Date: 4/7/21 7:43 am
From: John Farmer <ajf-jlf...>
Subject: RE: [birders] The search is on! (very long)
As the initiator of what has become a lengthy thread, I've been reading
everyone's input with interest, but have not had time until now to add my
bit to the squirrel-related questions that followed.



I am convinced from Thomas Hodgson's observation and several online sources
that the only way to keep the squirrels out is to mount the duck boxes on
stand-alone, metal wrapped poles well away from the nearest tree. The eight
boxes that I am tending now - four on our own stretch of river bank and four
more each at water's edge in four area parks and preserves - have all had
their squirrel nesters at one time or another. I regard the boxes as
general habitat improvements, and really don't care whether the products of
their nurseries are furred or feathered.



I do try to get out each spring to service the boxes by removing unhatched
duck eggs from the previous season, repairing torn roofing material,
removing wet or otherwise unwelcoming bedding, and inspecting them for other
needed maintenance. There have been occasions when those intrusions have
been ill-timed, and I've found unexpected clutches of duck eggs already
inside -- on one occasion with 10 Hooded Merganser and 6 Wood Duck eggs
making up a mixed clutch. Another time, there was a dead Hoodie hen inside,
the apparent victim of a fox squirrel mom who stood her ground with deadly
consequences to the intruding duck. And on at least three occasions over
those decades, I have found mother squirrels inside with their own broods
enjoying wonderfully warm blended bedding consisting of the wood chips I
provided, down from an earlier duck nesting, and chewed leaves prepared by
the squirrel mom.



Interestingly, in each of those cases the mother squirrel exploded out of
the nest box as I felt around for rotten eggs, ran up the tree (knowing not
to try going down past the collar of stovepipe I put in place below every
box - holding it in place with bungee cords to avoid driving nails into the
trees) and disappeared. In every case, the mother squirrel returned to her
nest roughly 30 minutes later, only to re-emerge from the box with a furry
ball in her mouth, and move quickly by what clearly appeared to be a
pre-planned aerial evacuation route to a secondary nesting site from a few
trees away to perhaps 100 yards away. The feat was repeated until the
entire brood of three or four babies had been moved. Predictably, mother
squirrel returned one last time as if to be sure she had not left a baby
behind, and sometimes took a few minutes to rest on the roof after her
taxing work, before leaving her first nursery for the last time.



I've observed those unintended evictions with wonder and a strong feeling of
guilt each time, but have rationalized the disruptions as simple
aberrations of events that could as well have been precipitated by an
invasion of the nest space in an unprotected tree by a wandering raccoon or
other predator. I've further felt that the provision of human-made nesting
spaces has been beneficial to the overall diversity of the local ecosystem,
compensating in a very small way for the many thousands of one-time natural
tree cavities that have been removed by "civilization's" relentless
conversion of woodland to farmland, yards, homes and other human structures.



John, near Milan





From: Fred Kaluza <fkaluza...>
Sent: Tuesday, April 6, 2021 6:24 PM
To: Susan Horvath <shorvath...>; John Farmer <ajf-jlf...>;
Birders UM <birders...>
Cc: Susan Horvath <shorvath...>
Subject: Re: [birders] The search is on! (very long)



Wow. That's a monster Sue! Ahhh, the lengths some of us go to in order to
help the critters. Nice job.



From Fred's IPhone

_____

From: Susan Horvath <shorvath...> <mailto:<shorvath...> >
Sent: Tuesday, April 6, 2021 5:44:42 PM
To: Fred Kaluza <fkaluza...> <mailto:<fkaluza...> >; John Farmer
<ajf-jlf...> <mailto:<ajf-jlf...> >; Birders UM
<birders...> <mailto:<birders...> >
Cc: Susan Horvath <shorvath...> <mailto:<shorvath...> >
Subject: Re: [birders] The search is on! (very long)



Here is the most heavily fortified of my wood duck boxes. We started
completely unprotected. Then added flashing on the trunk both above
and below. That worked pretty well for a number of years. But of
course the tree keeps growing and eventually started popping the
nails... which seemed to give the squirrels toe-holds. Doesn't seem to
have impacted the health of the tree at all (cottonwood poplar).
Multiple iterations of adding flashing to the box itself.
A second box almost the same amount of flashing. 3rd & 4th boxes
somewhat newer, and somewhat smaller, have the flashing on the boxes
themselves but not around the trunks. One, so far, is secure. The
other is not. Have seen both flying and gray squirrels this year in
the insecure box.
We usually, but not always, have a resident screech during the winter,
but only in the larger 2 boxes. We are aware of only 2 actual nestings
over the 30+ years. This winter's screech hasn't been seen in a couple
months.


On Thu, Apr 1, 2021 at 7:26 AM Fred Kaluza <fkaluza...>
<mailto:<fkaluza...> > wrote:
>
> When mounting boxes to trees, how do you guys keep squirrels out? Even if
I baffle the trunk of a supporting tree, branch overlap in the canopy is
enough to invite intruders from above. I've got scads of squirrels around
here.
>
> From Fred's IPhone
> ________________________________
> From: Susan Horvath <shorvath...> <mailto:<shorvath...> >
> Sent: Wednesday, March 31, 2021 11:16:58 PM
> To: John Farmer <ajf-jlf...> <mailto:<ajf-jlf...> >;
Birders UM <birders...> <mailto:<birders...> >
> Cc: Susan Horvath <shorvath...> <mailto:<shorvath...> >
> Subject: Re: [birders] The search is on! (very long)
>
> We have 4 screech/woodduck boxes 15' or so up trees... 25 years or so.
> Last year was first time all boxes were in use by wood ducks. Also the
> first time we managed to see a fledge. Our first sighting this year,
> March 25: 2 pair flew in together... with a 3rd pair right behind!
> There's got to be some site fidelity going on... and maybe they're an
> extended family. We've known for years that egg-dumping happens.
> Clutch sizes are just too large. We added Blink cameras a couple
> years ago.... and managed to catch 2 females incubating side by side
> in one of the boxes!
>
> On Tue, Mar 30, 2021 at 10:53 AM John Farmer <ajf-jlf...>
<mailto:<ajf-jlf...> > wrote:
> >
> > Here along the Saline River near Milan, MI, the trees are alive this
morning with multiple Wood Duck pairs in search of nesting spots. What is
interesting today is that whereas the housing search usually starts as a
trickle and then slowly grows to a flood over the course of a week or two,
this year's search has begun en masse, as if a ribbon has been cut or a
starting gun fired. Anne and I have counted at least four different pair
spread out among the trees over the 100-yard length of the river's loop
behind the house.
> >
> >
> >
> > As I write, a hen has just left her partner perched precariously against
the off-plumb trunk of a hackberry not thirty feet from my study window.
During the three minutes it took to write that last sentence - with many
visual digressions to follow the changing scene - she moved to at least a
half dozen different branches in different trees while he has moved once,
each small flight by both not more than 20 feet at a time, sometimes higher,
sometimes lower in the trees, at least once back to the starting tree, but
all within sight of a half dozen natural tree cavities and three of the four
tree-mounted nest boxes I maintain on the river bank immediately behind our
house.
> >
> >
> >
> > And now, that pair had dropped to the river's surface to catch a breath
after their uneasy stands on perches hardly designed for ducks' feet, and
another pair has taken their place as the frenzied game goes on.
> >
> >
> >
> > Just minutes later, that pair, too, returned to the river and began a
slow paddle upstream together. It appears that the nesting urge has abated
for today, as attested by the apparent total withdrawal of woodies from the
area now. And by the low flight of a pair of Mallards back upstream after
their first of several stops to check for the single cob of corn and handful
of loose kernels that I leave on the bank daily for all comers.
> >
> >
> >
> > Those comers at this time of year include - in addition to the Mallards
- a pair of Canadas, a pair of Hoodies , sometimes with a second male
tagging along to create a triangle (but with none at all interested in the
corn, of course), and up to five Woodie hens and usually a few wannabe, but
still unmated drakes.
> >
> >
> >
> > A quick check of my daily records shows that our anatine (my new word
for the day!) visitors for the year have been as follows:
> >
> > January - Mallards (19 days) and Wood Ducks (3 days)
> > February - (the river was frozen over for the entire month until the
break-up on the 28th) we still had Mallard drop-ins on four Feb days!
> > March - Mallards (22 days beginning on 3/1), Woodies (17 days, beginning
3/6), Hoodies (10 days, beginning 3/1), Canada Geese (5 days, starting 3/9),
and [Great Blue Heron also non-consumers of the corn and non-anatine birds!
(3 days starting 3/20]
> >
> >
> >
> > As we consider what may account for this morning's unusually robust
search by the Woodies for nesting cavities, we're wondering if another
sector of the wild community that has entertained us all winter at and
around our feeders may have prompted the full-on assault.
> >
> >
> >
> > The diurnal diners at our feeding station just beyond the back of the
house include not only the expected array of birds, but also a full range of
sciurid cousins. Just yesterday we had Fox, Red, Gray and Black (both color
phases of the Gray) Squirrels and Eastern Chipmunk. The two larger squirrel
species - Fox and Gray - often raise their first broods of the season in the
duck boxes, and we can't help but consider that those non-avian competitors
may be affecting the Wood Ducks' united front. We have noted that at least
two of our four duck boxes have been seeing squirrel activity lately.
> >
> >
> >
> > Might today's unusual mass search for nesting space be the wildlife
equivalent of a fair-housing demonstration? Or, at least an indicator that
there is an acute need for more birthing centers!
> >
> >
> >
> > I'm heading out to fill the feeders and should also check the duck
boxes. But that's another story.
> >
> >
> >
> > --
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