Wildlife Fact Sheets - Building a Nestbox for Sugar Gliders
This fact sheet contains information sourced from members of Tweed
Valley Wildlife Carers, members of other groups, independent advice, and research
The Sugar Glider (Petaurus breviceps) is a gliding possum from the genus Petaurus, belonging to the family Petauroidea. Petaurus (pronounced
pet-orí-us) means rope-dancer and breviceps (pronounced breví-ee-seps) means short-headed. It is intermediate in size, found in between
the tiny Feathertail Glider and the much larger Greater Glider. The Sugar Glider occurs in most of northern and eastern mainland Australia
and Tasmania. Their habitats consist of forests and woodlands, especially when they have access to dense pockets of Acacia. They can
thrive in strips and patches of forest that remain on cleared agricultural land.
The diet of the Sugar Glider in the wild primarily
consists of pollen, nectar, insects and sap. Sugar Gliders are locally common where tree hollows are available and they can tolerate
a wide range of temperatures. In extreme conditions they can conserve their energy by huddling together with others.
tree hollows form when fungus and termites eat out the dead centre of old trees. Most Eucalypt species do not form these hollows until
they are at least 100 years old. Although there are vast tracts of native plantation timber (particularly on the East Coast), they
are typically harvested at around 60 - 80 years old. So of course hollows do not form.
Since European settlement, literally millions
of trees (and hollows) have been lost to urbanisation, industry, roads, and agriculture. As if that isn't bad enough, our struggling
native animals have to compete with introduced Honey Bees and Common Mynas, which aggressively colonise hollows.
These factors have
led to some pretty desperate little critters trying to live in somewhat 'B grade' accomodation. Some examples are: Sugar Gliders trying
to live in the fronds of Banana trees, Feathertail Gliders turning up in the electricity boxes on top of power poles, Microbats trying
to sleep in mailboxes, and our seldom seen little Antechinus' trying to raise their babies in sock drawers, and even kitchen stoves.
Far from ideal... Many of these animals of course turn up in care.
BENEFITS OF NESTBOXES
Although we cannot possibly hope to replace
the countless natural hollows lost in the bush, our towns, cities, and farms were once forest. As a result, there is an awful lot
of displaced wildlife competing for an ever decreasing amount of this prized real estate. This is where we can all really make a difference;
in our suburban gardens, and rural properties.
A single well placed nestbox which survives say 10 years, can see a pair of Rosellas
raise 10 generations of chicks. A slightly different box could provide a secure home to 6 adult Sugar Gliders. Different shape again
could provide a luxury home to that 'trouble-some' Possum in your roof. Whilst yet another shape provides five star
up to 50 Microbats. And, when you consider that a single Microbat can consume one half it's own weight in insects a night. That's
an awful lot less crawlies in your veggie patch. And, they provide this service completely free.
Nestboxes also provide priceless education
for your children. Watching wildlife on TV is wonderful, but there is something very special about watching native animals coming
and going, feeding, and raising their young so close to your home. If you've ever seen a Mountain Brushtail Possum looking out of
her box at dusk, Pink nose resting on front paws - you'll know what I mean.
Nestboxes are fun, easy and cheap to make, and once up
will provide a secure home for many years to come.
A word of caution: If you own a cat, putting up nestboxes which attract birds &
mammals to your garden, is a recipe for disaster...
Below is a plan for the construction of a nestbox suitable for Sugar
Gliders. Materials used, and notes are below the plan. Please note that all sizes marked are for INTERNAL DIMENSIONS.
commencing this project, we do of course recommend that you do a little research to find out; (A) Do Sugar Gliders live in your area.
& (B) Do you have suitable habitat on your property.
The best materials for construction are either; 3 cm thick plantation pine
(hardwood is a product of native forest), or structural pine plywood. There is of course no need to use expensive dressed timber.
Rough sawn or even second hand timber is ideal. Just make sure if using second hand, that it is free of nails, and any unknown paint.
box is best screwed rather than nailed together, and may be finished off with filler in any gaps, a coat of primer, undercoat, and
lastly a dull acrylic finish.The roof can either be hinged conventionally, or simply make an outside hinge out of a piece of old rubber,
which also helps to make it weatherproof.
A couple off offcuts on the inside of the roof to prevent slippage, and either mesh, or a
few thin strips of offcut baton on the inside front to allow the youngsters to climb out.
VERY IMPORTANT: Drill a few 5mm drainage
holes in the base. Young birds have quite literally drowned in non-drained boxes. And lastly: Throw a generous handful or two of wood
shavings or sawdust in the bottom... and we're done.
So you're now the proud owner of a new Sugar Glider nestbox. Where to place it?
Aspect: Choose your position carefully.
Think about which side of your house takes takes the brunt of cold wind, and driving rain. (how comfortable would you be with an open
wall on that side?) Face the entrance away from prevailing winds, and make sure that the box will have plenty of shade during the
hottest part of the day.
Hang from the chosen tree by a piece of wire threaded through a scrap piece of garden hose (so that it doesn't
cut into the tree), or alternatively, nailed to the tree using 2 strips of galvanised steel. The strips need only go halfway round
the tree to allow for growth, and to prevent ringbarking. ForSUGAR GLIDERS, you need to position the box 4 - 8 metres above the ground.
So your new nestbox is in place, asnd you're sitting back with a beer, or a cup of tea waiting for the homeless critters to move into
their new home. Don't be dissapointed or surprised if no one takes up residence immediately. It can sometimes take weeks, or even
months, for someone to show some interest. There are many reasons for this:
The box is 'too new', unfamiliar. It looks and smells new
and out of place. Give it time to 'weather in'. To become part of the local landscape. Most birds for instance, nest in the Spring.
Birds don't normally live in nests, only requiring them for breeding. If your box went up in May, it may not be required until say
Mammals such as Possums do live in hollows all year round, but it's not until the parents actually kick the youngsters out
of home, that junior will go in search of a new home. While you're waiting for the box to be occupied, please resist the temptation
to keep looking inside. You don't know who's checking the box out when you're not looking, and constant disturbance will only discourage
them. You'll know when the locals move in by watching, listening, and by looking for droppings underneath. Also, do not be alarmed
if 'the wrong animal' moves into the nestbox. Hey, if an Eastern Rosella moves into the box you so carefully made for a Sugar Glider...
So be it. Obviously the Rosella's need was greater. Native animals will often move into the 'wrong sized' box.
off, just a few words on maintenance. Once a year, just have a quick look to see if any repairs need to be done, such as filling any
gaps, a quick re-paint, or making sure the box is still securely fastened to the tree. Also, watch that the growing tree doesn't pull
apart the fastening.
BIRDS: Some introduced birds such as Sparrows, Starlings, and Mynas have become a menace; driving native birds
away, or even building their own nests on top of existing eggs or young. Nest building by these species should be discouraged by removing
nesting materials or eggs. If Indian Mynas are a continual problem, you may want to add a Myna baffle to the front of the box.
The introduced honey bee has also become a serious problem in some areas. They will readily colonise tree hollows (real or artificial).
If you have a problem with bees, look up bee keepers in your Yellow Pages.
If you've taken the time to build and place a box like this...
Pat yourself on the back. YOU WILL have made a difference to YOUR local environment. Congratulations.
A FINAL WORD: Once your new box
is occupied, please resist feeding. Feeding native wildlife is not a good idea. It fosters familiarity with humans and domestic animals.
It encourages a dependency on an artificial food source, which will stop if you go on holiday, get sick, or move away. And lastly,
your feeding routine is soon 'sussed out' by local cats and dogs. Animals are at their most vulnerable whilst feeding, and are particularly
at risk when instead of feeding high up in the canopy, they are encouraged down to your level. You just don't know who is watching
from the bushes. (This includes bird baths placed near cover). Please don't encourage your new residents to become 'cat-bait'.