CRP Nest Box Reports 2011

During the spring and summer of 2011, I tried to keep a record of my experiences monitoring the nesting boxes at the Charles River Peninsula. Here is my account, in reverse chronological order.

Saturday August 27

The mouse has returned to box 7. More milkweed fibers this time. Doesn't it look cozy? I forgot to bring my gloves so the mouse can stay--for now.

Tuesday August 9

Just when I thought the nest box business was finished, a new nest pops up in box 7. Dried grass and milkweed fibers. I'm thinking a mouse has moved in, but I'll wait to see if eggs/feathers show up.
[UPDATE: Mouse for sure. I pulled out the nest and the mouse came out with it! Lily got a kick out of my surprise.]
And the bluebirds are almost all fledged. I watched at a distance as the mother bluebird tried to coax this one from the box.

Tuesday July 19

And thus we come to the end? One more active nest box at the CRP, the responsibility of my volunteer colleague. Three bluebird chicks in pin feathers trying to cope with the heat.
 This one is interesting. A few weeks ago the female laid eggs in box 13 on top of an old chickadee nest. Those five eggs still sit, unhatched.  Then I saw her in box 16, where she laid 4 more eggs. These are also unhatched, though when I checked today they were warm and there was a female bluebird in the area monitoring things. The chicks above are in box 18. I saw a male enter the box. So either we have the serial abandonment of nests or we have more than one pair left actively breeding.
[UPDATE: Box 16 now has chicks! So it looks like we've attracted a third breeding pair to the CRP.]

Tuesday July 12

And then there were no more active nests... The second bluebird brood has fledged. Seems like yesterday there were new eggs in the nest...

Sunday July 10

Only one active nest in my group of nine, the bluebirds. I am no longer opening the box lest the chicks fall out (or I squish one when I close the box) but I was able to confirm the presence of live chicks watching the parents.
Dad brought in a nice fat bug and brought out a fecal sac. He then flew into the woods and proceeded to sing loudly--I wonder if he was trying to track down the first brood chick(s).

Mom, meanwhile, was sitting and vocalizing--a little scolding, a little sweet calling.


Sometime between the morning of July 4 and today someone knocked down nesting boxes 1 and 2 and pulled the nest out of box 3. Box 1 and 2 were effectively empty but Box 3 still had chicks in it. Whoever did this should know that disrupting an active tree swallow nest is a federal offense carrying very large fines and possible prison time.

Saturday July 2

Fledged! Four of the tree swallow nests were empty when I checked this morning.
Tree Swallows, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
There they were-- already gathering in the tree branches and power lines.

Only two tree swallow nests left. One has never produced eggs, though the nest is luxuriously feathered.
The other nest has chicks in pin feathers.

I removed the old nests, to encourage more broods in a cleaner environment. Here's what the nest in box 6 finally looked like.
 Kind of poopy, no? That egg, one out of six, never hatched. I think five fledglings per nest is probably enough.

Here's another interesting nest, from box 7. This one was built on top of a house sparrow nest.
You can see the coarse grassy tangle in the lower left.

And although box 8 also fledged, I did not clean out the nest. A look at the image below will make it clear why not.
I left the box open to discourage the wasp nest building. I'll come back when it's cooler and the wasps are less mobile. Looks like I need to wax up the bottoms of the nest box. It's amazingly how quickly the wasps moved in when the birds moved out.

Other CRP breeding news:
Here's a nice young blue jay, still stub-tailed.
And orchard oriole children are visible (and audible!) throughout the property.

Wednesday June 29

No tree swallow fledglings yet, but they are fully feathered and ready to go. Box 3 eggs finally hatched. And the brood 2 bluebird chicks are already in pin feathers.

Saw orchard oriole and red-bellied woodpecker fledglings today. No sign of bobolinks. They are either good at hiding or gone.

Thursday June 23

Bluebird chicks have hatched! Already! Tree swallow chicks are mostly fully feathered. Might fledge within the week. And the bobolinks are either gone or hiding really well (I haven't seen or heard them in a week).

Saturday June 18

Tree swallow chick, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
The tree swallow chicks are in pin feathers. Won't be long until they leave the box. And then there will be a zillion brown fledglings zooming around the CRP. (At least one box has already fledged and they are causing trouble around the other boxes).

The box 16 bluebird pair has started a new nest at box 13 right on top of the old chickadee nest. (Makes a good cushion, I would think!)

Sunday June 12

First things first: Almost all the tree swallow boxes have live chicks! (It was too cold and windy today for photos.) Tiny naked miniature tree swallows in fabulous feather beds.
Here's one of three young bluebirds I spotted today from the box 16 brood. They were hanging out near their old box.
And I finally found at least one youngster from the box 9 brood. Not a complete disaster after all!
And here's a welcome bobolink domestic scene. The chasing appears to have ceased (and the male challenger has apparently moved on). Now they can get down to business!

Not all is well, though. One dead and one live but paralyzed Canada goose gosling near box 3. (I called the relevant animal control and rescue numbers but Sunday appears to be everyone's day off). The paralyzed one doesn't seem to be suffering but it can't move its legs. What is it about box 3 and dead things? And while I was warning off some dog walkers from the area, they told me about a dead "goldfinch" right in the middle of the trail some ways off. Not a goldfinch, it turns out. A stub-tailed Baltimore oriole chick.

Friday June 10

I found one of the two bluebird broods that have fledged recently. This one is associated with box 16 (the male flies back and forth across the field between the youngsters and his mate, dodging red-winged blackbirds all the while). I don't know what happened to the box 9 brood (my understanding is that when a pair start a new nest right away that the first brood has failed).

The box 1 house sparrow male has found a new mate (or maybe the old one returned). She's putting long wet grass in the box but is yet to lay eggs. This is what I found when I looked in the box today!
A big ol' jumping spider. I need to be more cautious about sticking my hands in these boxes to feel around.

And the bobolinks are hanging in there. I now see two males regularly and the female every once in a while.

Monday June 6

New master of Box 3
Pretty much status quo except....

New bluebird eggs in box 9! A second brood? This is pretty good for such a tree swallow dominated place.

Saturday June 4

The chickadees have fledged. Probably yesterday. I'm a little disappointed not to have seen them go. I was looking forward to nine little chickadees sitting in a row on a branch. But another success!

The bluebirds were back on box #9. No sign of the last brood. (Not my problem). And there was a song sparrow singing unmolested on top of box #1. What a lovely sight. Tree swallows built another nest in box #3. Otherwise, status quo. Waiting for tree swallow eggs to hatch.

In other CRP breeding news: I flushed a song sparrow fledgling from the long grass in the meadow. It flew up and awkwardly landed on the side of a tree. Oh those youngsters.
Look at that non-existent tail!

The red-winged blackbird chicks are also fledging into the meadows. You can hear them calling, "Kek Kek!" from the long grass. The parents were freaked out by my presence. (The newly formed grackle gangs weren't helping either).

Tuesday May 31

Black-capped Chickadee chicks
I'll start with the good. The chickadees are growing and growing and the door to the box will no longer stay completely closed because of the expansion (9 chicks at last counting). This will be my last glimpse. They should fledge relatively soon.

Tree swallow egg production continues apace and they've already claimed the old bluebird box (before I had a chance to thoroughly clean it). No eggs in the house sparrow box.

But, I did get a full taste of the graphic violence that can accompany this nest box experience. You may remember box 3, with its history of tree swallow/house sparrow conflict. Today I found a dead adult tree swallow in the box. There are a lot of things that can kill tree swallows, and violent deaths are not always the fault of house sparrows (other tree swallows can be responsible). I decided not to embed the photos but I have linked them for the interested: from the back, from the side, close-up of the head. I ended up using my cleaning supplies to clean out the dead swallow/nest. As soon as I left, another tree swallow couple claimed ownership. I hope they know what they are in for...

In other CRP breeding news: no white-eyed vireo this morning but a singing indigo bunting in the same area! Could this, at long last, be a breeder?

Monday May 30

I saw two bluebirds fly awkwardly from the meadow up to the tree-tops. Hmmm. Then I saw a tree swallow perch for a while on the bluebird nestbox unchallenged. Hmmmm.  I walked over and peeked into the nestbox hole. I could see the back wall. I slowly cracked open the door. Nothing. They were gone. Success! My job is done. Now it will be up to the parents--probably the male--to keep them safe until the fall. (Meanwhile I've got to clean the box. Kinda poopy. The nest too.)

Meanwhile, the tree swallows have taken command of box 3 again. The house sparrow surge has failed.  Now only box 1 is sparrow-controlled and the female seems to have skipped town (no eggs for a week).

Saturday May 28

Tree swallows now going strong! 4/5 tree swallow boxes have eggs. And I haven't seen a house sparrow egg for some while. Chickadee chicks have feathers and are very very crowded.

Tuesday May 24

Amazing turnaround! Tree Swallows now control boxes 2,5,6,7,8. Eggs in most of them. Box 1 is only secure house sparrow spot (took out 2 eggs today). Box 3 has no nest but the last two times I opened the box an egg has tumbled out. Makes me think I should not remove house sparrow nests anymore as the tree swallows will appropriate them (box 7 is a case in point). Bluebird chicks are huge! Barely fit in the nest! Sometime this week they will be leaving us. I will stop opening the box lest I initiate a premature flight. And chickadees! Now slightly cuter.

Saturday May 21

Nest box churn continues. Box #6 has failed. No eggs today. Invaded by ants. (No sign of house sparrow). So Box #7 reclaimed by tree swallows.
In happier news: chickadee eggs have hatched!
Wow! They're creepy looking!
And bluebird chicks have feathers! Fledging could happen this week!

Thursday May 19

And the tree swallows make a strong comeback.
Box 2. Fierce defense vs. house sparrows
Box 6. Strong defensive posture. They've also hidden their eggs under nesting material.
Box 8. Re-captured!
Box 12. Carefully guarded.
Current standings put the tree swallows ahead. 8/18 boxes
House sparrows are next. 5/18 boxes
Chickadees put on a surprisingly strong performance. 3/18 boxes.
Bluebirds only 2/18. But they've got chicks already!

Wednesday May 18

Dismayed to discover that there was a house sparrow egg in box #3. And then in the afternoon was encouraged to discover that the female from box #3 was now hanging around atop box #2. (Unfortunately, it will be futile to build a suitable replacement nest given the wet grass)

Tuesday May 17

Evil is winning. Nest box #3 predated. Two broken eggs found, one beneath nest box, the other on path. Male house sparrow on top of box. Sparrows now control 5/9 boxes.

Monday May 16

Tree Swallows (#3, #6) keep adding eggs to their clutches. Hooray! House Sparrows (#2,7,8) do too. Boo! (I've simplified this into a war between good and evil). I didn't check the bluebird chicks today (weather was too cold and rainy). Other CRP news: cedar waxwings (I forgot they breed here) and the bobolinks are still here--one female.

Saturday May 14

Lily helped me clear out house sparrow nests and eggs today (#1, #8) and was extremely thrilled to see the four baby bluebirds. That's an awfully yummy looking spider, dad!
More happiness in the tree swallow column. New eggs in boxes 3 and 6 and some swallow love-making full on display (Lily thought it was cool).
This female is distinctive because she is still wearing the very brown plumage of an immature bird (apparently this is not uncommon for a first or second year breeder).

Friday May 13

Bluebird chicks! Four of them!

Tree swallow eggs! (Two in box 3, one in box 6)

House sparrow eggs! Boo! (tossed another couple into the river today)

Sunday May 8

Chickadee eggs! Nine of them! (When did this happen?)
And Box 5 was slow starting but quick to finish! Complete tree swallow nest topped with feathers. Mom-to-be was in the box when I came by.

Friday May 6

Eastern Bluebird catches beetle, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
Ugh. The house sparrows have officially taken over Box 1. I cleared out the junk they had stuffed in there. Looks to be another challenge...
And speaking of house sparrows....Box 6 produced 5 little eggs. I tossed them and the full nest in the river. Felt bad and violent but necessary.
The tree swallows are finally getting down to business. Hopefully we'll be seeing some eggs soon. This shot is blurry to protect young eyes. (Actually, just bad autofocus).
The house sparrows are still challenging Box 8 but the tree swallows so far seem up to the challenge. They took the male sparrow DOWN TO THE GROUND this morning.

Wednesday May 4

Tree Swallow, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
A lot of activity around Box 5 this past week. It had been one of the only empty boxes. Now it has been thoroughly claimed and is beginning to fill with grass and feathers. It is fun to watch this in action.
Meanwhile, the bluebirds keep holding on, hard-pressed to keep the tree swallows away. In another week we should be seeing chicks!
In other nesting box news: Box 1 may very well be another house sparrow casualty (joining Box 6). Box 8 is also getting strong house sparrow aggression.

Sunday May 1

Here are the beautiful bluebird eggs.
In other nesting news, house sparrows are beginning to compete over box 8. So far the tree swallows have been able to drive the male away.

Friday April 29

Here's a peek at the chickadee nest (no eggs yet). Lots of wool? Or is that foam from an old sofa?
Also tree swallow females have arrived. This one was carefully guarding Box 8. (I found some grass for the first time in Box 5).

And finally, another look at the heroism of the bluebirds as they try to drive off the tree swallows. I've included a slow motion clip (with slowed down sound) to give you a better look at the action.

Tuesday April 26

EGGS! Four Bluebird eggs! (How did she lay 4 eggs in 2 days? Did I just overlook them on Sunday?) Also, Chickadees are done and ON NEST (did not check for eggs--I should have!)

Sunday April 24

Tree swallows at every box (even Box 5, which has no evidence of nesting). House sparrows still at Box 6, replacement nest started. Chickadee nest building seems to have stalled out. Bluebird couple on Box 9; no eggs but female clearly in the mood for love.

Other CRP news: yellow warblers!
And ruby-crowned kinglet (that's it singing at the beginning)

Friday April 22

Still no eggs (or female tree swallows). Lily and I cleared out the sparrow nest in Box 6 (we scattered some feathers from the nest around for the tree swallows).Here's a photo of the chickadee moss pile.

Monday April 18

No photos. But interesting development. A pile of moss in box 4. Chickadees!

Friday April 15

Eastern Bluebird, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA

Not much new nest action, though the tree swallows are in hyper-aggressive mode and are battling over every single box. A new strand of grass in one box; a new feather in another. We'll see which get real nests....Meanwhile the house sparrows lurk in the bushes waiting for the tree swallows to go away. The bluebirds, on the other hand, are a little more assertive.
Below, a short video. Scene 1: a pair of competing tree swallows "talking" it out. Scene 2: tree swallows attack female bluebird--but she takes off after them! (I've added a slow motion clip to show the fight better).

Thursday April 14

Yellow-rumped warbler, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
A quick later afternoon box check reveals no particular progress from Tuesday, but a tree swallow in box (Box 2) and lots of commotion around Box 7.
Still no females

Tuesday April 12

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA

This "bluebird" nesting box monitoring stuff is quite interesting. I'm still not experienced enough to identify species by nest alone, so I'm really looking forward to more definitive answers. Only one clear house sparrow nest on my side of the property and that one seems to be contested.

BOX 2 Just begun.

BOX 6 House Sparrow (they are the only birds I've seen near the box and the nest is beginning to take the distinctive house sparrow shape. Here's what's interesting--today there were feathers (a distinctive tree swallow sign) plus a lot of nesting material appears to have been pulled out through the hole. I wonder if tree swallows are trying to take command.

BOX 7 New nest just begun

BOX 8 This one has been growing slowly over the last week or so. Today feathers for the first time.

BOX 9 Late last week I saw a couple of strands of dried grass and today, all of a sudden, a full nest! I think this one is bluebird (I've seen them quite often around this box in particular).