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

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.

build a nest

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: August 5, 2014 - 7:38 PM


A very short entertaining video on building a bird nest, as created by Marinda Brandon.

http://www.mirandabrandon.com/index.php/videos/two-of-the-same/

House Sparrows

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: July 29, 2014 - 11:10 PM

House Sparrows should not be allowed to use nest boxes intended for bluebirds or other native cavity nesters. A reader recently asked about a suspicious nest he found in a box he tends. 

The nest described sounded like intrusion by House Sparrows, an invasive non-native species. If the nest is a mess of grass and feathers and paper and whatever, it's House Sparrows. I remove nest and eggs, if any.

What do other nests look like, so you don't trash the wrong one? Chickadees build with moss. Tree Swallows always incorporate feathers. Bluebirds make a nest nest of grass and/or pine needles, rarely other material. House Wrens use sticks and twigs exclusively. 

Don't hesitate to open the box to check on the nest and possible occupants unless you suspect native birds are close to fledging. (You don't want to provoke early departure by opening a box containing young birds near fledging.) Knock first -- from the side, not in front of the opening-- to warn any adult birds in the box, then open. (I've watched people knock as they're tempted to peer into the box, as if to see exactly what is going to fly into their face. It will sharpen your reaction time.)

Birds will tolerate occasional quick looks into their nest box. Some people who provide boxes for bluebirds open the box daily to check on chick progress once the eggs hatch, not that I recommend that. The birds will not abandon the nest because of occasional, brief, discrete looks. If sparrows persist, find a new location for the box, or trap and dispose of the sparrows. It is the male you want to catch. Google "sparrow nest-box traps" for more information. 

If you have nest boxes, they should be cleaned once nesting is complete. Open the box cautiously in case wasps or bumblebees are nesting there. I've found both inside boxes, and wasps also in nests attached to the outside bottom of the box. If there are wasps or bees, prop the door open if you can, and leave. Remove all nesting materials from non-occupied boxes. Wear gloves. Avoid the dust that will come from the box; do not stand downwind. I leave my boxes open over the winter, cleaning and closing in the spring, usually early April.

Below, a typical House Sparrow nest, a jammed collection of almost any material the bird could carry.

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