Reports by George Kaye
It always amazes me how successful birds are in propagating their species. I enjoy seeing bluebirds, chickadees, tree swallows, etc. make use of the nest boxes we have around Macon County. But, things do not always work out for the birds. This year, I have had to remove dead birds or nestlings from 7 boxes. That’s a big increase from the 1 or 2 that I remove in each of the several years I have been doing this.
Although I cannot give specific causes for each of these deaths, I can list some of the most common reasons for nest box failure.
Other birds: House wrens are well known to kill other species or destroy eggs in order to take over a nestbox to raise their own young. They are common in Macon County. Starlings have a hard time entering the opening of a bluebird box. House sparrows probably can get through. Some hawks prey on songbirds.
Black rat snakes: On several occasions, I have opened the nestbox, and found a snake inside. They are good climbers, and slim enough to crawl into the box opening. Predator guards help, but I have seen snakes climb over and around the guards. Snakes at places like Gibson Bottoms and the Greenway now view the boxes as food sources. Franklin bird club member Renee Souslau assists me by checking the boxes at Cowee Mound. Just this past week, she found a snake in one of the boxes there and sent me a photo of it.
Animals: Racoons, cats and squirrels can reach their paws into the box openings and grab birds. They can jump from nearby trees onto the box to reach the birds.
Weather: I have had bluebirds hatch their young in late March and then we can have April frost occur. Not only will the cold harm the nestlings, but there are not enough insects around for the mother to feed them. Extreme heat is also an issue.
Climate change: Is this spike in deaths that I have experienced in the nestboxes a sign of problems to come with climate change, or is it just a freak occurrence?
Parasites: External parasites like ticks, mites, lice, blowflies, etc. can infest and stress nestlings. Ants, bees and wasps are common in the nestboxes, and a nuisance to remove. Some researchers think the birds have learned to coexist with them. Internal parasites are another problem. Basically they inhabit the internal organs of the birds, and can kill them. Remove old nests and parasites from your boxes!
Let’s do everything we can to help our birds!
4/23 They’re Back!
Today, while checking my nestboxes, I explored the bridges south of the community garden. The cliff swallows and barn swallows are back! The cliff swallows are adding fresh mud to their gourd shaped nests under the Siler Bridge.
They are also under the Sylva Road 4 lane bridge not far south of the Siler Rd. bridge. They are joined there by what I believe are barn swallows, which build mud nests with an opening at the top, like a regular nest instead of an opening in the front.
The martin house is hosting a nest of tree swallows, but I did not see any martins. I wonder if the martins will chase away the tree swallows if they find them in their martin house .
Another return is less welcome to me. It is the wasp. The paper wasps just love to build their hanging nests in birdhouses. I remove them promptly. I follow standard procedure of rubbing Ivory soap on the inside roof of the box. This does not always seem to work, but probably helps.
I did not see any activity at the chimney swift towers.
Library bluebird baby boom
I checked the 10 nestboxes on 4/16/19 surrounding the library and going down the hill to the Walasi Circle. I was pleased that 7 of them had bluebird nests. Of these, one had nestlings, and 2 others had eggs. Egg laying should continue at the rate of I per day. Only 2 boxes were empty for now, and one had a Carolina chickadee nest. I also enjoyed watching the Rough winged swallows swooping around the library lawns. They were sneaking into the library light fixture holes that were missing the fixtures and will be nesting there.I’m enjoying this as much as the birds.
As you all know, many birds are busy right now working hard to start a family. I have been busy for months cleaning out and repairing nestboxes on the Greenway, Gibson Bottoms, Cowee Mound, community garden and the Master Gardener Environmental Center. They are ready for the birds to use.
As of March 26, the only occupants had been 3 mice and the usual ants and one white feather in the box at Dog Park entrance. I had intended to check the boxes frequently after that, but I am recuperating from emergency surgery at Mission Hospital in Asheville. I am mending very well, and will be back in action soon.
I took a brief walk at Big Bear on April 8. Wow, things have changed since March 26. 6 of the first 7 boxes heading north are now being used, and were empty on March 26. They include 4 substantial chickadee nests, 1 bluebird, and the tree swallow nest, which grew from one white feather to a full nest. No eggs, but they could be there as I write this.
I also am excited to see if chimney swifts will come to our towers. I look forward to the purple martins returning to their apartments near Siler Rd. bridge. We also should soon have cliff swallows under the bridges on the Greenway. We already have rough winged swallows under the rafters outside of the library.
Dave Hinson, Dick Bargmann and I have installed 7 wood duck boxes on the river, and hope for some action there. Lots to look forward to. Hope everyone has their nest boxes ready at homes.
P.S. At the last FBC meeting, I heard that Mark Hopey is asking for people to put up kestrel boxes. He put up 4 or so around Macon years ago. All have fallen down and been lost. I believe no kestrals ever used them. The only thing I ever saw in the kestrel box was a snake sticking its head out of the hole 20 feet above the ground. If anyone is interested in hard labor, these boxes need to go atop a high pole. I’m sure Mark would be grateful for the help, and could provide instructions.