Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Posts about Nesting

Spring, in the right place

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 26, 2015 - 5:18 PM

Jude and I were  gone for 17 days in April, on the road to see family. We visited southern Florida, South Carolina, and Michigan, with a stop in northern Ohio for a bit of focused birding. We did birds throughout the trip, with but casual intent. Birding in Florida was bad, mostly because the temps were in the high 80s and 90s during our visit. South Caroline offered Atlantic beach time, but only two species of gull, the beach being full of people. Michigan: we didn’t even try. Ohio, at Magee Marsh on the Lake Erie shore, east of Toledo, was better. It can be a spectacular place during spring migration. We were early. I found kinglets, gnatcatchers, and Hermit Thrushes in the short time I spent in a wind-chill wind.

 

The highlight was the song of a Black-capped Chickadee at a Wisconsin rest stop along I-94. There was little bird song at our other stops, and none familiar except cardinal and Tufted Titmouse. It was good to get home.

 

Chickadees here are singing between periods working on the nest they are excavating in a backyard tree. It is a dead tree, sort of ugly, leaning over the pond. I’ve defended it against removal in recent years, vindication now mine: Dead trees have a purpose. Cardinals are singing. Downy Woodpeckers are tapping out their song. And best of all, frogs are calling in the swamp behind the house. Frogs are my favorite spring singers. Last night: Spring Peeper, Cricket Frog, and a lone Wood Frog. Last year we counted seven species before the calling made its seasonal stop.

 

There were 17 Wood Ducks on the pond Friday, with one lost Blue-winged Teal. There are two drake Mallards on most days, and a pair of Canada Geese that have claimed a nesting platform we put on the water. They had a noisy, hour-long argument this morning with another pair that has the same idea. Among all of those Wood Ducks there are four pair, or at least four drakes closely following four hens. One of our wooden duck boxes shows down caught on the edges of the opening. I am assuming occupancy, or at least interest. On the ground beneath another box we found two duck eggs, both opened and empty. I have no good idea of how they got there. The box on its pole looks like it should be predator-proof. Could a hen spill an egg?

 

House Wrens have yet to make an appearance. We usually have two boxes of wrens. Red-winged Blackbirds are here, just males so far; they are waiting for nesting partners. We’ll have Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, and Yellow Warbler as nesters if this year follows recent years. Cardinals also must nest back there in the swamp tangle, but I’ve never determined where.

 

I sat on the deck overlooking all of this activity this morning, watching geese fight, and chickadees work. For all of the birds that travel might bring, it’s good to be home.

 

Chickadee with cavity debris in its mouth. Below, disposal trip.

 

Spring, in the right place

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 26, 2015 - 5:17 PM

Jude and I were  gone for 17 days in April, on the road to see family. We visited southern Florida, South Carolina, and Michigan, with a stop in northern Ohio for a bit of focused birding. We did birds throughout the trip, with but casual intent. Birding in Florida was bad, mostly because the temps were in the high 80s and 90s during our visit. South Caroline offered Atlantic beach time, but only two species of gull, the beach being full of people. Michigan: we didn’t even try. Ohio, at Magee Marsh on the Lake Erie shore, east of Toledo, was better. It can be a spectacular place during spring migration. We were early. I found kinglets, gnatcatchers, and Hermit Thrushes in the short time I spent in a wind-chill wind.

 

The highlight was the song of a Black-capped Chickadee at a Wisconsin rest stop along I-94. There was little bird song at our other stops, and none familiar except cardinal and Tufted Titmouse. It was good to get home.

 

Chickadees here are singing between periods working on the nest they are excavating in a backyard tree. It is a dead tree, sort of ugly, leaning over the pond. I’ve defended it against removal in recent years, vindication now mine: Dead trees have a purpose. Cardinals are singing. Downy Woodpeckers are tapping out their song. And best of all, frogs are calling in the swamp behind the house. Frogs are my favorite spring singers. Last night: Spring Peeper, Cricket Frog, and a lone Wood Frog. Last year we counted seven species before the calling made its seasonal stop.

 

There were 17 Wood Ducks on the pond Friday, with one lost Blue-winged Teal. There are two drake Mallards on most days, and a pair of Canada Geese that have claimed a nesting platform we put on the water. They had a noisy, hour-long argument this morning with another pair that has the same idea. Among all of those Wood Ducks there are four pair, or at least four drakes closely following four hens. One of our wooden duck boxes shows down caught on the edges of the opening. I am assuming occupancy, or at least interest. On the ground beneath another box we found two duck eggs, both opened and empty. I have no good idea of how they got there. The box on its pole looks like it should be predator-proof. Could a hen spill an egg?

 

House Wrens have yet to make an appearance. We usually have two boxes of wrens. Red-winged Blackbirds are here, just males so far; they are waiting for nesting partners. We’ll have Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, and Yellow Warbler as nesters if this year follows recent years. Cardinals also must nest back there in the swamp tangle, but I’ve never determined where.

 

I sat on the deck overlooking all of this activity this morning, watching geese fight, and chickadees work. For all of the birds that travel might bring, it’s good to be home.

 

Chickadee with cavity debris in its mouth. Below, disposal trip.

 

Revisiting black flies

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 30, 2014 - 11:50 AM

We wrote in August about the problem of black flies attacking birds, particularly Common Loons this past summer. The attacks were fierce enough to cause the birds to abandon nests.

 

I received this note from Al Bradshaw of Hackensack. 

 

“About ten years ago we encountered the same problem on Barnum, our small lake in Cass County.  The flies drove the loons to abandon their nest. I contacted Pam Perry (the DNR Loon Specialist at that time), and she had never heard of it happening.  

 

“I then contacted the folks at Ashland College who have banded and monitored my brother's birds at McNaughton Wi. for years. They said there was considerable research on the subject by folks in Canada, but that they had no solution to offer.

 

“The next year I decided to try affixing some insect repelling pest strips to the corners of the raft but  that didn't help. Nor did I like the idea of exposing the birds/eggs to some chemical.

 

“The following year I dressed the nest with a generous supply of aromatic cedar wood chips.I  have been doing this for the past six years, and we have not had a black fly problem since. Maybe we've just been lucky? Or maybe it is helpful.”

 

 

House Wren nest with feathers and flowers

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 20, 2014 - 10:16 AM

One of the nest boxes in our yard held an unusual House Wren nest this summer. The nest proper is quite visible from above. Wren nests far more often contain a narrow passageway leading from entry to nest proper, preventing a direct look at eggs or chicks. More unusual are the feathers woven into the stick structure (Cedar Waxwing feather at the far right with yellow tip), and the bits of flower petal added to the floor. I’ve seen many wren nests in a dozen years of tending nest boxes. The feathers and flowers are a first. The nest was built in section of four-inch PVC pipe, one of the box designs created by Steve Gilbertson of Aitkin. 

 

Steve, by the way, has retired from building his popular and successful boxes, both the PVC model and his wooden Gilwood box. His box designs were used throughout Eastern Bluebird range by hundreds of bluebird fans. Located in proper habitat, House Wrens obviously found the boxes attractive, too, as did Tree Swallows.

Wren nest with feathers and flowers

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: September 19, 2014 - 10:10 PM

One of the nest boxes in our yard held an unusual House Wren nest this summer. The nest proper is quite visible from above. Wren nests far more often contain a narrow passageway leading from entry to nest proper, preventing a direct look at eggs or chicks. More unusual are the feathers woven into the stick structure (Cedar Waxwing feather at the far right with yellow tip), and the bits of flower petal added to the floor. I’ve seen many wren nests in a dozen years of tending nest boxes. The feathers and flowers are a first. The nest was built in section of four-inch PVC pipe, one of the box designs created by Steve Gilbertson of Aitkin. 

 

Steve, by the way, has retired from building his popular and successful boxes, both the PVC model and his wooden Gilwood box. His box designs were used throughout Eastern Bluebird range by hundreds of bluebird fans. Located in proper habitat, House Wrens obviously found the boxes attractive, too, as did Tree Swallows.

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