I checked on this 10-year-old nest-box trail in late April, the usual spring maintenance of throwing out mice and making certain boxes were ready for birds. I also pulled five boxes that needed repair, and moved two that were attracting House Sparrows. Yesterday, Wednesday, I walked the trail to see how the nesters were doing. I found five empty boxes, empty for no particular reason. Eastern Bluebirds had three nests under construction, four with eggs, three with very young hatchlings, and one filled to edges with five birds about to fledge. I was happy they didn't fly out in my face. I've had that happen, and you can't put the young birds back in place. You open boxes cautiously after that experience. There was one empty Tree Swallow nest, six nests holding eggs, and seven with young birds. One held three fresh hatchlings and two eggs yet to open. There was one empty chickadee nest, and one with eggs. There was one empty House Wren nest.
If I set boxes in areas that are open -- adjacent to fairways, for instance, the boxes are used by bluebirds and swallows. Boxes near tree or brush lines attract chickadees and wrens. Placement of boxes is complicated by the need to keep them out of the way of lawnmowers used to maintain the course; there
have been occasional knock-downs. The club once offered horseback riding. There was a stable, with the usual hay and grain. That attracted a hoard of House Sparrows. The stable is long gone, not so the sparrows. Any nest box within 100 yards of the old stable, now used to store golf carts, is apt to draw sparrow interest. I've tried trapping, but that requires constant attention to ensure that no bluebirds or swallows are held prisoner. Nowadays, I remove the sparrow nests and relocate the boxes. Several years ago I used a large live trap, attempting to simply remove the sparrows. This was a repeating trap. It would hold a couple of dozen birds if one was so fortunate. The trap was placed beneath bushes near the old stable. It was adjacent to the club-member parking lot. Trapped birds cheeped loudly. People investigated. Investigators were unhappy to say the least that someone was trapping birds. I was told to remove the trap. I did. No one pays any attention to boxes used by sparrows or my relocation efforts.
Sparrows are a problem because they usurp the boxes, natural cavities almost nonexistent for the bluebirds and swallows, and also because the sparrows will kill nest occupants and puncture eggs if they want an occupied box. House Sparrows are aggressive by nature. They also are non-native, an introduced species. It is simpler to place boxes where sparrows do not or will not go. They are loyal to the old stable. The course also has nesting Killdeer, Barn Swallows, Song Sparrows, Yellow Warblers, Yellow-throated Warblers, Baltimore Orioles, robins, and Red-winged Blackbirds. The course is well-wooded with ponds and some marshes. It is good habitat, and course management tries to keep both golfers and birds happy. Pesticide use has been curtailed, and is carefully planned. Being over there once a week is a nice birding experience. My only complaint would be the trimming of dead tree branches and removal of dead trees. I wish trees could be left untouched. Ambiance carries the day, however. But a few hundred acres of habitat well-used by birds is a definite positive.