A year for the birds

by Brendan Keegan, Gardener

March 7, 2018

A year for the birds

One of several new bluebird boxes on the grounds.

Arboretum staff are following the lead of the Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and National Geographic by commemorating 2018 as “The Year of the Bird”. This is fitting, as our diverse plant collection provides habitat for 130 bird species, 51 of which breed on the grounds. To celebrate the start of the spring breeding season, we are putting up new nest boxes, welcoming back spring migrants, and hosting monthly bird walks for all skill levels.

Keen-eyed visitors will spot several types of nest boxes popping up in the Arboretum this March. The first is a derivation of the classic “bluebird box”, placed in open areas where they may attract both eastern bluebirds and tree swallows. Both of these species thrive in meadows, orchards, and open yards. Weekly check-ups will ensure that house sparrows do not inhabit them.

The entrance hole on this tube is 1 1/8 inches wide, admitting chickadees but not house sparrows

The second nest-box is a modification of the Grubb and Bronson Chickadee Tube. Dispersed in shadier parts of the grounds, these tubes accommodate species such as black capped chickadees and house wrens. A common backyard visitor, the black capped chickadee is the state bird of Massachusetts as well as a year-round resident. These small birds have excellent memories, which come in handy during the fall and winter when they hide hundreds of seeds under bark and in small crevices high up in trees.

The 3 inch entrance hole is enough for mature eastern screech owls, which weigh less than a half full can of soda.

The third box is for eastern screech owls. Both red and gray morph screech owls inhabit the Arboretum, and last year docent Bob Mayer captured a great photo proving that at least one pair was successful at raising hatchlings. Since both squirrels and European starlings fit into the 3-inch wide entrance holes, this season will be a test of whether pole or tree mounted boxes fare better at deterring competitors.

As an experiment, staff are also mounting a few great horned owl platforms as well. Great horned owls do not build their own nests but instead raise their young wherever they can find a spot, mostly in hollow trees and in old hawk and crow nests. Although it is unlikely that great horned owls will use these platforms during the current breeding season (they begin looking for nesting sites in early winter), with any luck mating pairs will utilize them in the coming years.

Used to study great gray owls, this platform will hopefully look like home to great horned owls, too.

If you’re interested in learning more about birds this spring, join Arboretum docent, education volunteer, and birder extraordinaire Bob Mayer on one of his four bird walks. Check out Bob’s blog, Arbotopia, for some of his close encounters with birds and other fauna in the Arboretum and throughout the Emerald Necklace. Bob will focus on spotting our returning spring migrants and all skill levels of birders are encouraged to join. On Saturday, March 10, Nancy Sableski, the Arboretum’s Manager of Children’s Education, will host a “Welcome Back to Redwing Blackbirds” celebration, with games and activities for children. Finally, if you want to learn about the trees and shrubs in our collection that birds rely on for survival, keep an eye on ArBlog as we continue celebrating “The Year of the Bird” in 2018.

2 thoughts on “A year for the birds

  1. Hello,
    I’m anticipating retirement and will take up bird watching and astronomy as new hobbies. Are there any bird watching tours scheduled at The Arboretum this Summer and Fall? Is so, I’d like to attend.

  2. Nothing scheduled for this summer, but please check our calendar later this summer for birding opportunities in fall.

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