. If the slant is in this direction, then rather have the log slant sideways than having it face the rain.
Q. I have put a sisal nest in a tree in the garden and barbet is already interested. I want know if I should put a hole in the nest as a start?
A. Most sisal logs that you buy should have a pilot hole already. If it does not, make one around 10-15cm from the top. If you don’t there is good chance that they drill too high or too low, or even from the top and ruin the log