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Tree Swallows and Mountain Bluebird Boxes

At almost any given moment, day or night, our skies are filled with billions of birds migrating between fall and spring homes. Scott Weidensaul, author of Living on the Wind, wrote “If it is spring or fall, the great pivot points of the year, then the continents are swarming with billions of traveling birds—a flood so great that even the most ignorant and unobservant notice, if nothing else, the skeins of geese and the flocks of robins.” So it is this fall I note that Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Mountain Bluebirds, and Tree Swallows have left for the winter and are being replaced with the Dark-Eyed Junco, one of which showed up in mid-September. Other winter residents will show up soon.

This summer, I enjoyed the Tree Swallows who monopolized three nest boxes at Pete’s Lake. The two other nest boxes housed House Wrens—equally engaging. Some of these same swallows and wrens may have nested here last year as most species are faithful to their nesting site and return every year to the same territory as do some one-year old birds returning to breed for the first time in the area where they themselves fledged.

I’m sure you have noticed the many nest boxes on fence lines between Lake City and Gunnison. On a recent drive to Gunnison, I counted 95 nest boxes. These were constructed around 2008 by the late Lake City resident Helmet Q

uiram. I was recently approached about restoring and possibly replacing some of the boxes and am in the process of cleaning, closing, and noting what needs to be done to boxes that are falling apart or are on the ground. It is my understanding that there were originally over 300 nest boxes.

At the suggestion of our county commissioner, Kristie Borchers, I contacted Kathy Brodhead, Wildlife Biologist at the Bureau of Land Management, who is helping determine what we can do to restore the boxes and start keeping records of the birds that use them. Collecting data would entail a visit to each box at the end of the breeding season to determine the species by the type of nest they built and try to determine if the nesting was successful.

The primary target bird for the boxes is the Mountain Bluebird, which has experienced a decline in overall numbers. It is surmised that the drop in numbers can be attributed to competition for nest sites from Tree Swallows, sparrows, starlings and Purple Martins, and fewer insects due to the widespread use of pesticides.

If you are interested in helping with this project, give me a call! I have visited 25 boxes, documented their location (GPS), photographed, cleaned, and readied them for next spring nesting. Some of the boxes need sides or roof reattached and some need to be secured to the mounting post.

Judy Boyce

Lake Fork Valley Conservancy


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