by George Kaye
What a joy to be able to maintain 111 nestboxes all over Macon County! I get to walk such great outdoor spaces like the Greenway, Tessentee, Gibson Bottoms, the Environmental Resource Center, etc.
This past season, I counted 50 Bluebirds raising young, 24 Carolina Chickadees, 11 Tree Swallows and 7 House Wrens. There were additional nests that did not produce eggs for various reasons such as predation by rat snakes, house sparrows, hornets, ants, or too hot or too dry weather. I added predator guards to some boxes, but it’s not a full proof solution since the predators have a talent for bypassing them. I replace deteriorating boxes asap. Vandalism is down this season, thank goodness.
I have monitored the two magnificent chimney swift towers, but so far have not seen evidence of the swifts using them. The several purple martin gourds added by Jim Shelton and crew have been used by a few tree swallows, but I haven’t seen any purple martins using them.
I hope everybody has had a chance to see the awe inspiring sight of the cliff swallows taking over the understructure of the Siler Rd and Phillips bridges. They have quite a large colony of mud nests over the Little Tennessee River greenway.
My thanks to Dick Bargman, Dave Hinson and Renee Sosslou for helping monitor boxes. Thanks to Don Fisher for contributions helping to pay for predator guards.
It’s that time of year to be getting your nestboxes ready for the birds. I’ve seen pairs of bluebirds going in and around my nestboxes. In a month or so, some will be starting to lay eggs. If you have a nestbox, clean it out. If you don’t have any, put up a couple. The birds will thank you.
My winter project has been nestbox repair. I found 25 nestboxes that needed new roofs. Fortunately, I have a new neighbor, Ken, who has a wood shop and a love of birds. He has cut wood and replaced roofs. The refurbished boxes are already back up on the Greenway and Mainspring properties.
Also, our fellow volunteer, David Hinson, has refurbished 8 boxes donated to Mainspring by Jason Love. I will be working with Dennis Desmond of Mainspring to put them up on some Mainspring properties, including the new Wautauga Mound and Tessentee extension. I’m looking forward to this spring, as I’m sure you all are.
I am fortunate that I was able to occupy my time during the pandemic with my nestboxes. Unlike us, the birds carried on as usual and made good use of the 98 nestboxes I maintain in Macon County. 84 % of these boxes showed evidence of nesting activity, and all but a few produced eggs and nestlings. It’s normal for a quarter or more nests to be abandoned before producing offspring. I believe our very rainy year caused some abandonment.
Bluebirds were again the most frequent nesters with 43 nests. Carolina chickadees had 28 nests. Every year, tree swallows are using more and more nestboxes along the Little Tennesse River. They had 12 nests. 9 House Wrens built nests. I had my first 2 Titmouse nests this year. I was disappointed that I did not have any Brown-headed nuthatches this year. Hopefully next year.
49 of the boxes are on or near the Greenway. I have several boxes on several Mainspring properties: Tessentee, Gibson Bottoms, Cowee Mound, and the Mainspring office. I worked with the 4H kids to put up a half dozen boxes they built. It’s encouraging that the birds started using them immediately. I have several boxes at the Master Gardeners headquarters.
It’s hard for me to believe that many of these boxes I maintain were installed a dozen years ago. It shows, because many of the roofs are falling apart. This is not good during a rainy year. I will be doing a lot of roof repair this winter.
I plan on adding boxes to Mainspring’s Queen Branch property, and to Memorial Park.
We have a rich concentration of different swifts and swallows on the Greenway near the library and the community garden.
Rough-winged Swallows: The swallows have found nesting sites under the roof overhangs of our Macon Library. When you are in the parking lot, you can see them swooping under the overhangs to their nests and skimming over the lawns to catch insects.
Cliff Swallows: A big show is available when walking the Greenway under the new Siler Rd. bridge. Look for the cliff swallow nests lining the support columns right underneath the bridge deck. You can’t miss the mud nests that look like jugs or gourds plastered close together. There are dozens of them on both sides of the river. As of a couple of weeks ago, the swallows were flying frequently into the round opening and feeding their broods .
Tree Swallows: The purple martin gourd houses that the Shelton team put up in 3 spots on the Greenway below the library have not been used by purple martins yet. But tree swallow are building nests in several of the gourds. Also, every year I have had more and more tree swallows occupy the nest boxes I monitor on the Greenway. They are outcompeting the bluebirds and chickadees. Not that the bluebirds won’t put up a fight. It’s just that the tree swallows will team up in 2’s or 3’s and fight for a nestbox. When I check a box, I will be divebombed by the tree swallows. It’s hard to believe that the first record of tree swallows breeding in North Carolina was 1979. They have really become successful fast.
Purple Martins: Keep an eye out for them.
Barn Swallows: Last year I saw several barn swallow nests built on the support beams of the Sylva Rd. double bridges over the river. Their nests are different from the cliff swallows and are more like a cup plastered to the bridge structure. I hope to see them next year.
Chimney Swifts: A few days ago, I opened the bottom plate on one of the chimney swift towers that the Shelton team put up at the community garden. The lack of poop showed that there were no chimney swift activity this year. I observed 2 fist-sized wasp nests attached to the inside top of the tower. If you want to go down to the Greenway just before dark this October, you might sit on one of the benches and see if the Chimney Swifts use the towers during their fall migration. I know I will be stationed in the parking lot behind Outdoor 76 next October to see the chimney swift “tornado” flying into a chimney like I saw last October 13. There must have been a hundred swifts.
Bank Swallows: I believe I have seen bank swallows and their nests tunnelled into the riverbank near the Siler Rd. bridge.
If you missed some of this activity this season, you have lots to look forward next time.
The nestboxes on the Greenway, Mainspring properties and Environmental Resource Center are being well used by bluebirds, chickadees, tree swallows and wrens.
WCU grad student Will is using the nestboxes at Tessentee, Gibson Bottoms and Cowee for this Master thesis, and has an ambitious schedule of checking them. He is supervised by WCU professor Barbara Ballentine.
During the shutdowns of the virus epidemic, I have plenty of work to keep me busy. I wish the wood ducks used the boxes that Dave Henson, Dick Bargman and I put up last year, but it’s good to know they are there for them.
Here are photos I took Sunday at Tessentee. The first is of Chickadee nestlings holding their brightly colored beaks open to be fed. Next is 5 very blue bluebird eggs. Finally, a picture that shows how Carolina Wrens will build their nests in the strangest places. There is a box below the Tassee Shelter that I fill with empty plastic bags for dog owners to use to pick up their dog’s poop. Last year and this, a Carolina Wren has chosen to take it over for their nest. They didn’t bother to read the sign.
In the next few weeks, birds such as Bluebirds and Chickadees will be building nests. You probably have recently seen birds checking out your nestboxes. A little later, house wrens will be building their unique stick nests, and tree swallows will be nesting.
Make sure you clean out your nestboxes. Also, put up new ones asap. Some of you may have heard me recommend buying the excellent nestboxes at the SECU credit union. Unfortunately, it is true that you have to be a credit union member to buy them. So if you are a member or know a member, get one of these great $10 boxes. Otherwise, Lowes or Ace Hardware usually have some. Just make sure it has a little door that you can open to check inside.
I finally have installed all but 3 of the 40 predator guards on the nestboxes. Thanks again to Don Fisher and the Highlands Audubon for giving me the funds to buy the guards. I am now up to 100 nestboxes around Macon County. I am glad to have Will, a graduate student from Western Caroliina, using the boxes at Tessentee, Cowee and Gibson Bottoms for his Masters Thesis on chickadees. That will give me more time to keep tabs on my other boxes.
Please check out the 4 new boxes near the Salali Lane parking lot of the Greenway that the 4H kids built and helped put up. They are decorated by the kids, and have the 4H logo on them. We also put up 2 more boxes at the County Extension office on Thomas Heights Rd.
I’m looking forward to April to see if the Chimney Swifts find and use the 2 towers and if the Purple Martins find the condos and gourds that have been put up. Don’t forget to look underneath the bridges to see the Cliff Swallows building their mud nests.
I’m hoping for a birdy population increase!
Thanks to a generous grant from Don Fischer and another one from the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society, I am able to place 36 predator guards on nestboxes in Macon County. Don is an expert plant and bird guy who has shared his knowledge with us on bird and plant walks in the area. These predator guards are attached to the poles holding up the nestboxes to prevent snakes, racoons, possums and cats from climbing up into the boxes and destroying nestlings.
Thanks, George, for all that you do to support and protect our feathered neighbors.–sf