Oct 242014

michael By Dave Shockley

Some of us retire to Hamilton County to take it easy, but Michael Langford retired to the Bar-Nun Ranch behind Shive to protect, preserve and conserve habitat.

He has donated three bluebird nesting boxes to the library for a children’s program and 15 bluebird boxes to the City of Hamilton for Pecan Creek Park. So it seemed only natural for him to join the San Saba Bird and Nature Club, given his interests, and to become a licensed cowbird trapper, since cowbirds are nest predators.

A few of the programs Langford has presented to various organizations include rainwater harvesting, bluebirds and bats. And he chaired the Go Hamilton Shop Local committee, is a board member of the Hill Country Community Action Association and currently serves as president of our branch of Hochheim Prairie Farm Mutual Insurance Association.

Some of the other ways he has contributed to the well being of our community include serving as a census recruiter, chamber of commerce board president, Hamilton County Democratic chairman, Hamilton County Master Gardener Association treasurer and current treasurer and book sale chairman Friends of the Library for this year’s Holiday Market.

“I’ve always been a ‘tree- hugger,’” he said, and that now includes providing nesting boxes for a variety of birds and bats. He’s learned from others, especially his Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist James Edwards with regard to wildlife habitat, and from bluebird box builder Berwyn Caswell in North Richland Hills.

Langford started off with free wood he could garner from friends and neighbors and wanted to do something productive with it. Eventually he had to change his ways, as free scrap wood would no longer hack it.

First he read about bats’ role in nature and the environment, especially regarding habitat destruction. Bat Conservation International provided intriguing information that spurred him into action to commence building bat boxes. Word got out, and he began getting requests from individuals who wanted one on their property. Now he has a full-fledged business in that market niche, as witnessed by his website at BatandBirdBoxes.com.

He has added other products whenever someone expressed an interest, especially for bird nesting boxes. He makes the product “as good as I can for the user, such as specific bat or bird species.” These products he makes specifically for the bat or bird, not for people. He disdains boxes that are made “cutesy” just so that people can just enjoy looking at them.

Langford is not earning much for his labor, but rather enjoys it as a hobby and passes the savings on to his customers. He works in his garage and another outbuilding at the ranch. Materials he normally uses include white pine, sometimes yellow pine, cedar, corrugated galvanized steel and flat sheet metal.

He paints black dots on sides of his bird houses to help birds find the appropriate cavity for nesting. The roof is slanted on some of them if they will be mounted out in the weather, or flat if the standard installation is protected, inside a barn or under an eave.

Depth of the box varies with the birds’ preference, whatever is most successful for nesting birds. Wood shavings go in some because those birds do not build mud/grass/leaves nests, but look for cavities that are ready-made. That material is selected so that babies can survive and not get buried in finer material that could swallow them. Wood ducks and screech owls both enjoy the addition of the shavings.

To paint or not to paint, that is the question. This varies by owner preference. Langford is even willing to do custom color. Painting, he said, will delay weathering somewhat, but needs periodic repainting. The owner may get a little more use out of it by painting, but the bird sand bats don’t care. The insides, however, are never painted.

For bats, Langford stains the insides black on both sides of chamber walls to keep it dark. Only a 3⁄4” opening is needed for the Mexican free tail bat, which is the predominant variety in our area, to enter and exit. These tiny mammals like it very close and cozy with their fellow bats, and move from chamber to chamber through internal pathways (holes). He makes three different styles of bat boxes – the rocket box, nursery box and cabinette.
So what’s next for Langford? Establishing and getting his website linked to other suitable sites, preparing to market outside of the seven-county area where he has customers, continuing to respond to people’s interests beyond the products he already produces and following his interest in other natural habitat preservation, such as chimney swift towers.

And who knows what else he will come up with? He will have a booth at the Dove Festival this weekend. Stop by and have a look.

Or contact him at builder@batandbirdboxes.com.

— Excerpted from The Hamilton Herald-News of October 23, 2014, with permission