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Nest Boxes

Purple Martins Nesting

In April, North America’s largest swallow, the Purple Martin, returns to New England to breed.  Nesting is now underway, and here in the East takes place almost exclusively in man-made colonial nest boxes.  Prior to 1900, woodpecker holes in snags were the preferred nesting sites, but now only Purple Martins in the West tend to seek them out (unlike Purple Martins in the East, they often are solitary nesters). Even though humans have provided housing which has increased their population, there is still considerable competition from European Starlings and House Sparrows.

When they are not raising a ruckus at their nests, the iridescent dark blue-purple male and duller female Purple Martins can be seen swooping and gliding in the air as they hunt their insect prey.  If there is a cold, rainy spell in the spring or early summer it can reduce their insect food supply and they can suffer great losses.

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Eastern Bluebirds Nesting

4-22-16  bluebirds nesting 239

Eastern bluebirds are preparing for the first of the two or three broods they will raise this summer.  Contrary to what those of us who clean out our bluebird boxes have been led to believe, Cornell Lab of Ornithology states that experiments show preferences for nesting boxes containing old nests. In a paired experimental design bluebirds chose boxes containing old nests in 38 of 41 cases in which boxes with old nests were paired with empty ones.  Scientists conjecture that this may be because the old nests often contain wasp larvae, an easy source of food for the bluebirds.

Females build their nest over several days.  Grasses and pine needles are gathered from the ground and delivered to the nest box.  Fine grasses, horse hair and turkey feathers often provide the soft, innermost lining of the nest.  While the male enters the box during the nest-building process, perhaps to inspect, he does not actively collect material or participate in the building of the nest. Once the 3 – 7 eggs are laid, the female spends the next two weeks or so incubating them.  She then broods the young for about a week, and both parents provide them with food for up to three weeks after the young have fledged. (Thanks to Jeannie Killam and Terry Ross for photo op.)

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Nest Box Residents : Out With The Old, In With the New

3-25-16  mouse nest in bluebird box by Jim LafleyDSC00362 (2)In order to prevent disease or the passing on of parasites, it is a good idea to clean out nest boxes after they’ve been occupied.  In the fall, after the last brood of eastern bluebirds or tree swallows has flown the coop, many nest box owners often clean them out in preparation for the next summer’s residents, but some wait until spring.  This habit of waiting provides white-footed and deer mice (and occasionally flying squirrels) with a ready-made winter shelter and/or larder.

Feathers incorporated into the pictured grass nest indicate that tree swallows once occupied this nest box.  After the last of the avian nestlings had fledged, mice moved into the box.  After constructing a roof over the nest, the mice succeeded in renovating the former bird nursery into a winter mouse house.  The remaining space inside the box served as a larder for nearby high-bush cranberries.

Unfortunately for the mice, but fortunately for the swallows or bluebirds that will reside here this summer, the responsible nest box owner dutifully cleaned out the nest box this spring, in accordance with avian-mammalian timeshare policies.  (Thanks to Jim Lafley for the use of his photo.)

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