‘Cavity’ nesting birds are back
The bluebirds are back in full force which is always such a welcome sign of spring. Many other birds are also back from the south and others will be steadily appearing throughout April.
And if that isn’t spectacular enough, the month of May will be even better with so many beautiful favorites returning along with such a wonderful variety of beautiful warblers.
With our recent nice March, we’ve seen bluebirds already building their nests in many cases. But that doesn’t mean that they have laid their eggs.
Most birds know the calendar well and didn’t let the unusual March warm spell trick them into early egg laying. The more recent normal spring weather is what we needed to bring things a bit more into balance.
The bluebirds that have already built nests have gotten a good head start. As you know, bluebirds compete heavily for prime nesting boxes with house sparrows and tree swallows. Any time now in the early part of April we will see tree swallows returning from the south.
Though they don’t start nesting for quite some time we will see them constantly checking out the various nest boxes as potential nesting sites … and sometimes becoming quite persistent in “claiming” a box.
If the bluebirds have already built their nest, but not laid any eggs, the adults can concentrate on defending their nest box instead of having to build a nest at the same time.
Tree swallows are desirable birds and are great fun to watch as they dive around the yard eating thousands of insects. If you have swallows in one box, it’s good to have another nest box very near by that will be left available for bluebirds.
Both tree swallows and bluebirds don’t allow another pair of the same species to nest near them. Tree swallows generally allow another pair of swallows if they are at least 20 feet away. As for bluebirds, they usually won’t allow another pair of bluebirds within 300 feet.
House sparrows don’t care about any of the nest box spacings as they are colony nesters and will nest just about anywhere – in nest boxes, barns, eaves’ troughs, dense tops of blue spruce trees, and porches. You should not allow them to successfully nest in nest boxes (or anywhere!)
As for house wrens, which also like nest boxes and bird houses, they are protected birds and legally can’t be evicted. All I can tell you is that if you have wrens nesting in your bluebird boxes, you have the nest boxes way too close to thick cover such as thickets, woods, and hedgerows.
Attracting other cavity nesting birds is also fun to do. You can install kestrel boxes in the open country.
Kestrels nest in cavities in trees and even use holes in the siding and eaves of houses and barns. Kestrels are our smallest species of falcons in this area. Larger members are the merlins and peregrines which are far less common.
This is also a great time to consider putting up wood duck and hooded merganser nest boxes. These two species are used to nesting in hollow trees – sometimes way up high. Once all the baby ducks have hatched, they jump out of the hole and “float” their light little bodies to the ground unharmed.
If you have a large body of water on your property, you may also give attracting purple martins a try. This takes persistence, careful monitoring, and discouraging of the very aggressive competing starlings.
It also can take years until you have success. Your chances of success are greater on larger bodies of water that already have purple martins nesting at other locations near by. Right now is high time to have your purple martin houses ready as they will be back very shortly.
Yes, April is here and so many really nice birds will be appearing throughout the month. Enjoy them all you can and prepare yourself for even more action as May rolls around! Make it a priority to fit birding into your everyday schedule – otherwise it just won’t happen.
Hans Kunze is an avid birder and nature enthusiast. He writes for the LCN twice each month. He and his wife own and operate a bird feeding store at their home in Wyoming, NY. You can reach Hans with questions about birds and his shop by writing to him at 6340 LaGrange Rd Wyoming, N.Y. 14591 or by calling 495-6797.