Posts Tagged ‘Tree Swallow’


On the weekend, Seabrooke and I cleaned out the swallow boxes and other birdhouses around the property. That is, Seab cleaned and I offered support and encouragement.


Most of the houses had a swallow nest from last year’s season. This one had a lot of cattail fluff and soft bedding on top of the nest. It was probably the winter home of a mouse.


This box had been filled right up to the top with soft grasses. When Seabrooke began to remove the bedding she realized there was still an occupant…or two.


A tiny red squirrel baby! Seabrooke carefully reinstated the inhabitant and replaced the bedding.

We were none too soon with our Easter clean-up. The very next day, Tree Swallows came swooping and gliding and chittering, anxious to lay claim to the best boxes.


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Mr. and Mrs. Tree Swallow at home.

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Welcome Back!

The first Tree Swallows arrived back at Willow House this week. I saw a pair briefly on Monday morning, but there was no sign of them in the afternoon. The next morning, however, there were five swallows zooming around the sky over the pond, chittering and squabbling with each other. Guys! No need to quarrel! There’s space for everyone!

One pair seems to have settled on the box on the western edge of the pond. I expect as the season progresses, later arrivals will check out the possibilities too. There’s still no sign of barn swallows, but it’s nice to see the travelers beginning to return.

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I’ve been in horse stables where Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) were nesting above the horses’ heads, barely out of arms-reach of people coming and going and everyone got on fine. The several pairs of swallows nesting in the barn here, however, are upset whenever I enter the barn, even though they are far overhead on the roof rafters. They seem to feel they should have the barn to themselves and set up a cacophony of distressed chittering when I arrive.

tree swallows

Meanwhile, just down the field the Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are carrying nesting materials to their box.


When I was walking past this small pine tree, putting hay out for the horses’ breakfast, I noticed a dark shape near the trunk of the tree. A closer look revealed this female American Robin (Turdus migratorius) sitting on her nest.


Robins are numerous around here. When I was walking along the river, I noticed another mother robin, incubating her eggs.


Robins usually sit tight. That is, even when disturbed by a person close at hand, they stick to their nest and stay still. One season when Birdgirl was working on a nest monitoring study, she came across one robin who wouldn’t budge until she was actually putting her fingers in the nest to check for eggs. Now that’s a dedicated mom. In contrast to robins, Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) are quite easily disturbed. When I walked past a small spruce tree, a grackle made a hasty exit and I knew to look for a nest. Here it is!


The mother retreated to the top of a nearby tree and complained loudly about my presence from the safety of her high perch. With both robins and grackles, the female incubates the eggs, keeping the eggs warm with her body. In order to warm the eggs efficiently, the female develops a brood patch, an area of skin on the belly that loses its feathers toward the end of the egg-laying period. Most birds shed the feathers automatically, though geese and ducks pluck the feathers and add the to the nest. The brood patch also develops extra blood vessels to bring hot blood close to the surface of the skin. When birds return to the nest after a break to resume incubating, they make settling-in movements while they position the brood patch so it is in contact with the eggs. In species where the male also incubates, males may also develop a brood patch. The feathers gradually grow back in after brooding is done.


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Every winter, I think I will get around to building a birdhouse or two. I’m not particularly competent with a saw and hammer, but surely this is a basic enough task that even I might manage it. Every spring arrives with no new birdhouse. This year, I was anxious to get a few boxes up for swallows around the pond, and as the breeding season is upon us, I went out and bought several. I have had good luck in the past with the cedar houses carried by Walmart, pictured above, with Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon), and on one momentous occasion even an Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) pair successfully nesting and fledging young from this model. Bigger boxes would be better for Tree Swallows. Unfortunately, these are the best I’ve located, but hopefully I’ll be able to find or build bigger ones to replace them with down the road.


The quickest, easiest method I have found to get a birdhouse mounted on a post and installed is to use one of the metal spikes designed to support 4 x 4 posts. Even in rather rocky terrain, I was able to install them myself, and here in sandy soil, it’s a snap.
I put up three houses in likely locations around the pond in the afternoon and when I went out the next morning, they were being checked out by Tree Swallows.


The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario (2001-2005) offers the most comprehensive information available on who breeds where in the province. The current Atlas is the second edition and updates the status of breeding birds in Ontario from the first Atlas, completed in 1981-85. Since the 1980s, there has been a decline of up to 30 to 50 per cent in birds such as the Common Nighthawk, the Chimney Swift and six species of swallow. According to the Atlas, the Tree Swallow population overall in Ontario declined by 17%, but because of limitations in Atlas methodology in assessing population numbers, the actual decline may be greater. Annual Bird Studies Canada Breeding Bird Surveys show a decline of 2.6% every year over the 1981-2005 period. Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) showed a 35% decline using Atlas data, while annual Breeding Bird Surveys show an annual decline of 3.5% every year on average over the 1981-2005 period.

You can read more about the Atlas at the Environment Canada site. You can purchase the Atlas through Ontario Nature.


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I had walked by this nest box a number of times before I noticed it. There are no other boxes around the property, so I was surprised when it finally caught my eye, tucked in against a small red pine. It was probably out in the open at one time, but raspberry canes and brush have grown up around it, partly obscuring it from view.


I’ve been meaning to get out and clean out the box so that it will be ready for a new occupant. The first spring peepers and wood frogs were heard on April 3rd, and the dawn chorus of birds has been a welcome start to the day for weeks now. Soon the swallows will be back too. Today, I finally got out and opened the box up. I cleaned out the old nest and gave the interior a bit of a wash before putting the front of the box back in place.


The nest was firmly anchored in the box and disintegrated when I dug it out. The base of the nest utilized a lot of rough twigs, while the top section had more grass lining it. There were a few large feathers, possibly from ducks. It is probably the nest of a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor), which would be consistent with the location and type of box. I hope a new resident moves in soon.


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