Wildlife Odds and Ends

I walk often, usually traveling short distances on local trails. Late Spring is a wonderful time to do this because there’s so much going on in the world of wildlife.

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Wildlife populations are approaching their annual peak as new recruits arrive daily!

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Juvenile Red Squirrel

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Goslings

Songbirds are in various stages of nesting: some are building nests, some are sitting on eggs, some are feeding young. Regardless of the species, males can usually be heard singing on the nesting territories.

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Chestnut-sided Warbler above a dense thicket of shrubs and young trees

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Great Crested Flycatcher nesting in a “Bluebird” box (1 of 3)

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Reptiles and amphibians have come alive in the summer-like heat. This American Toad has claimed my compost pile as home.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Swallow Activity

Tree Swallow activity in mid May is an absolute joy to observe. In just a few minutes time mated pairs can be seen nest building, battling intruders, feeding on the wing, resting and preening. They’re also quite vocal and the continuous twitter chatter is fascinating in and of itself. The focal point of all activity is a nest box on a post, located in a field or open area (the steel post used as a perch in these images is the anchor for a nest box that is just out sight). Enjoy!!!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Nest Building 101

I received these instructions from a cavity nesting songbird, one that serenades me while I’m  working in the garden: the common House Wren.

Step 1.In the absence of a hollow tree, find a small box with a hole in it. Stuff the box with tiny twigs (about 600, give or take a hundred). Leave some room at the top for bedding and the kids. Oh, and in your spare time, stuff every other nest box in sight with twigs to discourage the competition.

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Step 2. Scavenge some soft material for bedding (you don’t want the kids flying around with a stick up their butt). Fragments of insulation from a nearby dog kennel work well.

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Step 3. Sing loud and often to let the world know what you’ve done. And that you own it.

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My biological control strategy for insect pests!

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Tree Swallows

Countless species of woody plants, native and exotic, invade abandoned farmland after a few short years. Dogwoods, viburnums, honeysuckles, buckthorn, multiflora rose and white ash are prominent colonizers in this area. In order to sustain a variety of wildlife species on these sites, some sort of habitat management is inevitable. The maintenance of large herbaceous openings with an annual mowing (brush-hogging) that subordinates and/or eliminates woody vegetation is one example. With the addition of nest boxes, such habitats will attract and support tree swallows, blue birds, house wrens and other cavity nesting birds.

The first migratory bird species to arrive and claim nest boxes at my location is the tree swallow (in more suitable habitat it might be the bluebird). I watch several pairs of tree swallows every spring as they feed on the wing, court, fight, build nests, defend nests and raise young. Every year I think I have enough swallow pics and will leave the camera at home while I’m working in the field. And every year I take more pictures! Love these graceful little bug-eating machines!!!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Preflight Ritual

One of a pair of Tree Swallows perched above the chosen nest box; they typically  preen and stretch in the morning sun prior to take-off.

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For information and photos relating to habitat management for tree swallows and other cavity-nesting songbirds, you might want to visit this post from my archives: https://nicksnaturepics.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/h

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Nest-building Songbirds

In an earlier post (Habitat Management for Songbirds, 4/21/13) I covered the use of artificial nest boxes by cavity-nesting birds. As an update to that, about a dozen boxes are now occupied and most Tree Swallows, Bluebirds and House Wrens are on nests.

However, I first heard the Great Crested Flycatcher just a week ago and yesterday had an opportunity to watch as one brought small bundles of pine straw (shed White Pine needles on the ground) to a nest box. Curiously, of the many boxes distributed over several acres, this same site is chosen year in and year out by the flycatchers.

 

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I also discovered that a pair of House Wrens, perhaps late arrivals, had claimed an empty box in a thicket  near the edge of the yard.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Habitat Management for Songbirds

The management of habitat for non-game wildlife like songbirds can be very rewarding. My management practices are guided by some basic principles that help keep me pointed in the right direction: copy nature, enhance biodiversity, and plan for sustainable, cost-effective activities.

One such plan involves a few acres where I’m attempting to arrest and reverse the natural succession of pasture to fallow field to forest.  The site was last grazed about 25 years ago and is now a mixture of herbaceous vegetation, woody shrubs and young trees. My management goals are to 1-arrest succession on the majority of the fallow field, keeping it in the brushy, shrub stage; 2-reverse succession on small areas within the shrub habitat, creating herbaceous, meadow-like openings; and 3-control invasive plant species. Habitat boundaries are irregular and lack clear definition to simulate nature. Mechanical control is favored over other methods. Songbird nest boxes were installed on posts in the herbaceous openings (six in all).

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Brush-hogging to create an herbaceous opening; nest box on left

These types of habitats are preferred by dozens of wildlife species, from butterflies to deer, and have provided me with countless hours of recreation, nature study and photographic opportunities.

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Part of a family group of White-tailed Deer using an herbaceous opening soon after it was created

This post features a group of birds with broad appeal and interest that are benefiting from my management plan: cavity-nesting songbirds that use artificial nest boxes. The most common nest box in the landscape, one designed for the Eastern Bluebird, was my pattern of choice. I was hoping for bluebirds but was also aware of the multi-use value of nest boxes, especially where natural cavities in trees are limiting. In open habitats, nest boxes are commonly occupied by House Wrens and Tree Swallows, and on rare occasions the Great Crested Flycatcher.

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House Wren

House Wrens can be a bit of a nuisance, stuffing every nest box in sight with twigs, floor to ceiling, to discourage the competition (my father once counted over 700 twigs in a dummy nest – a considerable amount of work – for both parties!)

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House Wren

Tree Swallows in early April, resting, preening, and scouting nest boxes (5)

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Great Crested Flycatchers first claimed a meadow nest box three years ago. I knew that they were cavity nesters, but had never seen them occupy a nest box. The entrance hole to this box had been enlarged slightly by a Red Squirrel, perhaps making it more suitable for the flycatchers.

Great Crested Flycatchers, nest building (4)

 

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All of the featured species consume large quantities of insects throughout the spring and summer months, contributing to ecosystem stability and biodiversity.

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Great Crested Flycatcher with food for its young

Eastern Bluebirds prefer open habitats with low, herbaceous plant cover, such as pastures and large lawns. Without periodic maintenance, fallow fields eventually lose these characteristics and the bluebirds inhabitants as well

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One of a winter (January) flock of 8 – 10 bluebirds, an unusual sighting.

A pair of Eastern Bluebirds that claimed a nest box on one of the recently cleared openings; resting, feeding, nest building, and guarding the nest box.

 

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Eastern Bluebird, male

 

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Eastern Bluebird, male

 

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Eastern Bluebird, female

 

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Eastern Bluebird, female, nest building

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Eastern Bluebird, male, guarding the nest box as Tree Swallows swarmed in to investigate.

I’m obviously an advocate of artificial nest boxes for wildlife, particularly when a need is identified. However, I also feel that natural tree cavities should be the highest priority. I  locate and protect den trees when working in the woods and sometimes create potential den or nest trees if natural cavities are lacking. 

All photos by NB Hunter