Bird Nest Boxes: A benefit to cavity nesting birds or to us?

I have been fascinated by wildlife all of my life but particularly with birds.  Their diversity, adaptations and ability to exploit various niches on the landscape provide a vivid example of speciation, convergence and evolutionary biology.  At a very young age I could spend hours watching our back yard bird feeder and various nest boxes.  

One of my favorite things to do as a young boy was to add features, design tweaks or even just reposition a bird feeder/house in the backyard.  Then sit back and watch how the birds respond. Did they like what I had done? Did it attract more or different species of birds? Did others quit using the feature?  

Of course the installation of a new feeder or bird house was always an exciting time.  I would set a stop watch and wait to see which bird was the first to check it out! Of course through all of this I had a strong feeling of “helping” the birds.  I mean heck… I was feeding them and providing them with housing! How could they make it without me?!   

In reality of course the birds in my backyard had been doing just fine before we put up houses and feeders.  In effect what I was really doing was positioning the birds where I could observe them, interact with them, learn from them and most importantly enjoy them!   Turns out they were doing a lot more for me than I ever was for them. Now at 50 this trend continues and birds provide me with a daily burst of color, antics, sounds, and connection to nature.  

But even at the age of 50, I still find myself feeling like I am “helping” birds.  Call it arrogance or hubris in my own abilities; I mean certainly I am much smarter than any bird! Right?  Certainly they can’t make it without us highly trained wildlife biologists?

With the patent of Nesting Post these feelings of “helping” birds is certainly at the forefront.  The Nesting Post concept has the potential to place 100’s of millions of bird houses on the North American continent.  Integrating bird nest boxes into pre-existing utility right of way corridors across the continent is certainly a large scale way to benefit birds.  It has been estimated currently on the continent there exists one right of way marker for every human on the continent! 

Of course the potential scale of the Nesting Post approach is perhaps most encouraging.  Sure I have placed a few dozen prototype nest boxes out around my house… Sure they have successfully fledged dozens of birds over the past two decades… Sure they have required absolutely zero maintenance…  But what if this were replicated 350 million times with a product that lasted for decades?  

Again it’s easy to get a bit arrogant with this concept, certainly birds will greatly benefit?  But ecology is very complicated.. It may help cavity nesting birds… but it may help lots of bird predators as well.  Or it may help some invasive exotic species such as house sparrows or some as of yet harmless exotic insect just waiting for such a condition to expand its range.  Human values and perceptions are also very complicated. Is helping bird predators along with birds a “bad” thing? Is the aesthetics of a bird nesting in a utility pipe instead of a natural tree cavity unappealing?  Are exotic species such as house sparrows an awful scourge or another bird to enjoy in an urban environment?  

These are complicated questions and some may never have a final answer.  One thing I know for sure is that birds have for sure helped me! So I ask myself can this be magnified to a larger scale to help others?  If watching birds use a bird house has greatly enriched my life, how can I help it enrich others? If a young kid has the opportunity to observe nesting birds in their own neighborhood, be it inner city or rural backroad can that be a source of personal enrichment and deep connection to nature?  

I am not really sure anything I do or have done helps birds.   But I am sure they have helped me. How could I make it without them?