Many, many thanks to George, Renee, Jim, David, and Sunny for their dedication and service to the birds of Macon County.
Reports by George Kaye
The birds sure get good use out of the nest boxes that I monitor in Macon County. 80 of the 90 boxes I check had nests in them. As expected, bluebirds were the most frequent users, building 30 nests. Carolina Chickadees came in second with 22 nests. Tree Swallows had 15 nests, with a preference for building near the Little Tennessee River. House Wrens built their stick nests in 11 boxes. 2 Brown-headed Nuthatches built nests at Gibson Bottoms. They are a bird that is rarely found in the mountains. I forget to list (although I wish I could) the 3 mice, and thousands of ants and wasps that built nests in the boxes.
One of the things that still amazes me is that many of the boxes are right beside the Greenway, where hundreds of people and dogs walk all day long. That doesn’t stop the birds from carrying on their parental duties. 45 of the boxes are on or near the Greenway. 10 of the boxes put up by the Jim Shelton crew last year all had nests in them this year. Unfortunately, 2 additional boxes that this crew put up disappeared, as they were vandalized during the recent wave of vandalism on the Greenway. I will replace these 2 boxes this winter. Sunny Himes and I put up 7 boxes on the Greenway, 3 of which were vandalized. We have replaced them. The other 45 boxes are at Tessentee Farm, Gibson Bottoms, Cowee Mound, the Mainspring office and the Environmental Resource Center.
I thank Renee Souslou for helping check the boxes at Cowee Mound, and Dave Hinson for taking care of the boxes at Tessentee. I hope that next spring we have Wood Ducks nesting in the 7 boxes built by Dave Hinson. So far all I have found in them is a Chickadee and a Bluebird nest. I guess these birds wanted a large McMansion for their nest. Likewise, we will be looking for Chimney Swifts to use the 2 towers the crew erected near the Community Garden. Jim Shelton’s next project is gourd houses for Purple Martins. I am in the process of obtaining funding for predator guards to put on the box poles. That should cut down on the snake and raccoon, etc. predation. You have probably read the recent studies showing that we have billions of birds less now than we had in the 1970’s. All of these efforts will hopefully help build up bird numbers one nest at a time.
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.