Smith Park Nestboxes in 2018

Tree Swallow Pair on Post - Photo Earl Harrison

Smith Park is located along Troy Road on Delaware, Ohio’s west side. Twenty nestboxes now stand 25 yards apart in a drainage ditch that parallels the road for 400 yards before it turns east into a pond. The nestbox trail was established in 2016 with its first eight boxes, and twelve boxes were added before the 2017 season.

Researchers have found that swallows can nest in peace with their neighbors when boxes are spaced twenty meters (21.9 yards) apart. I space my boxes 25 yards apart when I am trying to manage for Tree Swallows. Bluebirds usually demand a distance of 100 yards from other nesting bluebirds so they usually find nest sites among boxes spaced for swallows.

Smith Road Nestbox Site

Four nestboxes can be seen in two types of vegetation in the drainage ditch. The deepest is the wettest and supports cattails.

For the last three years, the nestboxes at Smith Park have produced bluebirds and swallows. In 2016, the park fledged four bluebirds and 14 swallows. For 2017, the park’s trail grew from eight boxes to 20 and produced 46 swallows but only one bluebird. Alien House Sparrows caused the diminished bluebird production.

For 2018, Tree Swallows claimed 11 boxes to produce 53 fledglings. Three pairs of Eastern Bluebirds have fledged 19 from four successful nests after seven attempts. The park’s splendid habitat of mowed grass with small trees used as hunting perches by bluebirds has, so far, not attracted competitive, egg piercing House Wrens.

The nesting success of our native species at this time is partially due to a trapping campaign that began on March 28 and continues today that has led to the eradication of 49 alien House Sparrows.

The first House Sparrows were brought to New York City in 1850 and released in 1851. The intent was to introduce birds that would nest in the city, control insects that were causing damage to trees in Central Park, and devour fallen horse feed from the streets in order to control rats. During subsequent years, the introduced sparrows bred their way west and some were captured and transported to Ohio. By 1884, sparrows were nesting in all counties of Ohio.

The threat to our native cavity nesters is somewhat misled by the misnaming of House Sparrows. The non-native sparrow is really a weaver finch. It can weave a grass nest larger than a soccer ball to fill the cavity inside a kestrel nestbox, or the large round nest can stand by itself inside the cover of an evergreen tree or thick bush. The House Sparrow’s thick bill gives it the leverage needed to weave a nest, crush seeds, in addition to giving its owner the ability to pierce the skulls of our native birds.

During the 2018 season, I trapped sparrows from 19 of the park’s 20 boxes and on April 25, multiple visits to the park were needed to trap 19 sparrows from 12 boxes. To be as humane as possible, you must check traps within one hour or sooner. Set traps before lunch, then check them after lunch, etc.

All of my wooden nestboxes have two round-head screws protruding from the inside surface of the front panel to hold a VanErt sparrow trap. Once captured, I euthanize the sparrows by constriction on site. A sparrow’s body temperature is 104 degrees Fahrenheit which is a symptom of a very high metabolism. When they are held tightly, they cannot breathe and they faint in less than a minute. I have passed out several times in my life and it was enough to teach me that fainting is painless.

I seal the remains of harvested sparrows in plastic bags in the field and keep them in my freezer. I will ultimately transfer the sparrows to three possible locations including two university museums to be used for educational purposes, or to the Ohio Wildlife Center, a wildlife rehabilitation facility where they can be fed to recuperating owls and hawks. None will go to waste.

Before their removal, the park’s sparrows managed to kill a female bluebird in addition to destroying eight bluebird eggs in two nests. Other dreaded events included two adult birds killed by traffic on Troy Road; a male bluebird on May 18, and a mature male Tree Swallow on June 24. None of the park’s active nests were affected.

Also, on April 5, a sparrow nest was found to contain many feathers from a male bluebird, some with skin attached. The nest builder had salvaged its nest material after the bluebird had been the victim of a predator, most likely a hawk.

Back to happier topics. During the early weeks of monitoring, I needed to wear knee boots in order to keep my feet dry, but as summer brought warmer temperatures, the ditch dried up and knee boots were no longer needed. Periods of dryness explain why I have never seen frogs in the ditch.

The park’s first bluebird egg of this season was laid around April 18, and after seven nest attempts, five successful nests produced 22 during an 81-day period ending with the last fledgling flying on August 17.

Tree Swallows completed their 73-day nesting season from their first egg on May 6 to their last fledging event on July 17. Since every swallow family consumes more than 300,000 small flying insects, 11 families consumed 3.1 million insects, and that includes mosquitoes. I enjoy the mosquito-free Smith Park for many reasons, and the most enjoyable reasons wear feathers. Conserve on!