It's been an emotional number of days.
Our Peregrine Falcon fledge watch started a week ago and within days we lost two of our juvenile Falcons. First off was Maverick. First flight from the ledge, went east to the condos, couldn't get a grip on a balcony rail, so then took flight west and sadly went smack into the nest tower. A building made entirely of reflective glass and kills a lot of birds, not just young Falcons.
A day later, Cheemung (don't ask me where the names come from) did pretty much the exact same thing. Cheemung did not die on impact, even after the spiral to the ground. Cheemung was picked up and raced to Toronto Wildlife very soon after. It's too much to get into the heavier details but Cheemung eventually succumbed to her injuries. No fault of anyone at Toronto Wildlife, they certainly tried very hard to help this injured bird. But it was not meant to be. How sad and really such a waste of life. Damn you reflective glass! It was a very windy bunch of days which certainly did not help these birds either in their first flights but I will never stop blaming the glass as I've seen enough carnage because of it.
Here is an older blog of mine. Meet another young Falcon who also met the glass and did not survive. I had such high hopes for this bird in particular that year.
This year I am not just helping Peregrine Falcons through nesting season. I've also been helping monitor a number of nest boxes at an undisclosed location. Why won't I say where it is? For the safety of the nesting birds is why. No offense but I am quite certain there are people out there who see something like this and will get the idea that they too could follow my steps, go to these boxes, open them up and have a look inside and there is nothing wrong with that. Well, in some ways, there is nothing wrong with a peek but what if something goes wrong. What if a chick falls out? What if it gets hurt in the fall, or when the person now tries to put it back in the box? How will a person react when the parents of these young start attacking the intruding human? Opening a nest box of young near ready to fledge may cause a bird to flush, fly out of the box when it's not quite ready to go. Then what? The bird will most likely die. Once they leave the box, they are on their own, no more parental help.
So Sunday I go have a check on 19 nest boxes that I've been helping monitor this Spring. A couple weeks back I inspected the boxes, found 7 active nests in total. I marked them for easier spotting in the future. I applied grease to the t-bars to help keep predators from climbing up into the boxes. I made notes of egg counts. Now I have returned 2 weeks later to see what is going on.
Sadly the first box I open, I found this...
5 dead young Tree Swallows. As soon as I approached the box, I caught the scent of the rotting deceased birds and immediately knew something was very wrong. When you smell that smell, you never forget it. So yes, this is not the first time I have come across dead baby birds in a nest box. My heart sank as I opened the box and found all 5 dead. I was really hoping it was maybe one who did not make it and the rest fledged. The flies within were too much. The shock and moment of sadness clouded my head and I did not look very closely at the bodies for signs of trauma like I should have. I know nothing stood out with what I saw but a closer look might have shedded some light on what happened to them.
No lie, about 30 seconds after discovering these dead birds, my phone goes off and I am notified that the Red-tailed Hawk I brought in a week ago Sunday had died. The blog to this Hawk rescue is here. My brain is screaming expletives but they do not fly out my mouth. What a way to start this journey of inspecting the boxes. I am at #1. I have 18 more to open scattered over a few acres of land. I'm probably going to be another 90 minutes on this *job* and this is how it started.
Some messaging with Angie before I continue helped. She reminded me, we do what we can, but sometimes we are helpless. Just got to remind ourselves of the ones we have helped. I find some comfort in knowing that Cheemung and the Red-tailed Hawk aren't suffering anymore. Things could have ended up much worse for them like slow agonizing painful deaths in the wild, starving to death. Of course they also could have become quick easy meals for another animal, being torn to shreds and devoured, that happens all the time but none of us want to think about it.
It is what it is.
The death of these baby birds may have been caused by any one of these things I am going to list, all speculation of couse. The mother could have died, perhaps caught by a predator. There was a cold snap not too long ago, it was a chilly +3c one night, which could have been cold enough to kill these birds in the first couple very crucial days. Another bird species may have entered the nest and killed the young, possibly a House Wren or a House Sparrow. There are 2 boxes in this area, far away from the other 17. The area with the 17 I have never come across a House Sparrow. Oddly enough, where these 2 are, I have seen House Sparrows.
I buried the young in the ground the best I could, kicking the dirt up with my shoes. It was a shallow grave and at least they weren't left to rot inside the nest box.
Okay, chin up, much more to do and check upon, so away I went.
Of course as I got to the other area, and especially checking the first few boxes, my nerves were getting the better of me. Long before I am near the boxes, I am envisioning another handful of horrors inside. As I neared the boxes, I took in the air, looked for flies and neither signs were there. I relaxed and went to work.
Long story short, through the other 6 known to be active nest boxes, all 6 were still active. They all contained young Tree Swallows within at varying stages of growth, being X number of days old. As I got to every box, I would lightly tap on the side in case an adult was within. Only once did I have to give momma such a wake up call (she must have been busy tending to her noisy hungry children inside). All others saw and heard me approaching long before I was at the box. The adults would fly off only to return and swoop my head as I made my inspection. I would slowly open each door, making sure no chicks were leaning on the side wall and could possibly fall out. I stood in front of the entry hole, no young bird was going to try and fly out. All was good. The kids were all quite noisy at each box until they saw me, then it was complete silence. I counted beaks and bodies best I could without picking any up. I could have picked them up for better counting but I am not at that level of comfort yet. Those who have been doing this for years definitely would.
In my count of heads I came up with 25 young birds throughout. There could have very well been up to 36 as Tree Swallows can have up to 6 eggs and I did have 6 in one box for sure. Others had 5 or 4, but with the mash of them in there, sandwiched together as they get bigger and bigger, I am sure I missed a few.
Despite the loss in the first nest, having at least 25 new Tree Swallows being added to the population of the species is pretty awesome. One year it would be great to start on banding these birds in hopes to see if some return to this spot the following year, and years after.
Here are a few photos I managed to get, not spending much time worrying about the shots, just point and click. I checked my settings on the point/shoot camera before I started this round.
"Hi! What the hell are you?"
"Pretend he's not there."
Slightly younger birds in another nest.
I bet the next time I visit, these birds will have fledged.
I found fecal sacs in a few boxes which I have since learned are a sign the young birds are nearing time to fledge. The adults stop taking the fecal sacs away in the last few days.
In my travels, I checked all the other boxes for any new nests. I found a House Wren nest in a box well away from other boxes. Not everything set up there is specifically for attracting Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows.
Another box that was empty last visit now has a nest within, but it's empty. Tree Swallows make beautiful nests, all lined with feathers.
Third time I found a nest of Deer Mice in this one box. Last two times I evicted them but this time let them stay. I don't expect any new migrants coming in requiring a box for nesting. Plus, a family of Deer Mice may feed another animal later in the season. Give them a cheer for persistence!
It's crazy when I sit back and think about all the things we involve ourselves in, even just lightly, trying to make a difference. Sure I can toot our horn for this. Why the heck not? Maybe it's not your "cup of tea" but it is ours. We are just doing what we can... and happy to do so.