Tree Swallow

All posts tagged Tree Swallow

Photos and story by Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Today, Ian Stewart, a University of Delaware Biologist visited the Bucktoe Campout camp at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve to conduct a bird banding session.  We all learned what banding is, how it is used for research on birds, and how much training goes into learning how to band birds.  We learned that banding is when you take a tiny metal ring and put it on a birds leg.  The band has a unique number that goes into a database with the US Geological Survey so that scientists can look it up if the bird is ever found again.

Ian is telling the group about his research banding Tree Swallows.

Ian is telling the group about his research banding Tree Swallows.

After Ian explained a little bit about his research on Tree Swallows, we went out to some active nest boxes on the preserve to see if we could band, measure, and learn about Tree Swallows and Bluebirds that use the boxes.

Here, we are getting to hold some baby Tree Swallows that are fully feathered and ready for banding.

Here, we are getting to hold some baby Tree Swallows that are fully feathered and ready for banding.

At the first nest box we visited, we found a nest of Tree Swallows with three fully feathered young.  They were old enough and big enough to band.  We got to hold the birds, which doesn’t hurt them, band them, weigh them, and measure their wings.  Believe it or not, they weigh more than their parents at this stage!  Their wings were only about half as long as an adult Tree Swallow though.

Cool!  A baby Tree Swallow!

Cool! A baby Tree Swallow!

After we banded the nestlings, we set up a little trap to catch one of the parents as they came back to the nest to deliver food to the young.  In less than a minute, it worked!  The adult still had the food in its bill when we examined it, which was really neat to see what the babies were eating.  We then banded it, measured its wing length, and weighed it.  After releasing it, it went back to the box to check on the family.

We caught an adult Tree Swallow that was bringing food in to the nestlings.  It caught lots of little hover flies!

We caught an adult Tree Swallow that was bringing food in to the nestlings. It caught lots of little hover flies!

After all of this banding, we visited a Bluebird nest which had four eggs.  Since they were still in the incubation phase, we did not trap the adult for banding, because they might abandon the nest.

Taking a look at some Eastern Bluebird eggs.  This is the second brood that this pair is raising.

Taking a look at some Eastern Bluebird eggs. This is the second brood that this pair is raising.

Finally, on our last box, we found a Tree Swallow nest that had tiny little young that were only a few days old…too young for banding.  We also didn’t trap the adults since their naked young would get cold quickly, so we examined the young nestlings and quickly left the area.

In another nest, we found Tree Swallows that were very young, only a few days old, and too young to be banded.

In another nest, we found Tree Swallows that were very young, only a few days old, and too young to be banded.

None of these activities hurt the birds, and now we have a record of the banded ones.  Next year, we will look to see if they come back to the area.  If someone else at a banding station finds one of them on their migration or wintering grounds, we will find out where they went.

In all, it was a great experience and a treat to learn some real science, and see these creatures up close.  Thanks Ian!

Thanks for visiting the Bucktoe Campout Classic camp Ian!  I see a few young ornithologists in the group I think.

Thanks for visiting the Bucktoe Campout Classic camp Ian! I see a few young ornithologists in the group I think.

 

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

If you have a bird box in your yard, you might have seen some action around it lately.  I certainly have.  The feature box in our backyard was the scene of a dispute between an Eastern Bluebird and a House Wren last week.  Feathers were ruffled, there was a little wrestling and chasing, and in the end it looks like the House Wren won.  It has been busy bringing little sticks to the nest since then, with his mate monitoring the progress.

Purple Martin are back at nesting colonies throughout the area.  Later this summer, they will have nests with chicks, like the ones pictured.

Purple Martin are back at nesting colonies throughout the area. Later this summer, they will have nests with chicks, like the ones pictured.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Observing activity at bird boxes is an easy way to peer into the private lives of birds.  My wife and I are Delaware Nature Society volunteers who monitor bird boxes at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve, and we look forward to our rounds each week.  We  already have some nesting Eastern Bluebirds with eggs, a few House Wrens building nests, and Tree Swallows starting to add grass to nests.  We are also keeping tabs on any nest we find along the route, such as the Robin that is now laying eggs in her nest on our shutter.

American Robin start nesting activities in April.  The ones on my shutter are starting to incubate their eggs.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

American Robin start nesting activities in April. The ones on my shutter are starting to lay their eggs. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Recently, the Delaware Nature Society has become a Chapter for Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch Citizen Science program.  As a chapter, we hold trainings on how to find bird nests, monitor nest boxes, and how use the NestWatch database to record data on eggs, young, and nest success .  This is a really fun way to keep track of your backyard bird nests and nest boxes, and contribute your findings to science at the same time.  We report all of our bird nest activities into NestWatch, including wild nests like the Robin in our yard.  You can always access your data to keep track of the status of each nest, and the mapping feature on the website allows you to see all of your nests on one interactive map.  If you like birds, keeping records, maps, science, and helping others learn about birds, this activity is for you!

Monitoring bird boxes and finding bird nests is very rewarding.  Consider monitoring nests around your house or in a local park over the summer and enter your findings into Cornell Lab of Ornithology's NestWatch website.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Monitoring bird boxes and finding bird nests is very rewarding. Consider monitoring nests around your house or in a local park over the summer and enter your findings into Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch website. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

I will be conducting a NestWatch training on Thursday, May 9th, 6pm at Ashland Nature Center in Hockessin, DE.  Anyone can attend.  It is free for Delaware Nature Society members, and $5 for non-members.  Call (302) 239-2334 if you would like to attend.  This training will get you ready to monitor a nest box in your yard, or if you are motivated, to become a volunteer bird box monitor, like my wife and I.  As a matter of fact, we need bird box monitors at Ashland Nature Center and at the Red Clay Reservation in Hockessin if you are interested!

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Two pairs of Tree Swallows battle over a newly-installed nest box on the Middle Run Birding Trail, at Trail Marker #1. Image by Derek Stoner, April 3, 2012.

The bi-weekly bird walk at Middle Run started with a major squabble today:  the competition between two pairs of Tree Swallows for a nest box looked like New Yorkers fighting over that prize Fifth Avenue penthouse suite!  Just the evening before, I had installed this nest box with the help of Nick Mielnickiwicz, who is a volunteer working on habitat enhancement on the Middle Run Birding Trail.  Now the Tree Swallows caught our attention as they showed their attraction to this new addition to the field habitat at Trail Marker #1. 

A bright male Palm Warbler perches in a cherry tree at Trail Marker #3, the aptly-named Cherry Tree Island.

As our group made our way along the birding trail near Trail Marker #3, I caught a glimpse of a flash of yellow.  Soon our binoculars found a handsome Palm Warbler perched low in a blackberry patch, bobbing its tail in a classic manner.  These bright warblers are an early spring migrant, passing through on their way to breeding grounds in spruce bogs of the boreal forest.   Another male Palm Warbler showed up, and they chased each other around before landing in a cherry tree.  Their high-pitched trilling song was a good comparison to the high-pitched bubbly phrases of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet singing nearby.

A Hermit Thrush perches on a low grape vine at Trail Marker #7 on the Middle Run Birding Trail. Image by Derek Stoner, March 30, 2012.

While walking through the large field we call “Meadow Mosaic” we came across a pair of Eastern Bluebirds visiting the nest box right near Trail Marker #4.    Then at Trail Marker #5 we found a real surprise: a flycatcher that was perched atop Autumn Olive bushes and actively pursuing flying insects.   We managed brief views of this bird and all we can say for sure is that it is a flycatcher in the genus Empidonax, a group of birds known for the challenge of differentiating among several similar-looking species.  Most likely the bird we saw is a Willow Flycatcher, but we will play it safe and say it is a very early arrival for this time of year!

At Trail Marker #7 I remarked that a Hermit Thrush was there three days prior, when all of the sudden we heard the bird calling chup-chup.  Soon we were looking at a beautiful Hermit Thrush slowly raising and lowering its rusty red tail.  This bird is often regarded as having the most beautiful song of any North American bird.  Alas, on this day we did not hear the song!

A female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker probes a sap well in a hickory tree at Trail Marker #9 on the Middle Run Birding Trail. Image by Derek Stoner, April 3, 2012.

A bit further down the trail, at Trail Marker #9, Becky spotted a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker visiting its sap wells on a hickory tree.  At this time of year, lots of insects are attracted to the sweet sap flowing from these holes that the colorful sapsucker drills.  As a result, many other species of birds like kinglets, chickadees, and even Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will visit the sap wells to feed upon the insects.  For this reason the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a considered a “keystone species” that is important to the overall health of a forest ecosytem.     

A male Louisiana Waterthrush sings loudly from right above our heads at Trail Marker #11, the bridge above the Middle Run stream. Image by Derek Stoner, April 3, 2012.

Soon the vibrant song of the Louisiana Waterthrush led us ahead on the path to Trail Marker #11, were we found three male waterthrush engaged in a singing duel.  These newly-arrived migrants were trying to establish territorial claims, and chased each other up and down the main branch of Middle Run and up the little tributaries.  These woodland warblers are found wherever there is clean, fast-flowing water with an abundance of aquatic insects on which they can feed.

Enjoying views of the nesting Pileated Woodpeckers at the beginning (and end!) of the Middle Run Birding Trail. Image by Derek Stoner, April 3, 2012.

As we had concluded the previous two walks at Middle Run with fantastic views of Pileated Woodpeckers at a nest cavity, we had to try our luck again.  With spotting scope trained on the nest hole near the parking lot, we were soon treated to views of the male Pileated peeking out and looking around.  Is the female Pileated sitting on eggs inside the cavity?  Or are they still continuing to work on this potential nest location?  Either way, we are fortunate to be able to watch these wonderful woodpeckers as they go about the business of housekeeping. 

We finished the walk with a count of 45 species of birds, including migrants like Barn Swallows, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Chipping Sparrows that did not make the cut for photo features in this blog!  Thanks to all the participants for a great morning spent afield enjoying the birds.

The next guided bird walk at Middle Run Natural Area will be held on Tuesday, April 17, from 8:00am to 10:00am.   If you would like to visit the Middle Run Birding Trail on your own,  the trail markers are labeled in the field with numbers on brown posts with a bird logo.  Here is a map showing the overview of the area and the Trail Marker locations:

Middle Run Birding Trail Map 2012

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

 

The first blooming Bloodroot of the season at Ashland: right by the front door! Image by Derek Stoner.

Spring officially arrived this past Sunday, March 20, but our observant contestants helped to record 12 Signs of Spring before the actual season began!    The past two weeks (March 7-13 and March 14-20) have been full of new sightings.

Here’s how it all unfolded: 

On March 13, Amy and Jim White found an Eastern Phoebe singing by the Ashland Covered Bridge.  These early-arriving flycatchers like to be near water, where they feed on emerging aquatic insects like stoneflies.  This sighting ended Week 3, bringing us to a total of 9 Signs of Spring observed.

On March 15, Joe Sebastiani and others reported the first Tree Swallows investigating nest boxes at Ashland.

An Anglewing butterfly rests on the ground. Can you tell which species this is? Image by Derek Stoner.

On March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day) an Anglewing butterfly was seen near the Ashland Marsh.  These early-emerging butterflies are actually two very similar species: the Comma and the Question Mark.  Because they are so difficult to tell apart, we call them by their family name: Anglewing.

Finally, on March 20, the official First Day of Spring, the first Bloodroot at Ashland bloomed, right by the front door of the nature center.  Named for the bright red sap that Native Americans used as a pigment, Bloodroot has one beautiful white bloom per plant.  Their bloom period is about one week. 

After 4 weeks of observation, a total of 12 Signs of Spring have been accounted for at Ashland.  What will be next?  Certainly the Spring Beauty should bloom soon, and Barn Swallows might arrive in the next couple weeks.  Lots of other signs– not on our list– are being observed each week.  What are you seeing?