Blending Two Tree Swallow Nestbox Grids into One

Tree Swallows - Photo Rodney Campbell

Time passing promises change, especially when it involves industrious beavers and an aging body. At the end of the 2004 nesting season, I dismantled three Eastern Bluebird and Tree Swallow nestbox trails for different reasons, and before the 2005 season, all of the boxes were reinstalled as two nestbox grids for Tree Swallows on the Delaware Wildlife Area (DWA). The DWA is a public hunting area that requires that my nestboxes and their raccoon resistant baffles are removed from their posts and stored on my back porch in Delaware City during hunting seasons from September through February. I try to return all boxes and baffles to their posts by early March each year.

Researchers had found that nesting Tree Swallows tolerate members of their own species when nestboxes are spaced 20 meters apart, which is nearly 22 yards. I spaced 25 boxes at 25 yards apart along the west side of Panhandle Road. The rows contain 2, 4, 5, 6, 6 and 2 boxes, respectively. Boxes 26 and 27 are paired five yards apart to accommodate nesting bluebirds and swallows and are located near the parking lot on the east side of the road. Since most of the boxes came from the dismantling of the Izaak Walton-Columbus Zoo Nature Preserve where ice on the O’Shaughnessy Reservoir had repeatedly bent the mounting pipes, the DWA came to the rescue and donated replacement poles for the new 2005 relocation. The poles are eight feet long stop sign poles that required me to have a custom-made pounder made that weighs 28 pounds. It takes thirty hits with the pounder to drive each pole into the ground two or more feet.

Before the 2014 season, I added five boxes to the Panhandle Road Grid (PRG) to make 32 available nest sites. By this time, a new, smaller post was available. Like the larger posts installed in 2004, the 2014 posts are U-shaped with bolt holes every inch in their channels, but only seven feet long. A standard post pounder is used to pound them into the ground one and one-half feet for a solid nestbox mount.

Since 2005, the PRG has raised 1,445 Tree Swallows and 69 Eastern Bluebirds.

In 2005, I established a second grid on the wildlife area after I had pulled 19 boxes from a field near the Alum Creek State Park camp check-in station after it was determined that campfire smoke was fatally poisoning swallow nestlings during temperature inversions. A second set of ten boxes was taken from fence mounts along Cherry Street that leads to the Delaware Water Treatment Plant. Construction was planned along the road and fence at that time.

Leonardsburg Road Nextbox Grid

A March 22, 2013 photo shows the first row of a wet Leonardsburg Road Grid.

Twenty-five of the pulled boxes were reinstalled with their original poles in a narrow field along the west side of Horseshoe Road on the wildlife area. The small field forced me to space the boxes at 22 yards in three rows of six boxes each, and one row of seven boxes. The field had brushy fence rows that attracted egg-piercing House Wrens, and the neighboring private properties included livestock farms that supported murderous alien House Sparrows. Even though the grid fledged 58 Tree Swallows and eight Eastern Bluebirds in 2005, I concluded that the need to trap and eliminate sparrows while tolerating native wrens were two good reasons to move the effort to another location.

By March 5, 2006, all 25 boxes had been moved to stand in a perfect square of five rows of five boxes each, all spaced at 25 yards to form the Leonardsburg Road Grid (LRG) that is located four-tenths of a mile from PRG. In the beginning, the boxes of both grids could be seen by anyone passing through the southwest section of the wildlife area, and that was one of my objectives; I wanted the grids to promote Tree Swallow conservation.

During twelve seasons, from 2006 through 2017, LRG produced 1180 Tree Swallows and 12 bluebirds, but as stated earlier, with time comes change. During recent years, the LRG has become wetter. I blame beavers that are quite active east of the grid. Even though they are trapped in order to manage the area for water storage during flood control, enough of the rodents avoid capture to build dams. Water around 15 of 25 boxes is deep enough to cover my feet, and some water is knee deep, so I must wear hip boots. The deep water has enabled cattails to grow six to eight feet high and that brings up another growing concern. I have reached the age that when I examine a newspaper’s obituary page, I find that I’m older than the majority of those listed. If I have a medical emergency inside the LRG, I could drown after falling, and I would not be seen. In fact, since the cattails make it seem like I’m walking inside tunnels, one of my favorite birds, the Turkey Vulture, would not be able to fly inside the grid to recycle me. So, once again, it became time to move the grid’s boxes.

As I do every year, on August 5 and 6, 2017, I removed the nestboxes and baffles from the LRG. As I talked with the wildlife technicians on Horseshoe Road, the final decision was made to transfer the Leonardsburg boxes to join the PRG before the 2018 season. The project was approved and endorsed by Tim Davis whose office is at the Big Island Wildlife Area in Marion County. Tim made sure that U-posts would be delivered to Delaware for installation. During a busy fall schedule, natural resources technician Charlie Allen brush-hogged the original PRG and the area south of it to prepare the area for the new additions while keeping the final vegetation tall enough to shelter pheasants and other game animals.

Troy Golden and Rick Dorn

Delaware Wildlife Area Technicians Troy Golden (left) and Rick Dorn install U-posts in the Panhandle Road Grid for Tree Swallows on November 1, 2017.

On October 16, I used six posts to plot and start three rows in the new area. I returned to the grid area two weeks later to install small wooden stakes at 19 locations. Once the new posts arrived from Big Island, arrangements were made for me to meet with wildlife area technicians Troy Golden and Rick Dorn on November 1 to install the remaining posts. After we met at the site, I walked to the small stakes as Troy and Rick followed to pound the posts into their positions. The posts were transported in their pickup truck. The task was completed in one hour and ten minutes for a great activity.

The expanded grid will consist of one row each of four and five boxes, two rows of two boxes each, and two rows each of six, seven, and eight boxes for a total of 55 boxes in the same field that encompasses more than five acres of small game habitat. I spent hours in my workshop cutting recycled pipe into lengths sixteen inches long, drilling two holes in each, so they can stick nine or more inches above the U-posts to support nestboxes. Two identical signs will stand along Panhandle Road explaining the grid, including the fact that each swallow family will consume more than 300,000 flying insects during the 45-day period when they occupy a nestbox.

Since the original PRG raised 112 Tree Swallows and 12 bluebirds in 2017, and the now bygone LRG fledged 102 swallows in the same season, the combined total of 214 swallows and 12 bluebirds from both grids will be the targeted goal for 2018 in order to judge whether the merger of two grids was a good wildlife management decision. I will follow up with a report at the end of the season.

In conclusion, I am proud to be an official volunteer with the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Even though I no longer hunt, I always buy a hunting license, a fishing license, along with an annual Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp. Please do what you can to support wildlife management in Ohio and elsewhere. Conserve on!