FWG participates in the Great Backyard Bird Count

An American Robin getting a drink from still-open water in our creek

An American Robin getting a drink from still-open water in our creek

by Sandy Garland

This year, a group of FWG volunteers reported the smallest number of birds ever, although not the fewest species. The bitter cold over the weekend likely drove most birds into shelter.

David Hobden, who leads this activity for us, writes, “The FWG has participated for a number of years, with a group count on Friday morning and often counts done at other times over the 4 days and given to me to report. Over the years the project has evolved and now receives reports from all over the world. You can visit www.BirdCount.org to get more details.

The group meets at the FWG, spends about an hour walking around the site, recording what they see. As David says, “How far we go and low long it will take will depend on the weather.”

Here’s this year’s modest list, along with lists from 2015 and 2013 for comparison.

Downy Woodpecker 2
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 1
American Crow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 6
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
American Robin 2
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Northern Cardinal 3
House Finch 3

Downy Woodpecker 4
Hairy Woodpecker 1
American Crow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 13
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Dark-eyed Junco 5
Northern Cardinal 1
House Finch 3

Mourning Dove 7
Downy Woodpecker 5
American Crow 3
Black-capped Chickadee 8
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 3
Dark-eyed Junco 3
Northern Cardinal 5
House Finch 8
Common Redpoll 2
American Goldfinch 1


Getting started in birding

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

by Christine Hanrahan

So you want to be a birdwatcher, but you just don’t know where to begin? And the thought of trying to distinguish a nighthawk from a nuthatch reduces you to despair? Don’t worry, help is at hand! The following information will provide you with everything (well, almost everything) you need to launch you safely into the beguiling world of birding.

Start with the “four Ss” of bird identification. With these basics, together with the rest of this information, you’ll soon find yourself rhyming off the names of at least the most common species. So, grab your field guide and binoculars and begin. Good luck and good birding!

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Shape or silhouette
When you spot a bird, you automatically process several things about it. One of the most important is its shape. Is the bird’s general outline rounded or elongated? Is the tail long or short? Is the head relatively large or small? If it’s flying, are its wings round and short, long and pointed, or some other combination?

Train yourself to look at the silhouette of flying and perching birds and compare them with birds you are familiar with. Most people can point out a heron, a duck, or a gull, even if they don’t know the species name. These three groups of birds each have a distinctive shape, as do hawks and owls.

Some of the perching birds may present more problems at first, but with experience you’ll find yourself distinguishing between the silhouette of a robin and a sparrow, for example, or between a nuthatch and a chickadee.

As you become more familiar with birds and birdwatching, you’ll be able to identify different species within a group just by their shape. A Cooper’s Hawk, for instance, which looks a lot like a Sharp-shinned Hawk, can be distinguished by the shape of its tail (the tip is rounded compared with the square shape of the Sharp-shinned’s tail).

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Size is also important in identification. Again, compare the unknown bird with one you are familiar with. Is the bird smaller than a robin? Bigger than a crow? You might also try to relate it to something nearby, like a leaf or flower.

Site (or habitat)
Because birds generally inhabit characteristic sites or habitats, the area in which you find a bird can help you identify it. For example, you wouldn’t expect to see a Virginia Rail in a deciduous woodlot nor a Hermit Thrush in a meadow.

Take time to learn a little about the habitat requirements and preferences of various birds. Even a general overview will help a lot when it comes to identification. For instance, if you have decided that the size and shape of a bird indicate a sparrow, next consider where it is. If the bird is in a meadow, it could be a Savannah Sparrow. But if it is in a moist or swampy area, it is probably a Swamp Sparrow.

Sound (or song, calls, chip notes)
Birds make a variety of sounds. In addition to singing, they utter short, sharp notes or “chips.” When alarmed, they produce a very different call. Songs are easier to learn than chip or call notes, which can take a long time to master. Familiarizing yourself with the songs of at least the common species will make identification that much easier. In fact, if you become very good at recognizing bird songs, you will be able to identify some birds before you see them! And because many birds are heard rather than seen, this is a definite plus.

Male common yellowthroat

Male common yellowthroat

Identifying bird songs can, at first, seem akin to magic. But with practice you can learn a surprising number of common ones in a relatively short time. Recordings of bird songs on cassette tape, CD, or even video can be found at one of the local specialty bird stores (see list below).

Some birders use words to help them “fix” songs in their mind. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region, and the Peterson Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies both describe many bird songs in easily understood terms. Of course, many birds “say” their own name, so their names are a guide to their song or call note. Here is a partial, very selective list of some familiar bird songs and calls and the words associated with them:

• Killdeer — kill-deer
• Black-billed Cuckoo — cucucu cucucu
• Barred Owl — who cooks for you? who cook for you-all?
• Whip-poor-will — whip’ poor-will
• Olive-sided Flycatcher — quick, three beers!
• Eastern Wood Pewee — pee-a-wee, pee-ur
• Alder Flycatcher — fee-be-o
• Least Flycatcher — che-bec
• Eastern Phoebe — phoe-be
• Great Crested Flycatcher — wheeep!
• Black-capped Chickadee — fee-bee, chicka-dee-dee-dee
• Veery — vee-ur, vee-ur, veer veer
• Wood Thrush — ee-o-lay
• Red-eyed Vireo — here I am, where are you?
• Yellow Warbler — sweet-sweet-sweet-shredded wheat
• Chestnut-sided Warbler — please-please-pleased-to-meet ‘cha
• Black-throated Blue Warbler — beer-beer-beer-bee
• Black-throated Green Warbler — zoo-zee-zoo-zoo-zee or zee-zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee
• Ovenbird — teach’er, teach’ er, teach’er
• Common Yellowthroat — witchity-witchity-witchity-witch
• White-throated Sparrow — old Tom Peabody Peabody Peabody
• Red-winged Blackbird — ok-a-ree

A few other birds make distinctive sounds that are harder to “translate.” For example, the Gray Catbird and especially the Brown Thrasher are mimics.

Gray Catbird — Call sounds like a cat mewing. Song is somewhat like a Brown Thrasher, but phrases not in pairs and not as musical.

Brown Thrasher — Song a long, very musical set of phrases, each phrase usually sung in a pair.

You might think that the colour of a bird is the most important identifying factor, but keep the four Ss of birding in mind. For example, the red colour of a partly obscured bird could mean either a Cardinal or a Scarlet Tanager. The shape can help you distinguish between them, for each has a distinct silhouette.

Field marks
Field marks are distinctive “trademarks,” like wing bars, striped crowns, barred tails, and so on, that make identification easier. Many field marks are visible only when a bird flies — the white rump of the Northern Flicker or Northern Harrier for example. Others, such as wing bars, are easier to see when the bird is sitting.

One of the best ways to familiarize yourself with the field marks of different species is by reading through your bird guide as often as you can and applying what you learn in the field.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Bird behaviour is often a key element in solving identification problems. For example, if you have determined that the bird you are watching is a small flycatcher but aren’t sure whether it is an Eastern Wood Pewee or a Phoebe, tail-bobbing behaviour is a clear indication that it’s a Phoebe.

Observing the behaviour of birds is fascinating and far more satisfying than merely identifying species. Donald and Lillian Stokes have produced three volumes called A Guide to Bird Behaviour that reveal intriguing facts about even the most common species. Studying behaviour will ensure that you will never grow bored with birdwatching.

Rating the field guides
Field Guide to the Birds of North America (2nd edition), National Geographic Society — This is undoubtedly the best field guide around for North American Birds. The superior illustrations show both adult and immature plumage, as well as regional variations for many species. Includes range maps.

A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies by Roger Tory Peterson — The first and, for many birders, still the best field guide. The illustrations are very good. Best of all, this guide covers only birds found east of the Rockies, so you won’t have to bother wading through a lot of species that just don’t occur here (except perhaps as accidentals). This makes identification a bit easier. Includes range maps.

A Guide to Field Identification — Birds of North America by Robbins, Bruun, Zim and Singer (also known as the Golden Guide) — Like the National Geographic guide, this one covers all the birds of North America. Depicts some immature plumages, and is both simpler and less intimidating than the National Geographic guide. A useful book if you’re just getting started in birding and want all North American birds, but don’t want to be bothered with too many details.

Where to go birding in Ottawa
There are many places in our region to go birdwatching, and most birders have their own favourite sites. A good way to discover local birding hot spots is to join the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club (OFNC) and participate in their many field trips. As an added bonus, a skilled leader will help you increase your birding skills along the way.

See also: Where to go birding around Ottawa

American Robin

American Robin

Habitat guide to birding
A habitat can be defined as a place where a bird finds the combination of water, food, cover, and space that it needs to survive. Different species require different habitats, and although some birds are generalists, able to use several habitats, most are linked to specific types. Knowing a species’ habitat can help you identify it. The following lists show the habitat preferences of some common birds in the Ottawa region, but it is by no means exhaustive. Some birds are listed several times, reflecting their use of different habitats.

Coniferous forest
Brown Creeper
Winter Wren
Hermit Thrush
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Purple Finch

Eastern hardwoods (deciduous woods)
Red-tailed Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Ruffed Grouse
Great Horned Owl
Pileated Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Wood Pewee
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Wood Thrush
Red-eyed Vireo
American Redstart
Scarlet Tanager
Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Fields, meadows, farmland
Red-tailed Hawk
Northern Harrier
American Kestrel
Upland Sandpiper
Rock Dove
Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Purple Martin
American Crow
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Loggerhead Shrike
Yellow Warbler
Eastern Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow

Brushy borders of fields and woodlands (edge habitat)

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

American Kestrel
Mourning Dove
Black-billed Cuckoo
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Norther Flicker
Eastern Kingbird
Black-capped Chickadee
House Wren
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Eastern Bluebird
Yellow Warbler
Baltimore Oriole
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
American Goldfinch
Rufous-sided Towhee
Field Sparrow

Wetlands (marshes, swamps, fens), wet or moist woods
Pied-billed Grebe

Green Heron

Green Heron

Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
American Bittern
American Black Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Wood Duck
Virginia Rail
Sora Rail
Common Moorhen
Common Snipe
Spotted Sandpiper
Black Tern
Tree Swallow
Marsh Wren
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Red-winged Blackbird
Swamp Sparrow

Ponds, streams, rivers, riparian (streamside) zones

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Blue-winged Teal
Wood Duck
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Semi-palmated Sandpiper
Herring Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Common Tern
Belted Kingfisher
Eastern Phoebe
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Purple Martin
Yellow Warbler

Human habitation (farms, town, parks, houses, gardens)

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Rock Dove
Common Nighthawk
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Tree Swallow
Purple Martin
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
House Wren
American Robin
European Starling
Chipping Sparrow
House Finch
Evening Grosbeak
House Sparrow

Many birds may stop over in backyards, parks and other urban settings during migration, so expect to see a wider variety than listed here. Over time, some birders have counted more than 100 species in their city backyards.

Be sure to check out our photo gallery of birds we’ve seen at the FWG.

Look but Don’t Disturb

by Ted Farnworth

The Fletcher Wildlife Garden is a place to find insects, plants, animals, and birds in a natural setting, in the middle of the city. Sometimes it takes a sharp eye to see some of the critters that visit the garden, and sometimes they pop up where you don’t expect them.

Regular visitors to the Interpretation Centre will remember the mother robin who last year decided to make a nest on the hydro box under the arbour at the entrance to the IC. She was very quiet and didn’t move too much once she had set her eggs, and so many people passed right by without seeing her.  Robins aren’t the only bird that often make nests under awning, or eve troughs or other sheltered areas, even when this means that they are in clear sight, once someone spots them. You have to wonder why they do it.

And of course that presents the dilemma. If you see a nest in a high traffic area, what should you do? I know last year many people in the volunteer groups knew she was there.  I also know that by the end of the plant sale, she was gone. Did she have her babies? Did we scare her off?  Not sure. It’s now May and I haven’t seen her yet.

But again this year there has been a lot of activity around the IC – this time it is a pair of Pheobes. Again they have chosen a spot to their liking, not necessarily the best in terms of human traffic going by. On the south facing wall of the IC there is a security light that appears to be the future site of a phoebe nest.

My main purpose in posting this note is to caution people. The fear is always that the publicity will attract people. Let’s hope that we can find a way of enjoying the birds in the garden without scaring them away. Successful nesting of robins, phoebes and other birds prove that we all understand and practice the policy of “look but don’t disturb.”

FWG on May 1, 2013

by Christine Hanrahan

It was our first real scorcher of a day at 25 degrees C (anything above 15 C is a heat wave to me). I was expecting to see butterflies, even perhaps a few spring azures, as I’ve seen them elsewhere recently, but no butterflies showed themselves to me. However, bees were abundant! Bumble bees, nomada bees, various andrenid bees, sweat bees, scores of all of them. They were nectaring on magnolias, scilla, daffodils, and the few willow catkins still with pollen.

Many of the birds that were present in good numbers last week have left to carry on their migration. Still present are a few white-throated sparrows and juncos. I also saw many song sparrows, goldfinches, chickadees, red-winged blackbirds, a male kestrel with a meadow vole, a sharp-shinned hawk flying above our interpretive centre, many tree swallows, one pursuing the kestrel! White-breasted nuthatches, but the red-breasted nuthatches seem to have given up on nesting in the snag. Not a bad idea, as it was a terrible location.

However, exciting news: a pair of eastern phoebes are building a nest above one of the security lights on the side of the building. I watched for some time as they went back and forth with tiny bits of moss and other plant matter, carefully placing each bit on top of the light, fussily moving the pieces around until just so. Such laborious and lengthy work – quite impressive. Whether they actually nest remains to be seen, but so far, so good. Last week, they were exploring the nest site the robins used in 2012, on the front of the building. Fortunately for them, they thought better of it. If they do nest, it will be the first nesting record for phoebe at the garden.

Speaking of nesting, red squirrels have been using some of the bird nest boxes for years. Typically, they take over ones that birds no longer use, usually because trees have grown up around them making them difficult for swallows to access, but perfect for squirrels. We have many bird boxes up and I reason that, if we leave the old ones hidden by trees for the squirrels, they’ll leave the other ones alone. So far this has worked well, and everyone is happy.

Bloodroot - These beauties are among the first to appear in spring. They are now in full bloom in many locations throughout the woods, spread over the years by ants that carry off the seeds.

Bloodroot – These beauties are among the first to appear in spring. They are now in full bloom in many locations throughout the woods, spread over the years by ants that carry off the seeds.

In the woods, bloodroot is in full bloom. Each year new clumps grow up, thanks to ants who help transport the seeds. Red trilliums are about to burst open at any moment. Other flowers can’t be far behind. I mentioned magnolias – the two magnolias in the garden are in bloom and beautiful to see.

Photos were added to the April blog over the last week, including some beautiful bird photos by Diane. I added a shot of a red squirrel feeding on a mouse. Not particularly pleasant to see, and I admit I felt a bit queasy taking the photos. I posted the least offensive one! Of course, reds are omnivores, and while vegetable matter makes up a good proportion of their diet, they will eat birds and other small mammals that they catch. They are also scavengers, eating dead critters when times are tough.

April blog

More photos on the new May blog

What to do when a bird taps on your window or car mirror

from the Wild Bird Care Centre (via Sandy Garland)

When one of our volunteers posted a note about an “amorous male robin” flirting with the mirror on her neighbour’s car, I chuckled. But later, another friend of the FWG pointed out the following good practical advice from the Wild Bird Care Centre.

American Robin photographed by Diane Lepage

American Robin photographed by Diane Lepage

“Tap, tap, tap, TAP, TAP, TAP!! Anybody home?

“With many local birds in full breeding mode you may have observed some strange bird behavior lately.

“Northern Cardinals and American Robins are notorious for tapping away at windows, car mirrors, or any other reflective surface. If you have observed one of these birds constantly flying into or tapping at your window it is able to see its own reflection. They think their reflection is other bird and they are trying to scare it out if its territory!

“These birds can waste the better part of the day attacking their own reflection. To stop these birds you must place something on the OUTSIDE of the window to break up the reflection. This could be as simple as post-it notes or streamers, but for some of the more determined birds you may need to cover the entire window with a sheet. Some have suggested using bubble wrap so the light will still come through the window.

“Covering the window for a day or two usually solves the problem for the entire breeding season.”

Window kills and how to prevent them

From an article originally written for our web site by Christine Hanrahan

Long ribbons added to the outside of a building in downtown Ottawa during FalconWatch

Long ribbons added to the outside of a building in downtown Ottawa during FalconWatch

Many of us have had the sad experience of finding a dead or injured bird that has flown into one of our windows. If the bird is lucky, it has only been stunned and will recover, but in many cases the impact is too severe.

Windows kill birds in the day and night, throughout the year, and under most weather conditions. The annual mortality resulting from window collisions in the United States is estimated at 100 million birds. Bird kills can be reduced using the following techniques.

Why do birds fly into windows?

Windows reflect an unbroken image of trees, shrubs, and sky. Birds can’t distinguish between the reflection and the real thing, so they fly straight at the window expecting to continue through. Large windows are the worst culprit, but even those with small panes can be lethal.

How you can help prevent the problem

  • Feeders and bird baths can be a hazard if they are near large windows. Make sure startled birds can’t hurt themselves by putting these attractants less than half a metre from the window so that the birds won’t be able to build up enough momentum to sustain serious injury if they hit the glass; or place them far enough way, such as at the end of the garden, near shrubs into which they can escape.
  • Glass panes must be completely covered if collisions are to be eliminated. Screens help. You can also keep your curtains or blinds drawn to cut down on the illusion that your window is a continuation of the outside.
  • Single objects – falcon silhouettes, owl decals and large eye patterns – DO NOT reduce strike rates. Glass must be uniformly covered with objects or patterns 5 to 10 cm apart to break up the area into something birds will recognize as a solid surface.
  • Cut shapes, such as balls, bells, stars, birds, out of aluminum pie plates, hang by fishing line and affix by suction cups to the outside of your window.
  • Fine netting across windows can also help to break up the reflective surface. The Fatal Light Awareness Program (F.L.A.P) suggests leaving a space between the glass and netting so that it will act as a trampoline if a bird hits.
  • Used CDs are excellent for breaking up reflection. String them on fishing line, ribbon, or raffia and hang two or three in a large picture window. You can glue two together, shiny side out, to create a silvery surface on both sides. These recycled CDs look very much like suncatchers or other attractive window ornaments. Some people even paint flowers or birds on one side, or cover one side with stickers of flowers, butterflies, or birds.
  • FeatherGuard developed by Stiles Thomas (2001) is another innovative solution that he claims works well. FeatherGuard is simply a fishing line strung with feathers every 7 inches and affixed vertically to the window by nails top and bottom, with only enough slack to allow the line to move in the breeze. To tie the feather to the fishing line, drill a hole in the feather shaft and thread with the fishing line, tie a knot to secure it, repeat every 7 inches. Feathers about 6-8 inches long work best and you can buy bags of feathers from craft stores or dollar stores.
  • Try hanging strips of tin foil, long coloured ribbons, strips of cloth, or small bells outside the window, to keep the birds away from the glass.
  • Spider web decals (available under the name Warning Web) have been reported as working well – you’ll need a number if you have a big window.
  • Think like a bird! Take a good look at all your windows from the outside in bright daylight. You may not be able to see things on the inside. Try to find the right combination of plants, blinds, screens, etc. that will be visible to birds and will give them the clues they need to avoid your windows.
  • Finally…. Talk to your family, friends and your neighbours. Spread the word about this issue Many people may be unaware of the problem or feel unable to do anything. To be informed is to be empowered.


One of the best sources of information about this issue is the Fatal Light Awareness Program (F.L.A.P.) in Toronto. They run an excellent website at www.flap.org and produce a biannual newsletter Touching Down. Their primary focus is working to protect migratory birds from crashing into urban buildings, but they offer advice and information for everyone concerned with this problem. They have done a remarkable job in getting a number of Toronto’s biggest office towers to turn off or turn down their lights during spring and fall migrations, the periods when most bird and building collisions occur in the urban setting.

Making your windows safe for birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Window collisions, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

15 products that prevent window strikes

Sources for this material

  • Daniel Kelm Jr. Collisions between birds and windows: mortality and prevention. Journal of Field Ornithology, 61(1), Winter 1990.
  • Patricia Adams. Birds flying into windows – what to do. Michigan Audubon Society.
  • Thoma Stiles. FeatherGuard: an innovative solution to the vexing problem of window-killed birds. Bird Watchers Digest, Sept/Oct. 2001.

Wildlife gardening is not just about native plants

by Sandy Garland

The Backyard Garden at the FWG is meant to illustrate how to garden with birds, butterflies, bees, squirrels, and all the other creatures that live in the Ottawa area in mind. We emphasize native species because we assume those are the plants these creatures are looking for to feed on. But, in a wildlife garden, structure is important too.


The location of our bird feeder is a good example of something we did right. The blue spruce at the left of the photo is not native, but it provides winter cover for many birds and squirrels. It’s close enough to the feeder for birds to flee there when disturbed, but far enough that squirrels can’t jump onto the feeder and gorge on the seeds. I measured the distance earlier and the trunk is about 12 feet from the feeder.

House finches take cover in its branches, red squirrels nibble on its buds in spring, and juncos hop around under the tent formed by its lowest branches.

The bare tree at the right of the photo, which is a bit farther from the feeder, is a serviceberry – a horticultural variety of a native species. At this time of year, cardinals and woodpeckers use is as a stop on their way to the feeder. In spring, its blossoms attract early bees and other insects.

Chickadees, which are the most common visitors to the feeder, tend to fly back and forth from the cedar hedge behind the spruce or from the Joe-Pye weed stems off to the left out of the photo. Between sunflower seeds, they seem to find something to eat on those stems, which we leave standing over the winter.

Food, water, shelter, and sites for nests and other homes constitute the elements of a wildlife garden. In winter, food and shelter are extremely important, so try to make sure your garden contains both.

More info:
All about feeding birds
Creating a safe garden for birds

Where to go birding around Ottawa

by Sandy Garland

GoldeneyeSome years ago, the OFNC Birds Committee produced a great guide to local birding areas. We recently updated it to include Google maps, coordinates for those using a GPS system, and wonderful photos from Gillian Mastromatteo.

Whether you are confined to the city or love to adventure out for day trips as far as Morrisburg, Chaffey’s Locks, Masham, or Casselman, the guide will tell you what birds can be seen – often all year round.

As a good example, Gillian recently checked out the Rideau River at Billings Bridge (see her blog Along the Rideau River) and found a Cooper’s Hawk as well as the usual mergansers, gulls, and dabbling ducks. Further downriver at Hurdman’s Bridge, she found a Barrow’s Goldeneye, Herring and Black-backed gulls, and a muskrat. There are a number of trees along the river at this location, providing shelter for chickadees, woodpeckers, cardinals, and waxwings.

Another easy location is Strathcona Park, also along the Rideau. A large parking lot makes access easy. You can even see the river from your car if the snow is too deep to venture further.

I hope these suggestions and examples will interest you in getting out into the fresh air and enjoying nature – always relaxing and often surprising.

FWG Nest Box Cleaning – November 2012 Report

Every year we check the various nest boxes at FWG to see how they are faring and for signs of use. This report outlines our findings – and it might be of interest for others who do work with tree swallows, build nest boxes or are curious about who does actually move in! 2013 will see us unroll a project to ascertain which design we find works best, so stay tuned!

General comments: The decline in tree swallows using the nest boxes at FWG continues. While the species is definitely decreasing across its range, along with other swallow species, some tree swallow nest boxes within the Ottawa district had more success than we did. Some things that could contribute to the problem include increasingly unsuitable habitat around the pond (too many trees, not enough open areas), too much disturbance from visitors to the garden (some deliberate, for example, opening the nest boxes (but I have now remedied that), most of it inadvertent), and factors unknown.

Discussion: In 2012, only eight tree swallows nested at the FWG. This is fewer than in either 2011 or 2010. Ten boxes were unused by any birds or animals, and the rest were used by chickadees, house wrens, red squirrels and mice.

Last year, no eggs or dead tree swallows were found in any of the nests. This year, two dead, well-feathered young were found, in separate boxes, while one box contained a broken egg. The tree swallow nests were not particularly well-made, being very poorly feathered and rather sparse in makeup. Only two were typically well-feathered nests. The same thing occurred last year as well. Now, as then, I am not sure why.

One house wren nest and one black-capped chickadee nest were found.

Red squirrels nested in seven boxes, none of them in locations that are particularly appealing or attractive to swallows. I have left these boxes where they are because squirrels do use them and by so doing, they appear to leave the better located boxes alone. Peromyscus mice (probably the white-footed species) made nests in some of the boxes. Nests had also been started on top of some of the swallow nests, probably recently. One nest box had four mice in it, one had two.

I think house sparrow nestings at FWG are a thing of the past, as yet again, there was no sign of the species either nesting or visiting. Although abundant in winter until 2008, only a few pairs ever nested at the FWG, even when they were regularly seen at the garden.

Paper wasp (Polistes dominula) nests were found in four nest boxes.

One nest box was destroyed in the spring, before swallows returned, and several have fallen apart over the last winter. We need more nest boxes and we need to re-locate a few posts and nest boxes.

One nest box at the beginning of the hedgerow by a walnut tree (numbered 1A because we cannot recall when it was put there, or by whom) has always been used by red squirrels.

One nest box was not checked as it was at the far side of a wild raspberry stand and I didn’t want to create a trail by cutting through the dense plants. I will try to check it out later in the winter. In general, it has not been used by swallows more than once, and that was some years ago. Since then, it has been either empty or used variously by mice and red squirrels.

Our last batch of nest boxes were made without screws to lock the doors in place. This has meant that the boxes are more easily opened and tampered with. This year I closed the doors with screws of all but a few.

Nest box cleaning – results: My definition of successful is any nest that was completely built and obviously used and which contained no dead birds or unhatched eggs. The presence of a dead juvenile or of an unhatched egg or two, doesn’t mean a nest was unsuccessful, but neither was it a complete success. I note these as partial successes.

•Eight (8) tree swallow nests.

•One (1) box had a black-capped chickadee nest.

•One (1) box had a house wren nest.

•Six (6) boxes had mouse nests.

•Seven (7) boxes had red squirrel nests.

•Ten (10) boxes were unused.

•One (1) nest box was removed.

Back in 2005, Colin Freebury and I were trying to come up with a good nest box design. We developed a checklist of ideal features with a view towards building a better box, but we never really implemented this because we had a good supply of boxes in 2005. By 2008, when we needed more new boxes, Glebe Collegiate got in touch with us and built a batch of new boxes but they were to the old design we’d given them some years before.

Over the winter we’ll be developing two box designs for testing – very exciting!

From Yale News: Exhaustive family tree for birds shows recent, rapid diversification

We refer to the ‘birds and the bees’ when we obliquely talk about reproduction, but multi-university research from Simon Fraser, Sheffield and Yale reinforces just how differently the birds and the bees approach their own diversification as species!

Yale News Department, Posted October 31, 2012 at http://news.yale.edu/2012/10/31/exhaustive-family-tree-birds-shows-recent-rapid-diversification

Image from article (A Mooers [SFU], G Thomas [Sheffield] and C Shrank [Yale])

A Yale-led scientific team has produced the most comprehensive family tree for birds to date, connecting all living bird species — nearly 10,000 in total — and revealing surprising new details about their evolutionary history and its geographic context.

Analysis of the family tree shows when and where birds diversified — and that birds’ diversification rate has increased over the last 50 million years, challenging the conventional wisdom of biodiversity experts.

“It’s the first time that we have — for such a large group of species and with such a high degree of confidence — the full global picture of diversification in time and space,” said biologist Walter Jetz of Yale, lead author of the team’s research paper, published Oct. 31 online in the journal Nature. Continue reading