Monday, May 28, 2007

Of All The Nest Boxes...In All The World

We saw a Violet-Green Swallow take over the Black-capped Chickadee nest box. It's not something that was immediately apparent. One day the chickadees were flying about, feeding their young. Both parents -- going from the nest to the feeder, a quick fly around the yard, then back to the nest. Over and over. They were feeding hungry babies to be sure. Then there was a new bird hanging on the box. It was a Violet Green Swallow. So, I just assumed it was checking out nest boxes and saw that this one was already occupied. Well, okay.
But then the chickadees started to behave differently. They flew to the nest box, but didn't go in, just stared in from the opening. That didn't seem good at all. Suddenly a bird flies out of the box. Whoa, who's that? The parents go in and feed their young, but leave again. The swallow flies back in.

Is she adopting the box and the babies, or just the box, and the babies be damned? Brave Roger, who puts up with my fretting and meddling, opened the nest box from the side and found the swallow sitting on the nest. She gave him a look and flees. He quickly notices six or eight chickadee babies in there; one is already dead. He closed the nest box. We think we must take some action, but what?

One thing for certain, I was determined to not let the swallow back in the box. While Roger came up with a plan, I stood in front of the box with our long-handled, pond-skimmer net. The swallow tried over and over to get back in there, but I absolutely would not let her. She was aggressively persistent.

Roger devised this plan. He reasoned that the swallows only approach the nest from straight on, but the chickadees can approach it from many angles. They can cling sideways and upside down. He thought if he hung an overhang over the nest box opening it would deter the swallow by making it impossible for her to enter, but doable for the chickadee. So, with some left over shingles from our siding project of last summer, he partially blocked the entrance.
The swallow tried to get in, but could not. She was instantly thwarted. It took the chickadees about two seconds to figure out how to get to their babies. They went on an immediate feeding frenzy, spending the rest of the day flying in and out of the box with lots of food from the feeder.

We didn't want to, and probably couldn't anyway, completely banish this beautiful swallow from the yard, so Roger hung an unused nest box for her. She found it and after a little while decided it met her expectations, and took up residence.

I contacted our bird advice guru Julie Zickefoose to help us with some of the details. I wasn't sure if we should remove the dead bird or not. She said a definitive "yes." I also sent her photos of the nestbox with the overhang, and she suggested that we make it shorter because the babies need to see the world they are about to navigate and fly into.

Roger took the dead bird out on Saturday evening, and he cut the overhang Sunday morning.

If we hadn't been paying attention, we would never have known, but we believe with knowledge comes responsibility. I think that's even an apt lesson for Memorial Day.

We know we are tampering with nature here. We'll apologize at the Pearly Gates, after we've asked about the intelligence of such a design.

Please click on the pics to see the larger view of what's going on here.

update: i checked the nest box this am. i counted 5 chicks, all alive and breathing. both parents have been spotted, bringing in food and taking out the poop.

not easy to see them all. the one on the right opened his beak for food several times. but not when i was ready with the camera.

the swallow in her own box.

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