Before this season really gets under way, I'd like to blog about Area One, and share a bit of what I can remember from last season.
The area is roughly 16 acres of meadow. We have 19 nest boxes scattered about the land. The boxes for the most part face south, some slightly east, some slightly west. We do this to have the birds not face each other directly and give them the feel of their own territory by not seeing another nest box from their own.
As we replace boxes, we are pairing them up. This is part of the plan to help IF we get Eastern Bluebirds nesting in the area once again. Bluebirds and Tree Swallows make good neighbours and will tolerate each other nearby, whereas two pairs of Tree Swallows will not. This gives the Bluebirds a better chance to not be driven out of a nest box.
Nest boxes are cleaned at the end of the season (end of Summer) and again in early Spring. Old nests are removed after the birds have flown south for the Winter. And in the Spring we evict the Deer Mice who overwintered in these houses. Some people have a difficult time with the mouse eviction saying I am mean or even worse. Hey, these are bird houses, NOT mouse houses. Some plug up the houses through the winter or leave the doors wide open. Maybe that is what I should do next time around?
Last Spring I evicted 6 mice in total. This Spring I discovered 9 boxes with mice and evicted 21 adults. Actually they evicted themselves and fled the boxes as I opened them. The high count sure tells us we were lacking predators this past Winter.
Gloves and a mask should be worn during the cleaning process.
Grease is applied to the t-bar to keep insects from climbing up and inside the box. I do a 6 inch smear around the post about 3/4's up. A few years back a box we set up without any protection was checked mid-season. It was full of black ants and an abandoned Tree Swallow nest with eggs! The grease also keeps Raccoons and other mammals from climbing the poles to get at the eggs or baby birds. I also wrap vinyl colored tape around the poles of active nest boxes when the season is underway. I know grease will be an issue with some but it is used by so many who set up boxes. In a perfect world, metal umbrellas or predator guards of other types attached would be used, but that's costly and still would not stop ants. If someone still has an issue, I can direct you to a man who has helped well over 10,000 Eastern Bluebirds and way more Tree Swallows in the last few decades. Eastern Bluebirds were once a species at risk in Ontario but they are doing much better in the last number of years, actually coming off the "risk list".
I check the boxes about every 10 to 14 days from late April until early July. By then the nesting season is pretty much done other than the odd second nest from some pairs. Area One is close to me but not around the corner, so with work and living my life (house, wife, our zoo inside, our zoo outside, volunteering with TWC and other places), sparing a few hours each visit like this is what I can give. Plus, I'm sure the birds like it this way too... less invasions from big scary humans is a good thing.
It's always a mystery when I check the boxes because I just never know what I will find.
This was my first real sad discovery last year. It was from the first Tree Swallow nest of the season, which had 5 eggs. All the babies had died. The only thing that makes any sense is we had a sudden and drastic cold snap for a couple days after the chicks hatched. There was no sign of trauma to any of the bodies, like being pecked to death by another nesting species such as House Wren or House Sparrow.
Actually when walking up to this nest box, even before opening it, I knew something was wrong. I could smell it. I experienced finding a dead Chickadee nestling in our box at home a few years ago. The smell is unforgettable. Amazing how years later, as soon as I smelled that smell once again, I knew what it was.
I will not deny that this set me back. It was my first season with these boxes. I was on a high, full of excitement and wonder to it all. I knew there were 5 eggs in this box and I expected all to make it to fledge. This was a reality check early on, which was a good thing. I experienced a few more losses later in the season.
This one was a couple weeks away from leaving the nest.
This one was just days away. His nest had 6 eggs and the other 5 made it out. I can only imagine how tight things may get within a nest box in the last days before the chicks leave, especially when there are 6 of them.
Imagine if those boxes never got cleaned out?
But don't be sad. We had 8 pairs of Tree Swallows in 2016. They lay an average of 5 to 6 eggs each. I unfortunately lost my notes but know we did not have any low egg counts overall. I did have a couple 4 counts but most were 5 and two were 6. We lost 7 chicks, 2 eggs did not hatch and we had over 30 successfully fledge from the boxes.
For the most part everything really is up to Mother Nature; but we are helping them the best we can with the nest boxes. I tell people "it's a responsibility when you set up a bird house, you don't hang them up and walk away thinking you did a great thing... the end".
Here's a few photos from 2016 that you might enjoy.
Healthy young Tree Swallows just days away from leaving the box. There's 4 of them. All made it.
End of season nest cleaning. Tree Swallow nests are quite unique with the use of feathers.
They really are attractive when it comes to nests, aren't they?
We ended up with a House Wren nest at a stray box, away from the rest. It was intentionally left along edge of the woods for such a species. I have no idea how many chicks the birds had but know none were left behind if you know what I mean.
Remember my first nest check and the 5 who perished? Well the parents re-nested, had 3 more eggs and the second nest was a success!
On one of my last nest round checks of 2016, I ended up with a little bit of company in one certain area. He sure added to the morning.
It's been almost 2 weeks since I did my first walk of Area One for this season, prepping boxes and taking notice to at least 6 Tree Swallows already back in the area. I hope to visit in the coming days.
Stay tuned for my next report!