John A. Gerwin, Wake Audubon board member
On March 5, I was out of bed by 4 a.m. to get ready for an early flight, and it was 36 degrees outside! It may not feel much like spring these days, but a few days of low temperatures does not dissuade our local birds. They are tuned to multiple factors, and it seems clear that daylength is one that sends a strong if not the strongest signal that it is time to get the house ready – the kids are coming.
For the past 2 weeks, folks have been emailing or otherwise telling me about their observations of a couple species that are indeed conducting nest building activities – the Red-shouldered Hawk, and the Brown-headed Nuthatch. The former is our Bird of the Year, and the latter of course has been a focus for several chapters selling “nuthatch” nest boxes (Wake Audubon has sold many hundreds!).
In a “normal” year around the Piedmont of NC, Red-tailed hawks begin nest building (or refurbishing last year’s nest) in mid-to-late January, which can go on for a week or two. The Red-shouldered Hawk begins 2-3 weeks later and thus this year, they are “on time” as some folks reported watching adults carrying sticks to nest locations, in mid-February.
On this schedule, for those young who make it “all the way”, the Red-tails will fledge in late May, whereas the Red-shouldered’s will do so in mid-to-late June. May is a noisy month with many begging Buteo’s around town.
Similarly, I received my first “Nuthatch alert” in mid-February – an adult was excavating a cavity in a dead snag in a neighbor’s yard. In addition, Wake Audubon board member and Flickr manager Bob Oberfelder found an adult excavating along the American Tobacco Trail on February 21. Once again, these birds are “on time”. Bob got some great shots of the adult tossing wood chips out of the cavity, which I include here. I’m also including a shot or two of eggs from a nest box I installed at a nearby elementary school. Another neighbor and her pre-teen daughter have been checking this and 10 other boxes I put up, for the past 2 seasons. Our small bit of data show that nuthatches can be incubating eggs from the second week of March into late-April. That is, some lay as early as mid-March, whereas others, for some reason, lay in mid-April (you may recall it takes about 10 days for a BH Nuthatch egg to hatch).
Hopefully, you have your ‘nuthatch’ boxes up, but if not, now you know there are some late layers out there. So go ahead and put up another if you wish to.
Authored by Courtney Rousseau
It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday, March second, out at Prairie Ridge Ecostation, and it was perfect for erecting a brand-new Deluxe 12 gourd rack with 12 Excluder gourds from the Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA). The sun was a welcome sight after the grey, rainy days of late. Rob and I arrived around 1:00pm to get the equipment out of the shed and down to the area next to the outdoor classroom. We took all of the parts out of the boxes and read over the instructions to make sure we understood what to do before the kids showed up. We decided to divide them into two groups: one would work on the pole and the gourd rack hardware, and the other would prep the gourds for mounting.
Most of the kids showed up around 1:45pm. We sent them on a brief walk on the trails while we waited for the last scouts to arrive. Once everyone was there, we got to work. We had 5 scouts. Rob led the hardware group, and Courtney showed the other group how to prep gourds. First, we got out the non-stick cooking spray and sprayed and wiped the upper inside area of the gourds to keep wasps from hanging nests there before martins move in. After each gourd was sprayed, another scout put in a handful of pine straw as a pre-nest. After these two scouts were finished, another scout looked over their work to make sure they didn’t miss any spots or get too skimpy with the pine straw. Shortly after they finished the gourds, the pole was ready to erect. Rob and 2 scouts set the pole upright, and then all of the scouts helped to hang the gourds. We wrote numbers on each gourd for easy record-keeping. Each scout took turns at the winch handle, since everyone wanted to raise it up. After the rack was up, we hung the predator guard on the pole. It’s 4 ft from the ground to the top of the predator guard, which is the recommended distance. However, we know they have some big rat snakes out there, so the guard should be waxed, at the very least! We discussed why a predator guard was necessary with the scouts. Today, the scouts learned about teamwork, martin conservation, carefully following procedures, and quality control to assure uniformity of their work. They are all excited to come back later in the season to watch banding or to see the martins using the new rack. While we were there, a few members of the public also came up to ask us about the gourd rack, so it was a good opportunity to engage them as well.
Photos here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/xrVCSB8scg1hFgoi9