Friday, March 21, 2014

Termites Ate My Birdhouse

I went out yesterday to clean out the bird boxes and see what they needed in the way of repairs.  Most boxes were in good shape and needed little more than a sweeping out to get them ready for this year.  This box was the exception.  Its need for repairs was obvious.

Fourteen young birds fledged from here last year; two broods of Bluebirds and one of Tree Swallows.  The final nest of the 2013 season was that of a Bluebird.

What I saw in the corner of the floor didn’t look promising for the survival of this box.  Termites have been at work here.

The coat of paint was about all that was holding the side of the box in place.  A little pull and that layer came away to reveal the remnants of a termite feast.

The top of the box wasn’t in any better shape.  The other side, back and front of the box were still sound, so the box is only half bad.

The box had been originally mounted to a wooden board that was then affixed to a steel fence post.  Both were enclosed inside a four inch diameter corrugated plastic pipe to discourage climbing predators from reaching the nest box.

Termites accessed the birdhouse by way of the board.  They avoid exposure and hide their travel route beneath an arched tunnel composed of mud and masticated wood fiber.  Part of the protective cover has fallen away to expose their travel route partially carved into the wood.

Being inside the plastic pipe protected many of the mud tunnels.  These would normally not survive the winter weather.

The termite colony is located in the soil where moisture and temperature are more stable.  They utilize the mud tunnels to access wood, their food source, not in direct contact with the soil.

Termites are in danger of desiccation if exposed to heat or dry air and are a prime prey item for a long list of insect eating predators.  They survive by remaining hidden.

The small, soft bodied termite doesn’t look threatening, but the combination of mandibles capable of chomping into wood and intestinal microorganisms that aid in wood digestion make these insects champions at producing compost from large chunks of wood.

Termites are social insects that can develop large colonies centered around an egg producing queen.  When I was younger, I went through an ant farm period where I maintained several ant colonies living between sheets of closely mounted clear plastic.  After finding a piece of firewood full of termites, I filled an empty ant farm with some soil and wood chunks and loaded in as many termites as I could get from that firewood.  There was no queen, but the hundreds of workers managed to go about their business as usual.  The termites were fascinating to watch and flourished for several months until my father noticed them.  I tried to explain that they were no threat to the house, but they were evicted along with several other creatures that he felt should not be living in a young boy’s bedroom.   


  1. I hope you have a new house for that spot. Times a- wasting. I saw a pair of bluebirds in my garden this morning!

  2. Hi Becky. It's not new, but a replacement box has already been installed.