Thursday, May 5, 2011

Nest Box Monitoring


What do a big city fireman, a realtor, a retired rural postal carrier, a corporate trainer, an attorney, two radiology technologists, a social worker, an engineer, and a lay preacher have in common? These folks make up just part of the Nest Box Monitoring Team at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge who are on the job much of the year to build and set-up nest boxes for song birds, monitor the boxes and report data during the nesting season, and then clean and repair the boxes for the following season.

Very early this spring new boxes were added, for a total of 54 nest boxes along three trails at the Refuge, Myers Branch, Meadow Pond and Harris Creek. Box locations were chosen with the habitat preference of Bluebirds, Prothonotary Warblers, Carolina chickadees and Titmice in mind. Currently there are primarily two styles of nest box in use, the Peterson design box and the saltbox. One monitor has donated a specially designed box a unique ventilation design and camera access.

For 2011 the team elected to report data on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, nestwatch.org. Kathy Whaley, Refuge Manager, created monitoring notebooks for each trail with compatible data sheets, coding keys, trail maps and other needed information. Each nest box has a unique number, key in monitoring and reporting; and there is a data sheet for each box on which the monitors enter their findings. Periodically another volunteer enters the data for all three trails on the Cornell website. Another volunteer sends weekly reports and photos of activity in designated boxes to those who adopted nest boxes for the season.

The monitors’ task is to observe nesting activities including whether adult birds are in the area, or even on in the nest box, if a nest is present, for what species and how complete; the number and type of eggs, young, estimated age of young, and estimated date they will fledge. In addition the monitors perform maintenance to keep the boxes habitable and safe for nesting birds. Some of the monitors are expert birders who are helping the less knowledgeable acquire the needed skills.

The Nest Box Monitors are subdivided into two “trail” teams, with members of each trail team rotating monthly to monitor their assigned boxes weekly. Necessary equipment for monitoring includes notebook for recording observations, spatula for removing wasp and other invasive nests, soap to rub on boxes to deter wasp nest-building, observation mirror, assorted tools for opening nest boxes and quick maintenance, camera, insect repellant and binoculars.

Monitors meet monthly as a group to share information and improve skills. Nest Box monitoring is an enjoyable way to see more of the Refuge, learn more about wildlife and meet others who share these interests. For more about volunteering, send your contact information to friendsofhagerman@gmail.com with the subject line Nest Box Monitor.

For more information about the Refuge and the Friends of Hagerman, see http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/hagerman/index.html, the official website for Hagerman NWR, and http://www.friendsofhagerman.com.

Photo - Young Carolina Chickadees in nest box on Harris Creek Trail, by Nest Box Monitors

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