Here’s to the ‘Bird Man’ of Travis Country

By Roger White, TC (Travis Country) Notes
Reposted from TC Notes

Have you ever wondered how all those bird nest-boxes you see at the TC Community Garden, Carrington’s Prairie, and other neighborhood common areas got there? The person largely responsible for these wonderful bird B & Bs-there are 37 of them in the neighborhood if you’re counting-is TC resident Glen Novinger.

Novinger’s been building these houses for wild, nesting birds for 30 years. He began building them for TC’s feathered friends since 2014, when the TC Bird Nest-Box Project officially began.

Novinger with baby Screech Owl.

“I initially started building boxes and installing them around my house in TC. Then one day (current TCCSA Board President) Cynthia Wilcox asked me if I would be interested in installing them in the common areas of TC,” Novinger said. “That led to the TC Board approving the installations, and I expanded the number of boxes with at least one box in nearly every common area of the subdivision.”

Novinger, who constructs the aviary inns in his garage, notes that the nest-boxes aren’t for all types of birds. “The birds that nest in nest-boxes are ‘cavity nesters’-that is, they are species that nest in natural cavities in the wild. So only those birds will nest in a nest-box, which is an artificial cavity. It would be impossible to try to build these for all species, because birds are very specific as to their nesting needs and preferences, and we have in excess of 650 different species of birds occurring throughout Texas. Of course, there are fewer than 650 species occurring in Austin.”

Novinger’s nest-boxes, which come in five sizes with varying sizes of entry holes, are located at the TC Community Garden, Blue Valley, Carrington’s Prairie, Hilltop Pool area, the Wildflower Center, the common area and detention pond area on Sendero Drive, and the common area north of Magdelena Drive.

“Although I have identified over 100 species of birds in Travis Country over the years, the birds that we routinely have had in the boxes over the years, listed in order of size, are the Eastern Screech Owl, Black Crested Titmouse, Bewick’s Wren, and Carolina Chickadee,” Novinger said. “We have been trying to attract Eastern Bluebirds to the three nest-boxes in the Wildflower Preserve, but so far we haven’t had any bluebirds nest in our boxes. But in Sunset Valley, less than three miles away, there are bluebirds each spring and summer.”

The TC nest-boxes are monitored from March through June, the wild birds’ nesting season. Though egg incubation periods and fledgling growth vary by species, generally the larger the bird the longer the incubation and fledging period, Novinger explained. “Eastern Screech Owls take approximately 26 days on average for the eggs to hatch and 27 days for the young to leave the nest, so most screech owl broods are hatching as the leaves are unfolding on the trees in late April;’ Novinger said. “Titmice and Bewick’s Wrens take about 13 to 14 days to incubate and 14 to 18 days to fly away.”

Novinger noted that “we don’t feed the birds, just provide an available nest cavity. With increasing human population, urbanization, and reduction of the habitat, cavity nesters have an increasing problem finding adequate nesting cavities. The nest-boxes provide a small replacement for the enormous reduction in cavities.

Novinger and his wife, Tracy, who moved to TC in 1999, have been avid “birders” for three decades. Novinger led the TC Bird Walks for years, before Lucy Flanagan, a member of the Travis County Audubon Society, took over the walks last year.

“Birding has been a great pleasure for me and my wife, Tracy, for over 30 years. We have birded throughout Texas, Kansas, Colorado, and Arizona and have birded on special trips in Romania, Hungary, France, Scotland, Italy, Croatia, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Brazil and Canada,’ he said. Also a shutterbug, Novinger has photographed nature around the world. Samples of his remarkable photos are on his website at https://NovingerPhoto.com/.

The time and manual dexterity required of maintaining TC’s three dozen nest-boxes have taken their toll on Novinger through the years, however. As of February 8, he passed along the responsibilities of the TC Bird Nest-Box Project to TC resident Becca Young Brim, a biology research fellow with The University of Texas at Austin.

“She is very well-qualified to carry on the nest-box program, and I am sure the residents of TC will enjoy getting to know her,” Novinger said.

For more information, contact Becca Young Brim at 520.360.2866 or rybrim@gmail.com.