Sunday, September 16, 2012

Metchosin’s Largest Nest Box (Steller's Jay)

What a spring! I know, so long ago, and now we are now at the tail end of summer. But it was memorable for me, not just because of the unrelenting, grey, damp chill we all endured, but also because of the birds. Nature has a way of making even a disappointing stretch of weather enjoyable.
A pair of Steller’s jays blessed my yard with their presence, nesting in what is probably the largest nest box in Metchosin. They took advantage of an unused canoe that has been stored upside down alongside my shed. The woven seat, protected by the canoe’s upturned bottom suited them just fine as they successfully raised five chicks. 
Steller's Jay Nest
Five Steller's Jay fledglings, two days before leaving the nest
Walking by the shed would produce a cacophony of scolding and some rather stern looks. I managed to take a photo of the five chicks, just a four or five days before they fledged, by angling a mirror over the nest and shooting up into the mirror. Not the best quality shot but rewarding to see the open-mouthed, demanding, little tykes. A few days later the nest was empty and the parents were diligently teaching the young how to feed at the suet cakes.
Going back a bit, to the first annual Metchosin BioBlitz in 2011, we had the exciting discovery of a pair of western bluebirds, the first seen around Metchosin in almost thirty years. That exciting discovery prompted a move to have some bluebird nest boxes put up in likely locales, in the hopes some bluebirds might return, spot the boxes and set up housekeeping.
After a call-out to the community, many residents came forward, offering to have a bluebird nestbox placed on their property. Unfortunately, not all locales are suitable for what is believed to be their criteria: open areas, near forests, with good perching and hunting conditions, no cats, nor house sparrows. Eventually thirty-nine boxes were erected.
Unfortunately, the nest boxes were not successful in enticing any bluebirds to the area but they were well used regardless. Of the nineteen I helped install, ten had active nests, one violet-green swallow, seven house wren and two chestnut-backed chickadee families were started. 
House Wren Nest
Fledgling House Wren
 One box had a beautiful grass nest constructed, similar to the ones made by bluebirds (be still my heart), but no activity, another two had partially constructed house wren nests (it is common for male house wrens to construct multiple nests and the female chooses which best suits her exacting requirements). Of the nineteen nest boxes, thirteen had some sort of nesting activity. 
Chestnut-backed Chickadee Nest

It’s not always possible to see into the nests to ascertain exactly the status of the inhabitants, but in some cases I was able to view the interiors with the help of a mirror. I saw at least ten young house wrens, plus another three eggs, five chickadee eggs and four young-but dead swallow chicks.
The violet-green swallows have been having a tough time breeding successfully for a few seasons now. Perhaps the cold, wet springs don’t supply enough insects to feed the chicks. I’m thankful one family did manage to survive at Camas Hill this year, maybe because they started much later than usual.
A further twenty boxes were placed along William Head area in what seems to be perfect habitat but only one was used, by swallows, and another two had to be removed because house sparrows found them too attractive. We don’t want to help house sparrows reproduce, they are an introduced, invasive species, through no fault of their own, but they will out-compete many of our native songbirds. 
Observing nest building, watching the parents tirelessly deliver food to their young, the joy of knowing the young have survived and flown from their nests, is powerful medicine that helps combat any sort of blues.
Here’s to a long, lingering fall, endowed with uncommonly good weather!