Nest Box Status Update!

It’s mid April and the birds are making preparations for their breeding season, and some are already in full swing. For a few species, this includes using the nest boxes that we provide. The above diagram shows the nest boxes we offer to the cavity nesters.

These updates are in chronological order of when I noticed activity in the box, rather than box number order.

Box # 21

This is a new box that we put up last fall. Tree Swallows have moved into this box. I’ve seen the female peeking out of the opening, and both birds sitting on the electric wire that runs over the top of their location. Now that it seems she may be setting on eggs, the male tends to spend most of his time on the wire overseeing his “wifie” and brood.

Box #20

The Tree Swallows that I displayed in an earlier POST have moved into this box. They seem to enjoy its proximity to the pond, as I see them (and the swallows in Box 21) hunting over the water quite often. These cool photos are a result of the white barn roof in the background.

Box #15

This is a box that an Eastern Bluebird pair used last year (the first year we put it up.) I have been watching this box for activity, and saw the male attempting to woo his mate to enter the box last week. This week, I’ve seen the female actively enter the box. Today, I captured a couple of short videos of this pair. I love, love, LOVE how the male brings his mate a treat while she is doing all the work. He does play a very big role in overseeing the area and chasing off any threats.

Box #6

This is the box that is located in the center of my office yard area. Tree Swallows have been checking it out, on and off for about a week. I even caught one of the birds carrying a feather and putting it in the nest box. However, a quick check shows very little nest progress. They may still be considering their options. Last summer, a Tree Swallow pair used this box for a second brood.

Box #1

Earlier this week, I observed a female Eastern Bluebird entering this box in the very late afternoon. I was excited to see her, as a Bluebird pair has used this box for three years. I have failed to catch any additional activity, but I haven’t actually put much time into observing. The fact that the female went into the box is, however, promising.

BOX #25

This is a box we just installed when we found it on clearance at the Farm Store. The day after Robert screwed it to an existing fence post, I filmed Chickadees checking it out. I have not seen additional activity in the box, but I also have not spent a lot of time overseeing it.

BOX #14

On the north end of the eastern fence line is Box #14. Last year, very late in the season, a pair of Bluebirds fledged their chicks out of this box. I am fairly certain it was the couple that had their one-day-old chicks killed by House Wrens in (unlucky) Box # 13 on the north fence line. They made it just under the wire to successful begin their second brood in Box #14 – as it was really feeling like autumn was approaching when they built their nest. A few days ago, I ventured to that part of the property more hoping to see the Vesper Sparrow that I had first filmed there, than to see activity in Box #14. But, I was surprised. There’s a Tree Swallow pair that seems to be establishing a nest in that box. These photos were taken from a great distance, so they are aren’t the greatest quality. Today, I checked the box again, and saw one bird – I’m assuming the male – perching in a nearby tree. I suspect his mate was in the box, hopefully incubating their future chicks.

PURPLE MARTIN HOUSING

Two years ago, on a whim, we bought a cheap, farm-store Purple Martin house. It is red, like a barn, and has six apartments on each long side, and I think four on the short ends. I was amazed when, just a week after we erected it, Purple Martins moved in. Last year we added a Gourd Tower next to the red house and birds fledged chicks from both types of housing. This year they are back and chortling their happy songs as they establish themselves, again, for the season.

YET TO ARRIVE – HOUSE WRENS

Last year four pairs of House Wrens used boxes. One was at the far end of our front yard (#9) and Boxes 16, 17 and 19 on the south-central part of our property. There was also a House Wren that killed the Bluebird chicks in Box #13, but only filled that box with heavy twigs, and didn’t actually create a nest or lay eggs. It’s hard not to hate that behavior, but they are both natural species that have been in competition for nest cavities for hundreds of years. So, I need to get in the headspace that it is what it is. This year, I have not heard or seen any House Wrens, yet. The fact that the Bluebirds and Tree Swallows are getting well established before the wrens arrive brings me a bit of solace. But, I assume they will be here soon enough.

PLANNED PARENTHOOD

Most people who are interested in wild birds in the United States know that House Sparrows and European Starlings are invasive species. They did not evolve alongside the native species, a process which typically offers species’ populations to come into balance with each other. Both these invasive species nest in cavities and often out compete the native species for this incredibly important resources. Offering nest boxes without also monitoring which species are using them to fledge the next generation, is probably more detrimental to the native cavity nesters than it is beneficial to them. I have captured many battles between Bluebirds, Tree Swallows and our Purple Martins as they attempt to maintain control of a nest box we offer. Sometimes the native species wins. Often, the House Sparrows (in particular) win.

HOUSE SPARROWS

Our strategy of dealing with this problem is to offer many nest boxes, especially close to our house. House Sparrows tend to prefer to make a living around structures. So, rather than trying to prevent them from beginning nests in the boxes we offer, we give them many choices. This allows the Bluebirds and Tree Swallows choices, as well. The native species move through their nest building, egg laying and chick-feeding stages while we enjoy watching that process. On the contrary, we monitor the nests where the House Sparrows are building, and once they are completely committed and have laid eggs, we remove the nest and eggs. It is our way of reducing the chance for these birds to increase their population. They are very industrious and will usually start to rebuild as soon as their first attempt at procreating was foiled. We allow them to move to the stage of egg laying, and then stop the process, again. In this way we can control the small number of House Sparrows that use the nest boxes we offer.

Still, we have a fairly substantial House Sparrow population. We have an old barn where they like to nest in the rafters. We aren’t capable of managing that population. And, contrary to what one might read about them, House Sparrows are willing to nest quite far from man-made structures, so we still need to keep tabs on what birds are using the boxes that we offer. These photos are of House Sparrows on nest boxes that I filmed this Spring.

STARLINGS

We have not had an incidence of Starlings taking over the standard size Bluebird boxes. However, this past fall we put up three Owl boxes and one Wood Duck box. We have seen evidence of Starlings in and around three of those larger sized boxes.

On a Trail Cam recording, we captured a pair of Northern Flickers in and on the the Duck Box. But, more recently, we have trail cam footage of a Starling pair inhabiting the box. Below, you’ll see a trail cam photo that shows a Flicker hugging the side of the pole and a Starling that is inside the box, peering out. This box doesn’t have an easy access to open it for inspection. But, Robert has plans to open the box with a screw driver and evict the Starlings that, clearly based on some of the images, are building a nest inside. We will not permit Starling eggs to hatch.

Quite curiously, we also have trail cam footage of both a male Red-winged Blackbird and a pair of Grackles that are making it tough on the Starlings in the Duck box. The RWBB is seen repeatedly hanging out in a nearby tree and then flying / buzzing over when a Starling arrives to the box. The Grackles took positions on the “porch” and the top of the box and seem to be harassing the Starlings. Maybe Nature does have ways to find justice and balance. I plan to go through all those trail cam clips and post them to a future blog.

All in all, at just the middle of April, I feel that our nest boxes are seeing quite a bit of use and interest from the species we hope to help. We have a mere fifty acres of land that we have allowed to become as natural as possible, and we have some patches of mature trees that may provide cavities for the native species that nest in holes. But, we are surrounded by hundreds of acres of tilled land that cannot possibly offer our cherished Bluebird and Tree Swallows a natural nesting option. We are happy to give these opportunities to such lovely animals – hey, and they keep the insect populations in check, too!

One Comment on “Nest Box Status Update!

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