Monitoring Bluebird Boxes

The first surprising thing about monitoring the boxes is that I don’t actually have many bluebirds.  Only one of my nine boxes has a pair of bluebirds in it.  They have successfully fledged five young birds this season, and are on their bluebird boxessecond nest right now.  The other boxes are occupied by tree swallows, house wrens, and chickadees, most of which have recently fledged.

Each species I have encountered has a very distinctive nest style, so even if I don’t see any adult birds in the area, I know what species I’m dealing with.  Blue birds make neat nests entirely of grasses.  Chickadees will lay down a layer of moss, and then line it with fur.  Tree swallows create grass nests, and then line them with a layer of found feathers.  House wrens nests are the most cacophonous.   They pile their boxes full to the brim with twigs, making it hard to get a good count of their eggs and hatchlings.  When a pair of house sparrows claimed a nest box, I found a large messy nest made of bits of anything they could find from grasses to bits of garbage.

tree swallowThis is my first time monitoring bird boxes, and I love being out there and seeing the birds grow.  Building the nest and laying eggs can take a few weeks for a pair of birds, but once the eggs hatch, it all happens very fast.  The hatchlings grow from tiny little dinosaur-like creatures to fledglings ready to leave the nest in the span of a couple of weeks.

I had a slight problem with a pair of house sparrows claiming a nest earlier this season.  House sparrows are an invasive species and pose a huge problem to other cavity nesting birds.  They are violent protectors of their nests, and are willing to kill native birds in order to take over their nesting sites.  I managed to deter the sparrows by removing their nest from the box.  My plan was initially just to slow them down and buy myself some time to catch them.  I fully expected to return the next week to find that they had built another nest, and I was ready with a sparrow trap that Peggy Falk (the previous bluebird monitor) had sent me.  When I got to the nest box, I found that a pair of tree swallows had built a new nest there.  I kept a close eye on that box to make sure the sparrows didn’t return, but I haven’t seen them in the area since.  The tree swallows laid two eggs in the box, one of which survived to leave the nest.

bluebird 3

I am fascinated with the behavior of the different species of birds I have encountered.  Blue birds are very tolerant of me   checking the nests.  The parents usually vacate the box before I even get close to it, so I don’t see them very often.  Chickadees are similar in that regard, but tree swallows and house wrens let me know that my presence is unwelcome.  When I check a house wren box, at least one of the parents will hover on a nearby branch and chirp angrily at me until I leave.  Tree swallow behavior changes as the nesting season progresses.  They don’t seem bothered by me while they are working on the nest, or right after they have laid a clutch of eggs.  A week after they lay the eggs though, the mother will not leave the box.  During that time, I can’t get an accurate count of the eggs.  By the next week, the eggs have usually hatched, and again the parents seem watchful, but unbothered.  Once the young are close to fledging, however, the parents get more protective and will swoop around, nearly hitting my head until they’re satisfied that I’m leaving.”

Written by Kaitlind “Kaiti” Fasbury, Blandford Nature Center Land Stewardship Volunteer



Sights and Sounds of the Meadow

Thanks to ongoing restoration work, visitors to Blandford Nature Center can enjoy the sights and sounds of a wet meadow community. “When you walk into a meadow it’s so full of life; it’s just teeming. It’s noisy with the buzz of the pollinators, the chirping of the crickets, the flutter of the birds and the butterflies. It’s really alive. It’s much more than a field that needs to be mowed. It’s full of life.” Peggy Bowers, Horticulturistaquatic  invasives

The biodiversity of this area can increase. One day we hope it will represent a healthy wetland complex filled with native plants. What now has become a wet meadow once had an extensive drainage system put in place in order to create farmland. The 10 acres was a corn field for a long time. In recent years, through the Bert Hewett Memorial Fund and Fish and Wildlife Service’s  removal of the drain tiles, it has been turned back into valuable wetland habitat. Management and stewardship continue to help preserve this landscape as a valuable historic reference point, illustrating the native community which was once visible throughout the Grand Rapids region.

This summer volunteers, Niko Schroeder and Lauryn Taylor, are working to protect the plant community by cutting and treating invasive glossy buckthorn​ growing among the sedges in the wet meadow. If the glossy buckthorn is left untreated, it will put the life of the meadow frogs at risk.

One frog tleopard froghat lives in the meadow makes the sound of a low gutteral snore-like rattle, which has been compared to a small motor boat engine. These snores are accompanied by a number of different chuckles and croaks.  Summer volunteer, Jacob Phillips, from Green Mountain College, will be doing a herpetology survey to monitor the Northern Leopard frog as well as other amphibians and reptiles.  The surveys will provide valuable information that will add to our understanding of species conservation. The results of the surveys will assist Blandford’s land management efforts in making decisions that will maximize the chances of continued success for the native species. The data he finds will be added to the Michigan Herp atlas.

Blandford’s donors and members play an important role in supporting the ongoing efforts to preserve and improve this beautiful bio-diverse landscape. You too can get involved in the stewardship efforts.  Come out and join in on one of the monthly Ecostewardship workdays. If you would like to volunteer or be involved at Blandford Nature Center please call (616) 735-6240 or visit

While you are at it, we welcome you to become a member and help help support these important efforts.