The Tree Swallow Crisis

Hello blog readers, I’m sorry that I have not published anything in a long time. Summer is a busy season for me, this summer especially. When I have free time I feel too lazy and unmotivated to sit down and write a blog post. Don’t give up on me, I will continue writing! Thanks for following me and being patient. Here is a blog post that has been long over due. Enjoy!

A few weeks ago I was in the middle of writing an essay for school when I received a concerned phone-call from a friend who lives just down the road. He had been fishing at Tagish Bridge when a girl came up to the Tree Swallow nest box that I have hanging up on a tree beside the boat launch and started examining it. As he watched, it looked as though she tried to stick her hand in the entrance. He called to her from on the bridge to get away from the box and leave the nesting swallows alone, but instead she grabbed the box, gave a hard tug and pulled the nest box completely off the tree. My friend told me that he started screaming at her and left his fishing rod to run down the bridge after her. She got scared and dropped the box, running away. He found the box lying on the ground in the undergrowth, but left it, unsure of what to do. He fished for a couple more hours and then went home to call me. He wasn’t sure whether he should have brought it over to me, left it, nailed it back up, or what to do. He offered to go back and bring it over but I said that my little brother and sister and myself would go down and check it out.

When we arrived at the bridge with the quad Mom let us borrow, we quickly found the box lying on its back in the rose-bushes and grass. There was no response when I tapped the side and when I put my ear to the entrance there was not a peep. I couldn’t see anything but some feathers when I looked through the entrance. I concluded that either the chicks had died during that time being so vulnerable to predators on the ground, or maybe they had fledged already and escaped the fiasco. My brother held the box and tried to absorb the shock of the quad going over bumps just incase there was still something alive inside. It was a long ride home.

Once we had gotten home and parked the quad we took the nest box into the garage and after some searching, found a screwdriver that fit the screws in the box roof. When only one screw was left, we slid the lid to the side and the chaos inside was revealed. Inside the box was a mess of feathers from the nest that had been tossed around. A glint of blue caught my eye underneath them. Moving a couple of feathers aside I uncovered the Tree Swallow mother lying deathly still on her nest. When I touched her there was no movement. I felt so sad for her, knowing that she had died trying to raise and protect her babies, and to have it all end for nothing. I started to pick her up so I could see if she had eggs or chicks underneath, when suddenly she burst back to life in a fighting frenzy! The trauma of what had happened had put her in deep, death-like shock. I held her in the bander’s grip so she could not escape, but she still struggled and pecked me furiously. I was really happy and surprised, and hopeful for her brood. I gently put her in my hoody pocket where it was dark so she could calm down. We looked inside the box again to check out her brood. Normally Tree Swallows lay an average of 4 eggs. These parents had been very productive… they had 6-8 day old chicks huddled in the nest, and all of them were alive and well! I put the lid back on to conserve the heat inside and called my mentor, Cameron Eckert. I explained our ‘mini-emergency’ to him and his advice was to take the box back, hang it up exactly where it was, then stand back and watch for half an hour to see if either of the parents would come back. He told me that even if the Mom abandons the nest that the Dad will continue to feed the chicks.

I put the mom back into the box with the entrance plugged up with paper towel, and quickly closed the lid. She went straight back to her chicks which I thought was a promising sign that she might not abandon them.  My brother and sister brought some Archie Comics and money for ice cream, and I brought my fishing rod. Unfortunately the ice cream stand was closed but it was beautiful and sunny which made lying in the sun very relaxing. I had to hammer up the box with the mom still in it while my brother and sister held it up. Once it was securely nailed in the exact spot that it was in before, my sister and I stood back while Toren pulled the paper towel from the hole. The mom instantly flew out to be lost amid the numbers of other swallows circling the water. The watch had begun.

We watched and waited. I fished just down the shore from the house and got my line tangled once in the trees above my head. Fortunately I was able to swing it a bit and with a few tugs it came down. Then I noticed a Tree Swallow come in close to shore and start to circle in front of the nest box. As we watched it finally alighted on the front entrance. Then she became very nervous. She kept quickly peeking in with just one eye and quickly jerking back each time as though afraid something would come out and bite her. After about 5 minutes of doing this she finally went inside and stayed. We knew our rescue has succeeded, that the Mom was back brooding her chicks.

For the past few weeks whenever I went fishing at the bridge I would watch both parents busily fly back and forth, in and out of the box with food. With 6 or 8 quickly growing chicks in there, they had their work cut out for them! However it looks as though the chicks have fledged successfully. The last time I went fishing there, I saw no activity at the box.

During the spring countless numbers of birds migrate to their breeding grounds, often covering thousands of kilometers to get there. It is a long, dangerous journey and very hard on their bodies. Along the way they have to deal with predators, new habitats, finding food where there is often a lack of it, weather, oceans, people, wear and tear on their feathers, and more hazards for a single purpose: to raise a brood. Birds like the Arctic Tern travel from their winter grounds in Antarctica all the way to their breeding grounds in the Arctic. The Rufous Hummingbird can travel 12,000 miles in a round trip. Tree Swallows winter in Mexico and the southern edge of the USA. In the spring they fly all the way to the Yukon and further. Please take care not to disturb nesting birds during the spring and summer, it is a very sensitive and important time for them. The chance of a human successfully raising young chicks is very low, they need the nutrients and warmth only their parents can provide for them. If you find a bird’s nest, just watch from a distance and try to reduce the amount of noise and activity in that area. Keep your cats indoors during nesting season; killing a single bird could kill off an entire nest of birds. My experience with the Tree Swallows had a happy ending, but many nests do not. If you see a nest or a bird house with birds nesting in it, please do not get too close and do not disturb them.

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