Bird Lady Blog

March 13, 2017

What I Learned in Ireland About Northern Arizona Birding


Hooded Crow

Eight of us took a trip to Ireland in late May/early June to golf, see the country, and, of course for me, to informally bird watch. In the meantime, while I was abroad, I heard from three Munds Park residents who sent me their photos of two birds we have here:  Western Tanager and Yellow-Headed Blackbird.

The Western Tanager is a brightly colored, red headed/yellow bodied/black-winged bird that appears in late spring. Western Tanagers are stocky song birds that inhabit coniferous environments, foraging though the upper parts of pine and juniper branches in a methodical manner.  They don’t frequent seed feeders but can be attracted with fresh or dried fruit.  I’ve read that their song is a hoarse, American Robin-type song, but I don’t think I’ve ever recognized it.  Note to self:  pay more attention to what bird songs you are hearing, especially right before dusk.  I need to make myself differentiate between the song of the Western Tanager and the Black-Headed Grosbeak.

The photo I received from a reader of the Yellow-Headed Blackbird was taken at Lake Odell. I saw these Blackbirds this year also at the pond on the Pinewood Country Club golf course between #1 and #10.  And, exciting news, the Ospreys are again nesting in the same tree as last year to the south of #13 on the golf course.  I haven’t been around enough to know how many birds are in the nest.  But it sure it fun to make the turn at 12 and look up to see the nest and know the birds still favor Munds Park.

As for Ireland, birding there was easier than in Africa, where we were last year.   Ireland has a human population of only four and a half million people, and the bird population parallels that statistic.  Ireland has a rather low number of bird species because of its isolation.  I bought a field guide, The Birds of Ireland by Jim Wilson, and packed my pair of binoculars along with its shoulder harness, and was able to see 35 new bird species without going off our travel itinerary.  Ireland has a Blackbird, which is the size and shape of our American Robin, and it I completely black except for a bright yellow beak.  Their Robin is red/orange from the beak to the breast, and when I spotted it, it flitted like a fly-catcher rather than moved like our Robin.  On the final afternoon we were in Dublin, I took a walk through a city park and saw three life-birds in the span of an hour:  Robin, Tufted Duck, and Grey Wagtail.  The Wagtails really do wag their tails, and I found two species, the Grey and the Pied.

Ireland’s one-and-only Swallow is very similar to our Barn Swallow, and the House Martin, which our group identified while we were in a golf course clubhouse sipping on pints of Guinness, is a lot like our Violet Green Swallow.

The Blue Tit and Great Tit resemble our Mountain Chickadees. I saw my first Ireland’s Hooded Crow in a little village we stopped at for ice cream (Irish people love their ice cream, and large ice cream cone statues in front of stores indicate that you can find some there).  Unlike our American Crow, which is all black, the Hooded Crow is part grey and part black, and therefore rather easy to contrast with another bird in Ireland, the Raven.

What was my favorite bird of Ireland? It had to be the Lapwing.  The Lapwing resembles a Killdeer, but it has a top-knot similar to our Gamble’s Quail, which is found only in our desert, not at higher elevations.  The Lapwing is featured in the logo for the Portmarnock Golf Club in Dublin, so I just had to buy myself one of the golf shirts there to wear as a fond memory of our golf and birding.

Birds and Butterflies

Filed under: Bald Eagles,Birding,Migration — Munds Park Birding @ 8:51 pm
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I have been to Munds Park only once since October, but friends informed me that birds are nesting (watch for activity of Mountain Chickadees and Steller’s Jays) and spring is moving forward and teaming with bird commotion. Here in Scottsdale I had an interesting winter – a female Northern Cardinal hung around for a few weeks, partaking of the black oil sunflower seeds, and a Coopers Hawk visited the back yard several times trying to snap up the feeding sparrows or doves for his/her next meal.  One morning we awoke to see the Cooper’s Hawk poised on our birdbath, and nary another bird in sight.  The White-Crowned Sparrows arrived in Scottsdale in early October, signaling the start of fall, and the Lesser Goldfinches were present all winter at my niger seed feeders.  I like to think these same ones are now on their way back to Munds Park.  Other birds of note were one Rufous-Sided Towhee and a Bewick’s Wren.

Some of you may have read in the Arizona Republic about the nesting Bald Eagles in North Scottsdale (on an un-named golf course to protect the birds from too much human activity). It’s really great to see that our Bald Eagle population continues to be on the rise, and certainly that is a species that tugs at the heart strings of all of us.  I am hopeful we will continue to see Bald Eagles occasionally again in Munds Park this year.

My new activity this fall and winter was putting in a butterfly garden. I became interested after reading articles written by Desert Botanical Garden staff stating, to put it very simply, that while we humans rip up native vegetation to build houses and “nice” landscaping, we fail to replace native plants.  Those native plants, especially varieties of milkweed, are critical to maintaining our butterfly population.  Milkweed is the only plant that Monarch Butterflies lay their eggs on.  So, in Scottsdale, we dug up the front lawn, which was our plan anyway, and put in Desert Milkweed, Wooly Butterfly Plant, Penstemon, Red Fairy Duster, and Desert Lavender.  I subsequently learned that Arizona Milkweed was preferred by butterflies for egg-laying in the desert, so I am growing some Arizona Milkweed from seed and will start incorporating that into our garden.

But what if you want to make a butterfly-friendly garden in Munds Park or the Northern Arizona surrounding area? First, we know that Monarch Butterflies and other species do pass through here, so planting a butterfly-friendly garden will eventually pay off.  I had a great conversation with Nigel of the Flagstaff Native Plant and Seed nursery while doing research.  This nursery sells milkweed varieties that grow in the northern elevations, and Nigel is very knowledgeable about what to plant and when.  In addition, your local landscape companies can assist with plants that attract butterflies once they “grow up” and are off the milkweed.

Next stop: A friend from Chicago-land and I are finally going to attend the full four days of the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival in late April.  I will report on that in my next article.

January 1, 2016

Reader Questions


Black-Headed Grosbeak

Black-Headed Grosbeak

It has been a busy two weeks with reader correspondence.  The most common question has been “where have all the birds gone?”  The answer, I think, is that they are migrating!  At least many of them are.  The Black-Headed Grosbeaks seem to leave in mid-August.  I haven’t seen an American Robin in a while.  But what about the Lesser Goldfinch?  They are still here in Munds Park but not that active at our feeders.  The theory:  they are spending more time on the wild flower seeds from all the vegetation that has bloomed and now is going to seed.  And the Western Bluebirds are abundant – one of the last to arrive in Munds Park and last to leave for fall migration.

On the other hand, the Canada Geese are sticking around and have been seen at the ponds of the Pinewood Country Club Golf Course.  Also at the ponds was a new hatch of American Coots – must be the second brood of the season.  At first the babies are black with red head feathers and a red beak – very cute!  Then they turn into a boring gray before the distinctive black body and white beak.

Second question:  What happened to the Osprey nest?  This question came from my women golfer friends, who exhibited much concern since the Osprey nest, often with one or two birds on it, has been part of the landscape on the back nine of the golf course this summer and last summer.  There were several theories:  1) the tree the nest was built on fell down of natural causes; 2) some terrible person cut down the tree because the Ospreys are loud, vocal birds and disturbed the human’s sleep; 3) the nest tumbled down on its own during the last very big storm, which seemed to be a micro-burst of rough weather.  My friends and I concluded that the most likely answer is #3, primarily because we see one of the Osprey perched on a tall tree that we think was the exact one that held the nest.  So the Ospreys are going back to a familiar place only to find that the house up and crashed, and they will have to build another next year.  We all hope it will be in the same place so we can keep an eye on it in between our golf club swings.

Third question:  Why don’t we have Magpies in Munds Park?  The Black-Billed Magpie is a very large, noisy, black and white member of the jay family.  I have seen them in Colorado when we visited Durango.  The only part of Arizona they inhabit is the northeast corner of Apache Country – almost into Colorado.  I did manage to find a scientific paper on Magpies in Arizona and concluded that probably temperature and humidity are the reasons they are not here.  Probably a good thing, because the American Crows are noisy enough and I’m not sure we need another bird species to compete with them!

Lastly, a reader did say that she switched to nyger seeds and safflower seeds and the Brown-Headed Cowbirds went away and the Lesser Goldfinches returned.  So that was a happy resolution to that dilemma.

Bird Quiz


It’s been a while since we’ve done a birding quiz.  Let’s see how you do!  Answers to these questions are found somewhere else in the Pinewood News.

  1. What birds have a large nest on the top of a dead pine tree near Lake Odell? Turkey Vulture, Osprey, American Kestral, Common Raven.  Hint:  They catch and eat fish.
  2. Which Goldfinch species is common in Munds Park? American Goldfinch, Lesser Goldfinch, Lawrence’s Goldfinch, Coconino Goldfinch?
  3. When a group of Turkey Vultures are soaring in the sky, what do ornithologists call them? Cast, Committee, Meal, Vortex, or Wake.
  4. Which finch has not been sighted in Munds Park (at least to my knowledge?) Black Rosy-Finch, House Finch, Cassin’s Finch.
  5. When is the least favorable time to be bird watching? Morning, High Noon, Late Afternoon.
  6. Are Acorn Woodpeckers best described as being: Communal or Solitary?
  7. What blackbird is not common to Munds Park? Lone-Pine Blackbird, Red-Winged Blackbird, Yellow-Headed Blackbird?
  8. What bird is often thought to be a duck, but is not? Mallard, American Coot, Blue-winged Teal
  9. About how many times a minute does a hummingbird’s heart beat? 400, 600, 1200.
  10. What is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to attract birds to your property? Cracked corn, green ham and eggs, dripping water into a bird bath, rock music played over back-yard speakers.
  11. What are the primary colors of a male Western Tanager?  Gray and Black; Red and Black;  Red, Yellow, and Black; Brown and Blue
  12. Which grosbeak is found regularly in Munds Park? Black-Headed Grosbeak, Blue Grosbeak, or Steller’s Grosbeak?
  13. What would be a favorite food of a Pygmy Nuthatch? Unshelled peanuts; nyger seed; black-oil sunflower seeds.
  14. Where do Western Bluebirds nest? In a triangular configuration of branches in a Ponderosa Pine; On the ground near a source of water; In a cavity such as in a tree or nest box; Under the eaves above your deck.
  15. Which swallow species has a long forked tail? Purple Martin; Barn Swallow; Blue-Green Swallow; Tree Swallow.

Answers:

  1. Osprey
  2. Lesser Goldfinch
  3. All of the choices
  4. Black Rosy-Finch
  5. High Noon
  6. Communal
  7. Lone-Pine Blackbird (I made that name up)
  8. American Coot
  9. 1200
  10. Dripping water into a bird bath
  11. Red, Yellow, and Black
  12. Black-Headed Grosbeak
  13. Black-oil sunflower seeds
  14. In a cavity such as in a tree or nest box
  15. Barn Swallow

Birds of Prey


Zone-Tailed Hawk

Zone-Tailed Hawk

The common names for birds of prey are eagles, hawks, falcons, kites, harriers, vultures, and owls.  In ornithology, “bird of prey” has a narrow meaning: those birds with very good eyesight for finding food, strong feet for holding food, and a strong curved beak for tearing flesh.  Most birds of prey also have strong curved talons for catching or killing.  So as I recently discovered, a sea gull, which forages for fish with its beak, would not fall into the bird of prey category, but an osprey, which catches fish with its talons and then rips it apart with a curved beak, would.

In and around Munds Park we have several birds of prey, and I recently spotted a new one while I was golfing (again) one afternoon.  A single bird of prey was soaring above us at the 8th hole of Pinewood County Club, and it got low and close enough for a real good look through my binoculars.  My first thought was that it looked different from our Turkey Vulture, but not that different.  When it got closer I could see a distinctive white band across its tail and broader wings without the distinctive coloration of a Turkey Vulture.  Plus, it was solitary – whereas most of the Turkey Vultures soaring above the Golf Course are in a group.

I pulled out my trusty iPhone and used the bird ap iBird Plus 7.2 and whittled it down to two species:  Common Black-Hawk or Zone-Tailed Hawk.  Both are black-ish, with the underside wing pattern a bit similar to that of a Turkey Vulture, but where they live is different.  The Common Black-Hawk is found primarily in southern Arizona; the Zone-Tailed Hawk, according to my bird aps and books, has a preferred habitat of deep, wooded canyons and mountainous, rugged areas, hunting in grasslands or sparse forests.  So even though I only got one good look at this bird (in between golf shots), I am going to say that it was a Zone-Tailed Hawk.  I can remember what hole I saw the hawk on, but for the life of me I cannot remember what my next golf shot was like.  I guess I have my priorities straight.

Other birds of prey we can see here are Bald Eagles (occasionally spotted soaring or perched on the limbs of a dead tree), Red-Tailed Hawk (the most common hawk in the U.S.), Northern Harrier (I saw one hunting just one time in my 15 years here), Peregrine Falcon (occasionally) and our resident Ospreys.  The Ospreys used to have a nest on the east side of Lake Odell, but for the last two or three years have now built their nest at the top of a tall dead tree to the south of Hole 13 at Pinewood Country Club.   We have seen as many as four Ospreys at a time – presumably the parents and two offspring.  Other golf courses in the area that also have resident Ospreys with nests are Forest Highlands Country Club and Pine Canyon Country Club.

The bird of preys I haven’t seen in Munds Park are any kind of owls.  No sightings, no hearing their hooting – nothing.  I suppose there may be owls here, but for the life of me I don’t know where.  If anyone thinks they have seen or heard an owl, I would be interested in hearing from you.

Swallows and Conflicts with Nature


Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

I recently received an e-mail from a reader in Kachina Village who asked me what he could do about the swallows nesting under his house eaves.  He wanted to repaint the entire outside of his home, and swallows had built mud nests right above his back door.  Could he relocate them?  And if he could, how would that work?

I replied that he probably had Barn Swallows or Cliff Swallows – both build nests made of mud pellets in the shape of a cup or gourd.  The Barn Swallow is the most widespread species of swallow in the world, spreading from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.  It is distinguished by elongated tail feathers.  I see Barn Swallows most often on the Pinewood Country Club golf course, between the condos and the ponds, and they are astonishing to watch as the fly low and right past us sometimes even while we are on the putting greens.  They twist and turn seemingly effortlessly, all the while in pursuit of air-borne insects.  Their wing-beat is about 5 times per second!

Cliff Swallows also build nests of mud attached to a structure – often in colonies under overpasses and bridges – and their nests are more gourd-shaped.  The Cliff Swallow is a square-tailed, stockier bird than the Barn Swallow, with a pale, pumpkin-colored rump and dark upperparts.  It generally forages higher than other species.

Regardless of which species was nesting under the eaves, it would be against the law to disturb the nests.  The birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  The Act “makes it illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations.”

So what should our reader do?  My advice was wait until the birds completed nesting and the babies fledged out of the mud nests.  Paint the rest of the house and leave that section for later.  It is a tough situation for the homeowner, but as we all know, we humans often run into conflicts with animal life.  I have a chipmunk that wandered into our garage all the time and got into the bird seed.  It even left me its calling card – some urine and scat – right by my parked car.  So I moved the seed into a plastic bin I bought at Target and placed it on our deck so my walk to the bird seed would be shorter and the seed protected.  The corner of the bin was chewed away last night – plastic pieces everywhere – by perhaps a squirrel or raccoon, trying to raid the seed.  My friends tell me they don’t let their little dog out in the back yard alone because of coyotes.  And we’ve all had the experience of having a glass of wine, beer, or soda on the deck only to discover that little gnats think your beverage is their private swimming pool.

So the morale I suppose is to respect nature and do our best to be tolerant and live in harmony.  Outsmart the chipmunk and squirrels by putting the plastic bin in the garage, place a napkin over your glass of wine between sips, and put up reflective ribbons under the eaves to discourage the swallows from nesting there in the first place.  And in the end, enjoy nature for what it has to offer us all!

 

The Bluebirds Have Arrived!


Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

Each year, the Black-Headed Grosbeaks arrive, followed by several species of swallows, and finally by the middle of June our Western Bluebirds show up in Munds Park en-masse.  I get anxious by early June thinking something bad has happened to all of them on the way back from Mexico.  Then I spot one, then two, and finally by the end of June they are all over, especially on the Pinewood Country Club golf course.

There are three species of Bluebirds in the United States:  the Eastern Bluebird, the Mountain Bluebird, and the Western Bluebird.  The Western Bluebird is the species we have in Munds Park.  Bluebirds are loved by many people across the country – perhaps because they are so colorful (blue/rust/white), they often live around humans, and they will nest in our nest boxes.   Bluebirds even have their own non-profit association (founded by humans, of course) with the purpose of protecting them and their habitat.  The North American Bluebird Society was established in 1978 by Dr. Lawrence Zeleny to promote the recovery of bluebirds.  The organization is headquartered in Indiana and has a website that provides educational information about bluebird nest boxes, predator control, and feeding.  Much of bluebird nesting habitat has been destroyed by human development or taken over by House Sparrows and European Starlings (both non-native birds), so people have helped by setting up nest boxes specifically for bluebirds, especially Eastern and Western species.

Bluebirds will often lay two broods a year.  The will nest in old fence posts, cavities in trees, and of course in man-made nest boxes.  They tend to stay around meadows, golf courses, parks, and cemeteries – all places that are somewhat open but have some trees or large bushes then can use to perch on.

Last fall a couple of us cleaned out and re-secured all the bluebird nest boxes on Pinewood Country Club’s golf course, and we put up an additional seven boxes.  We already saw one new nest box (on the left side of hole 3) being used by Tree Swallows in late spring.  Lately we’ve seen bluebird nesting activity in another two of the new nest boxes – one of the boxes to the right of hole 11, and another to the right of hole 15.  In mid-fall, we will take a look at all of the nest boxes, clean them out, and perhaps change locations of some of them.

When I was a little girl I remember my mother telling me that my maternal grandparents took a car trip from Illinois to California – much of it on Route 66 – to see relatives.  The trip was in the early 1950’s and a big deal for both of my grandparents, especially my grandma who didn’t drive and never had been west of Illinois.  But what did she always talk about as a memory from that trip?  Seeing Bluebirds!  Maybe hearing that story is in part why I became a birder early on.  Those grandmas have a way of making an impression on our minds!

May 26, 2015

Nesting and Babies


Steller's Jay feeding on Junco chick courtesy of Gordon Karre

Steller’s Jay feeding on Junco chick courtesy of Gordon Karre

I’ve already received reports from Munds Park residents that birds are in high-reproductive mode.  Dan sent me photos of a pair of Steller’s Jays that nested on the light above his garage door.  As I write this article (shortly after snow in May and really cold temperatures), the mother bird is in the nest keeping the chicks warm while the male keeps bringing food to them.  I also heard from Les who had a Dark-Eyed Junco, actually the Gray-Headed Junco sub-species that we have here in Munds Park, trying to build a nest in his wife’s Mandevilla plants in pots on the deck.  The human activity around the first pot seemed a bit more than the bird could handle, so she moved to a planter farther away on the deck.  We’ll have to see if she actually lays eggs and they hatch.

This time of year is very stressful for birds.  Selecting a mate and a suitable nest site, finding the nesting material and hauling it over to the site, laying the eggs, sitting on them and still getting enough food to sustain a healthy female – it all takes a toll on the parents.  On top of that, there are predators who would love to snack on the eggs plus the chicks themselves.  These predators include other birds plus raccoons, skunks, and snakes.  I recently experienced this last threat in Scottsdale.  A Gamble’s Quail built a nest and laid 14 eggs in a pot with an asparagus fern at our front door.  We stopped using the front door and I posted a sign for anyone approaching the house – “Caution, Quails Nest!  Please do Not Disturb”.  One Sunday morning I peeked out the shutters and feathers were everywhere, as were egg shells and some left-over yolks.  It must have been a coyote that came right up to our front door in the middle of the night and made a dinner of our resident quail and her eggs.

So what can you do?  First and foremost, do not let your cats out of the house.  Keep them indoors – at all times.  It is estimated that there are 77 million cats in the USA, and only 35% of them are kept indoors.  Those that go outside kill adult birds, baby birds, and other wildlife.  Not because they are hungry – because owners spend billions of dollars on cat food – but because they can and they do.  It’s their nature.  So do us all a favor – keep your cats indoors.  And tell   your neighbors to keep their cats indoors.  (I suppose “explain nicely” is a better way to put it.)

Secondly, if you do have nest boxes (for Western Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Mountain Chickadees, Brown Creepers, and White-Breasted Nuthatches) – make sure they conform to good nest box design and practices.  You can go online and start with birding hobby companies and order boxes with the right dimensions.  Or you can get designs that are easy to build, like the ones I use to make nest boxes with pine and a few battery-operated hand tools.  You should clean out nest boxes after every season.  Make sure they are secured and won’t crash down with our Munds Park winds in May and June.  Last fall we put up seven new Western Bluebird nest boxes on trees around the Pinewood Country Club – can’t wait to see if they will be occupied this year.  We also cleaned out the others – so all in all there are some good opportunities to provide safe nesting sites for our Western Bluebirds and Tree Swallows.

What I Learned in Africa About Munds Park Birding


African Fish-Eagle

African Fish-Eagle

This past January we took a three-week trip to southern Africa to golf and go on safaris.  I of course also planned to do some semi-serious birding.  Semi-serious in that I made no changes to our itinerary to see specific birds, but I did take with me a field guide of the most common 500 birds of southern Africa and my lightweight Leopold binoculars.  I learned several things on this trip.

  1. There are many families of birds in southern Africa (in our case Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa) that are similar to birds here in Munds Park and were easy for me to identify. For example, we have the Pied Grebe species here, seen regularly in Lake Odell or the Pinewood Country Club’s ponds.   The Little Grebe species of southern Africa is similar but even smaller.  We were golfing, and there it was in a pond near the 1st tee box.  It is so small that at first I thought it was a baby or juvenile.  Another example is the African Fish-Eagle.  It has a white head and dark body and you would think “Bald Eagle” when you first spot it.  We see an occasional Bald Eagle in Munds Park soaring in the sky or perched high in a tree limb. We also get Canada Geese in Munds Park, and in Africa they get the Egyptian Goose.  Both species are often considered pests at parks and golf courses because they are so common and so messy.  One of the smaller, similar birds I identified was a Barn Swallow – almost exactly like the ones we have in Munds Park.  And we have our Band-Tailed Pigeon, which is unique to the western United States.  In Botswana I saw the Speckled Pigeon and the African Green Pigeon species.
  2. Another thing I learned is that there are many families of birds in Munds Park that have no connection to any in southern Africa, at least in my non-scientific opinion. I didn’t see nuthatches (we have White-Breasted, Pygmy, and Red-Breasted), or hummingbirds (we have Anna’s and Rufous) or anything similar to our Munds Park’s Black-Headed Grosbeak or Western Bluebird.
  3. There were a lot of bird families I had to become familiar with, and I was helped greatly because we had very knowledgeable safari guides with us. Bee-eaters, Barbets, Bulbuls, Hornbills, and Weavers were just some of the new bird families I saw, and within those families there were different unique species.  The feather colors and sizes and shapes of their bills or head feathers always made for challenging and fun bird watching by all of us on the trip.
  4. Speaking of all of us on the trip, there were 12 of us, and everyone became a mini-birder during those three weeks. Everyone commented that seeing all the birds in between Lion or Hippo watching, for example, made the trip much more interesting.  All in all I was able to identify 125 new bird species – without trying very hard.
  5. The last thing I learned is to be prepared. I took one pair of binoculars – I should have taken at least a second pair.  I could have used stronger binoculars (such as a 10×50) for longer distances, plus others on the trip could have used my spare when I wasn’t.  Having the field guide in advance was a real advantage.  To translate that to Munds Park, I would suggest you have a field guide of US Western Birds, at minimum, handy in your house and invest in a decent pair of binoculars.  I have used Eagle Optics and Amazon when ordering online, and you can find a satisfactory pair for under $200.

The Bluebird Nest Box Project

Filed under: Birding,Western Bluebird — Munds Park Birding @ 10:36 am
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Hanging the Bluebird Nest BoxMany of you reading this article have bird houses on your property.  I’m guessing that a few of you received them as gifts and decorations. Others have purchased or built them yourself in the hopes of attracting one of Munds Park’s cavity-nesting species and to ensure a safe and appropriate habitat for breeding birds.  Regardless of the how and why, it is important to remember that if we put up a nest box, we are responsible for ensuring it is done in the safest way possible to protect the breeding bird.

Here in Munds Park the cavity nesting species are Mountain Chickadee, House Wren, Brown Creeper, Western Bluebird, and Tree Swallow.  The first three require a nest box with an opening diameter of 1 and 1/8 inches.  The last two require an opening of 1 and 1/2 inches.  You can buy nest boxes through many non-profit birding organizations or online retail sites – just search the internet and you will be amazed at the selections and sources.  You will also learn that ornithologists have figured out the most appropriate specifications for depth, width, and type of wood and other material to help ensure the most success for birds that use the boxes.  You can find free nest box plans on the internet.

One of my goals this year was to help with the bluebird nest boxes on the Pinewood Country Club golf course.  So, a couple of weeks ago Kathy K. and I set out with a ladder hitched to the back of a golf cart, a bag of cedar shavings, a tool box with two battery-powered drills, 3 and 4 inch long screws, gloves, a hammer, and various screwdrivers.  We really didn’t know what we might encounter so we wanted to be prepared.  Our goal was to clean out the dozen or so bluebird nest boxes on the course and put up six more.  Here’s what we found.

Cleaning out the existing boxes was pretty easy because each had a side door that pulled up once the door latch was slid open.  All the boxes had evidence of nesting birds.  Some of them seemed to have three different nests piled on top of each other, which we ascertained based on the type and deterioration of the material.  One nest was almost completely made of dog or another type of animal hair.  That probably was not a Western Bluebird nest.  We were careful each time we opened a box – not knowing what could be inside.  Hornets?  A snake?  Our only surprise was a swarm of ants in one of the boxes on Hole #12.  Luckily we had on gloves and were fast on our feet because ants were everywhere once we opened the box.  That box happened to have 4 Western Bluebird eggs at the bottom – laid but never hatched.  That is probably why the ants were there – they had eaten out the insides of the eggs.

We learned from Dan Bright, head of golf course maintenance, that the boxes were put up by Pinewood Country Club about 10-12 years ago.  They probably were donated through one of the non-profit bluebird societies.  The boxes were still in good shape but some were close to falling down.  After tossing the old nesting material, we drilled through the back of the boxes and inserted one or two good-sized screws to further secure them.  The final step was placing about a two-inch layer of cedar shavings in each – sort of like putting out a bluebird welcome mat.

The next process was hanging the six new nest boxes.  That is where the ladder came in most handy.  Bluebird nest boxes should face east and be hung five to eight feet off the ground.  They also should be at least 100 yards apart.  A golf course is a good place for bluebirds – they need meadow-like surroundings and an abundance of food in terms of grubs, worms, spiders, and other insects.

Next summer we will cautiously monitor the next boxes and see how many are occupied.  The boxes are typically set off the beaten path and nesting activity certainly will not disturb the golfers.  Rather, I hope that when I am out on the course and hit an errant shot, instead of getting upset, I can take a deep breath, look at a beautiful bird going about its business of propagating the species and keeping nature balanced, and put golf and life in the proper perspective.

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