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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Cleveland Metroparks, Chagrin Falls, Ohio, USA

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Cleveland Metroparks, Chagrin Falls, Ohio, USA
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Registered: September 2023
Posts: 1
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I was taking an engineering class which listed "build something" in the summer work. The assignment was vague, and I knew I had to take advantage of this opportunity to push the boundaries. I was looking for a challenge, and time was running out. Since woodworking is a bit of a family craft, it was natural to lean towards something wooden. A chair or a table or perhaps a birdhouse. I haven't ever grown out of my childhood fascination with birds, so the last option really intrigued me. But one of the other students in the engineering class said he was going to build a birdhouse. I decided to be special and different, so logically I went with the 16' Chimney Swift tower. Chimney Swifts are a type of small bird that used to roost primarily in dead, hollow trees. But due to heavy deforestation, the birds adapted and began using old factory chimneys to roost and nest, hence the name Chimney Swift. Now old factories are being torn down, leaving the birds with a lack of nesting sites and a declining population. Concerned individuals developed the Chimney Swift tower, a tall, narrow box for nesting. There was no way my parents would rationally say yes to this idea, so I had to pursue it. I was surprised to be met with interest in the project, paired with reasonable doubt. My dad agreed to take me to the hardware store once I had drawn a design and had a step by step plan. I did some research, and due to budgeting I had to go with the minimum dimensions for everything, a 12 inch square box, 16 feet tall. I designed it with three doors along one side, so that the tower could be opened for cleaning, which seemed to be the biggest problem with other designs for these boxes. Towers need to be textured on the inside walls so birds can grip onto it and stick their nests to it. It was also recommended that the towers be insulated and painted white on the outside to reflect sunlight, thereby regulating temperature inside the box. Most towers contain a ventilated bottom to keep snakes and other predators from entering the tower, and some even include a band of sheet metal or plastic to keep predators from climbing up the outside. Lastly, I learned that the birds prefer a wind block facing north on top of the tower. Noted: the phrase "beggars can't be choosers" does not apply to small birds.

The hardware store trip was overwhelming. I got treated pine wood for the frame, thin plywood for the outside, and a rough chip-board for the inside. I wanted to use slatted fiberboard, since it actually has slats and most other designs use it, but it was not available. I figured that since the chip-board was rough enough to give me splinters, it was rough enough for the birds to grip with their feet. For insulation, I used the cheapest option they had: planks of styrofoam board. For the door hinges and latches, I used fence gate hardware. Latches were added to keep the doors shut, and screw-closed carabiners as locks. When we got home, we parked the car outside the garage. Little did we know, that car would not be parked in the garage for over a year. The first step was cutting and building the frame. I used four 12 foot 2x2 treated pine boards for the long vertical legs of the frame, and some scrap treated pine wood for the support legs holding it together. The body of the frame was divided into thirds, with one wall of each third acting as a door. Then I started the doors and walls. There were 12 wall segments, three of which were going to be doors. Luckily, they were all the same design. The chipboard was really heavy, so each wall had scrap pine legs inside for me to bolt the plywood to. I cut the styrofoam to be hidden under the chipboard, so the birds don't mess with it. I think the styrofoam was smart because it's not as dangerous as fiberglass or more traditional insulation. If for some reason it gets exposed, it won't pose a threat to the birds. I primed and painted the plywood boards white. They needed to be sealed so they wouldn't rot in the weather. I assembled the walls and doors, and attached them to the frame. After attaching the walls and doors to the frame, I realized how heavy the structure was. I wasn't able to move that tower even if I tried. Good thing I bought gate handles to attach up and down two sides, so that it was more movable. Definitely one of the smarter aspects of my design. Attaching the legs was rather tricky. The steel garden pikes were skinny, and part of me was worried they wouldn't be able to support the weight of the structure, but my dad said they'd be fine so we pushed forward. We also realized that since the garden pikes were U shaped, there was no way to efficiently bolt them to the frame. So then my dad and I deployed my brother. My brother had been 3D printing small plastic parts for board games or school projects. We took him out to the garage, and told him to design a small plastic part that would fit inside the U of the garden pike, to give us a straight surface to bolt onto. After two trials of designs, we got a part that fit perfectly, and I attached the legs. To get ventilation on the bottom, I used a drill press to drill lines of ΒΌ" holes into a spare piece of plywood, and cut the corners to fit around the legs on the bottom. I also used a spare piece of plywood to make the roof cover. For the wind-breaker, I cut spare pine boards into 12 inch pieces and bolted them together to create a small wall. I used spare hardware in the basement to attach it to the top of the tower. The last thing I did was to cover the cracks between the doors. I wanted to keep the wind from getting into the tower, so I used spare pine boards as trim along the cracks between segments. The tower was done. The school year started, and I got 100% on my summer assignment. But as winter rolled around, we were met with the second half of the battle. What are we going to do with this birdhouse? The tower sat in the garage the whole winter. In October my dad told me that if it wasn't out of the house by the time it snowed, it was going up to live in my room with me. I guess it was too heavy though, because that thing did not move anywhere. It continued to sit in the garage for the summer, and into the next fall. It had just become part of the furnishing. There are the bikes, there are the trash cans, and there's the 16' birdhouse. It was moved out of the garage and into the sideyard for that winter. We put a tarp over it so that it wouldn't get too damaged. That was the second year of this tower just sitting around. We had talked to a few different people about the tower over the years before getting in contact with the Cleveland Metroparks. There was an old chimney swift tower at the South Chagrin Reservation that had blown over in a storm, and they said they'd be happy to take a free replacement. About a month later, they pulled a truck with a trailer up to my house, and we latched that thing to the back and watched it drive away. My dad was super excited. We drove out to South Chagrin to watch it get put up later that day. They had a whole crew of guys and a bulldozer. I was so scared it was going to break, but the installation was a success! The Metroparks staff did say they were going to add supports to the legs, since they thought they were too flimsy. They were probably right. After thanking the woman who initiated the tower placement, she mentioned an informational sign that described the tower and what it was for. I instinctively volunteered to design the sign.

This project continues to go down in infamy as the weirdest tax writeoff my dad never thought of. It was challenging, and a ton of work but it was so satisfying to see the rewards. I often forget that it was originally for school. I see it more as a project for myself that I happened to submit for credit. However inconvenient, I'm so glad I pursued this project, and so thankful my parents gave me the chance to go above and beyond.
· Date: September 10, 2023 · Views: 39 · File size: 16.7kb, 226.4kb · : 720 x 900 ·
Hours Volunteered: 20
Volunteers: 12
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17 to adult
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