Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Time to Ready Nest Boxes for Spring
March 12, 2011

By Steve Grinley

     More than once this past week, I was awakened to the sound of noisy blackbirds outside my window. A large flock of mostly grackles, with some red-winged blackbirds mixed in, make an early stop at the bird feeder across the way. By the time I leave for work in the morning, most of the flock has moved on, but I have been serenaded by a few redwings from high in the trees. They are announcing their arrival, and, hopefully, Spring’s arrival will quickly follow.

     There have been some other early Spring migrants showing up already. I received a call on Thursday that an osprey was checking out the nesting platform on Plum Island the day before. This is the first report of an osprey this season on the North Shore.

     Several killdeer have arrived in the area over the past week or so. In fact, one of the first killdeer was seen on Plum Island at the end of February. Since then, I have heard of as many as four being seen at once. The piping plovers can’t be far behind.

     Woodcock, another sign of spring, have also started to arrive in our area. Their “peenting” call can be heard near dusk in fields near the edge of woods. Their elaborate courtship aerial displays will be heard on warmer evenings over the next several weeks.

     A few tree swallows were discovered on the South Shore this past week, which means that they should arrive in Essex County soon. Bluebirds have already started checking out potential nesting boxes and within the next few weeks, the tree swallows will arrive to compete for some of those same boxes. If you haven’t checked your nesting boxes yet this season, now is the time to do it. If you have had nesting boxes up all winter, clean them out and have them ready for occupancy. If you haven’t put up your houses yet, you should try to do it as soon as possible, especially bluebird/tree swallow houses. If we continue to have temperatures above freezing, more of the snow will melt, and the ground should thaw enough to get a pole in the ground for mounting more nest boxes.

     A local webcam has revealed that some screech owls have already started to lay eggs. If you have a screech owl box up, do check it and clean it out as well. If you are thinking of putting one up, now is the time. Having more than one nesting box available helps increase your chances for attracting owls.

     Of course, great horned owls are already on nests, incubating eggs. Doug Chickering of Groveland discovered two great horned owl nests recently. One was nesting again this year in the heron rookery in West Boxford, off Bradford Street. This rookery has over fifty heron nests. The great blue herons have started to arrive there to begin their nesting process. Doug then found another great horned owl in one of the nests in a smaller, four nest rookery near his house. I guess it is time for me to get out and check my Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks for nesting owls!

     Despite these early signs of spring, there are still a number of winter birds lingering at the bird feeders. We still have a few redpolls among the goldfinches at our store feeders. Others are still seeing pine siskins with the goldfinches at their feeders. Our flock of tree sparrows are still scratching the ground under our feeders, along with a few white-throated sparrows. Juncos are still lingering in the area as well.

     So while we take on the chore getting our bird houses ready for Spring, we must remember to keep our feeders full, as the natural food supply has been depleted over this harsh winter. By maintaining our feeders into Spring, they will attract some of the spring and summer residents that will be arriving in the weeks ahead.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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