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Enhancing habitat with nest boxes

Exciting news- The nest box design is finalised and the men’s shed in Palmerston is making 150 for the Land for Wildlife program.

What wildlife are the nest boxes for ?

This nest box design is made is to provide a nesting place for the Black-footed Tree-rat, which is a listed threatened species in the Northern Territory and Australia wide. For some reason this species still seems to be more common in the Darwin and rural area and declining in locations further away. It is thought that its overall decline is due to a lack of tree hollows (where it nests) and a decline in mid story fruiting trees (its food), and this is mostly associated with too frequent and hot fire and of course land clearing.

IMG_0836 (Custom)Land for Wildlife coordinator Emma with men’s shed member Max and the prototype nest box

Why this design?

Our nest box design is based on a design by Leigh-Ann Woolley, a researcher at Charles Darwin University. The entrance hole has been reduced to 85mm to discourage possums, but allow tree rats and other small native rodents, there is a small lip over the entrance hole to discourage birds as well as add rain protection. This design has been tried and tested very recently at Coburg Penninsular, with the Black-footed tree rat, and other smaller native mammals being recorded using the design (where 100 of this larger design were installed and 100 of a smaller design)

The final design has a slightly larger roof and will have extra brackets on the rear for attaching.

Who is making them?

The Palmerston men’s shed is a community workshop area for men to gather, develop skills, and undertake different activities. Essentially Men’s Sheds are about increasing the well being of men by fostering social connectedness and increasing self-esteem.

The shed at Palmerston makes a huge variety of items, mainly from wood but have recently specialised in making many different designs of nest boxes for native wildlife. Their last project made nest boxes for a “Darwin Wildlife Sanctuary” project for urban gardens.  The organisation also sell nest boxes at the Rural Fred’s Pass market on a Saturday for various species, including parrots, sugar gliders, possums and reptiles. They range from $30- $45 each.

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The men’s shed members model our prototype nest box. 

Where are they going ?

Early this year we asked members of our Land for Wildlife program if anyone wanted to sign up to this “Enhancing habitat”. We have room for 30 properties to be involved and all 30 spaces were filled by enthusiastic landholders, who live on a variety of properties, which include at least 1 hectare of wildlife habitat, or re-vegetating habitat. The properties involved are located in Leanyer (Darwin), Howard Springs, Girraween, Humpty Doo, Bees Creek, Bachelor, the Adelaide River area and Katherine and range from 5 acres properties to 2000 acres and also includes a s

The landholders have already pledged to manage part of their property for wildlife habitat which includes weed and fire management and where possible to enhance it habitat, this project does just that. Each landholder receives up to 5 nest boxes as well as 50 native food plants for the Black-footed Tree-rat to plant on their property.  Other measures that can encourage native mammals include good pet ownership, trapping for feral cats, leaving fallen logs and leaf litter and leaving standing dead trees (but making them safe if near used areas).

The advice given about choosing where to install nest boxes is –

  • Choose over-story long lived trees, such as Eucalyptus, Ironwoods and Lophostemons that have good canopy cover.
  • Choose trees in an area with other vegetation and protection.
  • Choose trees that do not already have  tree hollows, as the tree does not really need “enhancing” as habitat and this also may cause competition with species uptake and proximity.
  • If trees have a fork it is often easy to install the nest box in this, if not the recommended height is 2-3 m (far enough off the ground for safety and close enough for humans to check the boxes with a ladder)
  • Install nest boxes at least 30 meters apart.

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Land for Wildlife, Trevor member collects his habitat enhancing plants for the Black-footed Tree-rat 

Is any data collected?

Yes– those involved choose the trees where they would like to install the nest boxes, which are at least 30 meters apart. Each nest box location is recorded with a GPS, a brief description of landscape type and 3 photographs taken of its location. A habitat condition survey is made of property / nest box locations.

The habitat condition is recorded by laying 2 transects centered on 2 of the nest box locations which are situated and in representative areas of varying habitat condition on each property. The transects are 50m long and record the nearest tree to the left and the right of the transect every 5m. The tree must be over 1.2m in height and its DBH (Diameter at Breast Height), species and presence of hollows is recorded. The ground cover and fire history is also recorded. This is all done by the project coordinator with involvement from the landholders.

These surveys will provide a sample overview of tree density (and recruitment),  species diversity within tree species, presence of a mid story fruiting layer and presence of other tree hollows.

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Land for Wildlife member Kim, helps do survey work as part of the project on her 20 acre property in Humpty Doo

After installation the nest boxes will be monitored, hopefully by landholders and also the coordinator, who will look for evidence of uptake after 6 months.

The initial survey information allows us to analyse whether the uptake of nest boxes varied with location and property situation and habitat condition and type.

The enhancing habitat workshop for participants

A workshop at the Territory Wildlife Park is scheduled for May 20th for those participating, where landholders will learn about the different species that may take up the nest boxes and their habits (and maybe even meet some of these creatures)..

They will also learn how to finish and install the nest boxes and listen to talks from those who have studied nest box enhancement.

The Remote Area Tree Services guys will also be demonstrating who to create habitat and hollows from fallen logs, old trees and items found on properties, with the assistance of a chainsaw.

There is also a Fire Workshop for members and interested others on 7th May for those attending to learn more about the affects of fire on wildlife habitat.

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Above is an example of how to finish a nest box, this sample was made for us by Land for Wildlife member Niel Carpenter

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Land for Wildlife Volunteer models another nest box, made by Neil who is trialing finishing techniques to camouflage different next boxes.

Who is funding this? 

This project is funded by a Territory NRM Community grant and supported in kind by the Land for Wildlife Top End program (whose core funding is currently from Parks and Wildlife Commission NT).

Bunnings Palmerston has provided a donation of some materials towards nest box production.

We are looking for donations of paint to finish and camouflage the boxes as well as old hose for fixings.

Knowing Your Natives and Growing Your Own

Greening Australia (Darwin) is holding some community workshops in April and May about recognising and growing native plants; these workshops are open to anyone interested.

Each workshop is $40 or all 3 for $100 plus a free “Native Plants for Top End Gardens” book if you sign up to all of them.

All workshops run from 9am to 4pm (lunch included)

Please see the  flyer below.

Knowing Your Natives flyer

Workshop One      

Where- Greening Australia nursery and nearby bush location

When– Saturday 1st April

Content- Plant identification and seed collection

Learn how to identify plants through their features with a focus on natives and how to observe them in their natural vegetation communities (in a short excursion to local bushland) and how to make a herbarium specimen.

Learn the different types of seeds, the protocols for seed collection, how and when to collect seeds form different species and how to prepare and store them.

Workshop Two

Where- Greening Australia nursery

When- Saturday 22nd April

Content- An introduction to native plant propagation

Learn how to store and treat seed, how to sow, and the best time of the year to do this, to add success to growing your own native plants. Improve your techniques with growing from cuttings, how to propagate different plants. potting up plants and what medium to use.

Workshop Three

Where- A Darwin garden (TBC)

When- Saturday May 27th

Content – Designing and planting a small garden with native wildlife attracting and bush tucker plants

Learn about the best Top End native plant to choose for small gardens that are wildlife attracting or bush tucker plants. Learn how to design a small space with plant size, shape, texture, and water requirements in mind. Learn how to prepare and plant out a garden space.

Let any interested others also know.

Land for Wildlife is Branching Out

Our “Trees for Wildlife Program” got into the local news, with more tree plantings happening all the time through the monsoons with the Green Army helping with plantings….we will continue the program next year if more landholders would like to get involved. See the “Trees For Wildlife” Tab

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Enhancing Habitat- a project for landholders for the new year

There are many fauna species that are declining in number in the Top End region, often the reason is not completely understood or can be several reasons. As well as feral animal issues (including the Cane Toad invasion and feral cats) often the lack of hollows in trees and mid story fruiting trees cause animals to decline in number. One of the main reasons that hollows and the mid storey fruiting layer of the woodland landscapes disappear is fire (and of course land clearing). Fire that is too frequent, wide spread and late in the season drastically changes the composition of our woodland landscapes in the longer term as well as the more immediate death of wildlife such as young birds, lizards, in sects and some mammals.  Hollows which many nocturnal species depend on during the day are lost and although larger trees can recover after a hot fire, many of the mid story fruiting trees that many animals rely on as a food source do not survive.

In addition to having a good fire (and weed) management plan to avoid hot fires landholders can install nest boxes and enhance plant with food plants for wildlife. It takes many years for trees hollows to form and for mid story fruiting trees to mature, so in the interim shelter can be created by making and installing nest boxes which are created to house specifics species.

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To join the project landholders should be Land for Wildlife members.

  • The first step is to take part in a simple survey to count the tree hollows, canopy cover and presence of fruiting trees on the property, and recall the fire history, assistance will be given to do this.
  • Secondly there will be a chance to take part in a fire workshop, which is also open to others, to understand the effects of fire on wildlife.
  • Then comes the most exciting part, landholders and their families will be invited to attend a habitat creation day run in collaboration with Territory Wildlife Park to build their nest boxes (late wet/ early dry season). The nest boxes will be designed to a certain size and shape in the hope to house endangered species, but that can also be used by a variety of creatures and each property can receive up to 5 nest boxes. The templates will already be cut out and then just need assembling. Coming along will let participants know how to make nest boxes in the future and the best places to install them.
    Not only will the nest boxes be assembled in the workshop, but the team from Remote Area Tree Services will also give a demonstration of how to create habitat hollows from old dead trees with some chainsaw skills. There will be the chance to learn about and meet some of the creatures that will be housed.
  • Those involved can receive up to 50 habitat enhancing plants targeted towards their targeted fauna species.
  • The landholders will need to install the nest boxes and monitor them for uptake.

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TO REGISTER FOR THE PROGRAM PLEASE EMAIL_ elupin@greenignaustralia.org.au 
(there are limited spaces)

The date of the habitat creation workshop will be announced in the next couple of weeks.

This project is at no financial cost for the landholder as we are very thankful to have received funding from Territory NRM Threatened Species and Community Capacity Grants.

(Photo credit L. Mcmillian, Nest Box and E. Lupin Planchonia flower)

Festive flora- Top End pine trees

pine-treeCypress pine trees of the species Callitris intratropica are another native nod to the festive season. Historically, conifers were used during the winter festivities in the northern hemisphere by pagans and Christians alike. Pagans would decorate their homes with the evergreen branches as a reminder of the spring to come. Christian legend has it that in the 16th century, the Protestant reformer Martin Luther was on a winters walk, when he looked up and was amazed by the beauty of the stars twinkling amongst the evergreens. He decided to take one home and added candles to replicate the sight for his family.

The Cypress pine can grow up to 24m high and live for over 200 years. It is sparsely distributed throughout the Territory, but is perhaps more well-known from the Howard Springs pine plantations. The tree has many Aboriginal medicinal and structural uses including infusing the inner bark to create a drink to relieve stomach cramps, burning bark and leaves as a mosquito repellent, ashes to soothe body pain and wood for fighting sticks, paddles, spears, fire-torches and firewood (Brock & Dunlop 1993). The tree is more widely used these days for the production of timber and essential oil known as ‘Australian Blue Cypress’ which is used in perfumes, cosmetics and aromatherapy.

As beautiful as this tree is, just remember that this pine should be left out of a pot and is best left alone in the environment as a habitat for wildlife.

(Photo credit: Brett Murphy) Written by Emma Barrett, LFW volunteer

Reference: Brock, John & Dunlop, Adi 1993, Native plants of Northern Australia, Revised ed, Reed New Holland, 1993, Frenchs Forest, N.S.W