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

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.

Hummingbird nest

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: July 20, 2014 - 5:43 PM

The nest of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird is being watched at a park location in St. Louis Park. Eggs are are close to hatching, although exactly when is unknown. Incubation takes about 16 days, young birds leaving the nest about 19 days after hatching. The nest is made of plant material and down held trightly together with spider web. It is covered on the outside with flakes of lichen. The female bird, working alone, builds the nest in about five days.

Banding Osprey

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: July 11, 2014 - 11:17 AM

Some of the Ospreys nesting within the Three Rivers Park Distrcit boundries have been banded recently. These photos were taken Thursday at a nest site in Orono. Using lineman's gear, a climber takes young birds from the nest for application of two bands. The first is the standard federal numbered ID band, record of which is kept in Maryland. The second band has two large letters used to identify local birds. Park district personnel counted 108 Osprey nests this season, according to Judy Englund, who supervises the district's Osprey program. Birds using the nests produced 85 eggs. Not all nests were used. 

When hold an Osprey chick, it's important to have a firm grasp of the bird's talons. The chicks are quite docile during the brief banding procedure, but you never know. The bird below is being held by Lizzie Nelson of Minneapolis. The Orono banding event had an invited audience of about 20 people.

Unhatched eggs found in Osprey nests are collected. Ms. England believes that the park district has the largest collection of Osprey eggs in the nation, with the exception of the Smithsonian Institution.

Another loon-with-flies photo

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: July 9, 2014 - 1:35 PM

Reader Dan Laakso who owns a cabin on Lake Washburn near Outing, Minnesota, sent this photo of a Common Loon being attack by Black Flies. (See Wednesday birding column, Variety section, Home and Garden pages for story.) Dan says the loon was driven from its nest, presumably by the flies. The nest was abandoned on May 18. And this was last year, the problem even worse this year.

Black flies and Osprey

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: July 9, 2014 - 12:34 PM

This morning's (Wednesday) birding column in the StarTribune (Variety section, Home and Garden pages) talks about the impact this summer of black flies on Common Loons and other birds. I do not mention Osprey in the column, my oversight. Once I thought to ask the question, this is the reply I received from Judy England, who keeps track of nesting Osprey in the metro area:

"Yes, black flies are terrible on Ospreys this year.  Both the male and female from the nest on webcam at the Arboretum left the single chick alone Saturday night for over one-half hour, just before dusk. The chick was so agitated by the flies that it edged itself over the side of the nest and died. I am watching the black flies crawl all over the adults through my scope when checking osprey nests, and their head-shaking does not cease.  Chicks are also crawling under the wings of their parents to escape the insects.  (Shaded chicks would simply sit in the shade of the adults.) Historically, they would have gotten a little reprieve in the evenings, but the mosquitoes are so horrible they are not getting a break this year."

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REPORT NESTS: This note comes from the Twin Cities Osprey Watch

We have had many osprey nests fail this year and adults have left their nests. They often build "frustration nests" after a failure. I am requesting that anyone who sees new nests popping up, or adult ospreys carrying sticks in the eight-county metro area, to please report this activity to Twin Cities Metro Osprey Watch so we can identify these birds and locate new nest sites as part of our ongoing research. Please contact us at  osprey.mn@att.net 
We also have a Facebook page for more Info about metro ospreys:
(https://www.facebook.com/pages/Twin-Cities-Metro-Osprey-Watch/218968924786696?ref=hl)
And a blog at ospreywatch.blogspot.com
Sent by Vanessa Greene, Twin Cities Metro Osprey Watch

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Below, an Osprey at its nest, sans flies.

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