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A day to clean houses. With all this snow melt, the song birds will begin building their nests again. Some will use the twenty or so bird boxes we have erected around the farm.
Armed with a knapsack and tools, Skookum, Cowboy, and I set out across the prairie. My job is to open the Western Bluebird Boxes, remove the nest from the prior year, check the box for damage, and make sure the stake holding the box off the ground is still strong.
Skookum stays right by my side as we hike from box to box, but Cowboy is with the wind. Checking back in at speed; he buzzes by ever so often.
One of the walls of the bird box is held together by a single long nail, and if it’s tight, I have to take my pliers and work the nail out. One of our farmworkers thought the point was to keep the box together, and he put a long screw in three of our bird boxes instead of a nail, so I need to use a Phillips head screwdriver to get those spirals free.
Some boxes are empty. Most of the boxes are filled with nesting material and droppings, and some of these nests are finished with a layer of pigeon feathers the wild birds collected from my roller pigeons down at the barn. This is interesting to me, because I recently cleaned the nest boxes down at the barn, and those boxes of the domestic pigeons are often finished with wild bird feathers from California Quail and sometimes red-tailed hawk.
This year I find five boxes filled with wasp nests, and one tree swallow dead on the nest. Sometimes I have found dead nestlings inside an old box, but I have never found a dead parent. I’ve read that aggressive house sparrow males will sometimes kill an adult of another species inside the nest box, and we have some of these non-native sparrows living on the farm.
Primarily three species of birds use these boxes: Western Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and house sparrows. This past year it doesn’t appear the bluebirds have done very well, because I don’t find any of their brilliant blue feathers inside any of the boxes I’ve cleaned out. I’ll be interested to see what I find next year.