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Tree Swallows, Nesting Naturally

Thursday, July 14, 2011

 Woodpeckers do a huge favor to a lot of other birds when they chisel out their cavities. Red-headed, downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers are the engineers, architects and contractors for most of the house-building. Flickers also excavate, but their slightly decurved bills are not quite as well-adapted to the task, so they'll often enlarge an existing cavity or choose a punkier dead tree to make their own. The huge cavities of pileated woodpeckers are a boon to wood ducks and great crested flycatchers.

These woodpeckers are called primary cavity nesters, meaning that they make their own holes. Great crested flycatchers and tree swallows are among the secondary cavity nesters who move in when the woodpeckers move out.

There were lots of these little blue beauties swirling around North Bend State Park, choosing the lower holes nearer the water for their nests.

Definitely the most confiding of cavity-nesting birds, tree swallows wait until the very last moment to leave, and grudgingly at that. When I'm checking nests, I'm sometimes able to lift an incubating tree swallow with my finger and count her eggs, then close the box again. You have to love a bird who stares you down and lets you do that. When I find a female bird incubating in a box, I usually let them alone until the next count, but sometimes I need a base count before the eggs hatch and have no choice but to intrude.

 It was lovely to see these birds nesting where they would naturally nest, in this Brigadoon for hole-nesters, safe from predators. Tree swallows are relatively recent colonists of southern Ohio and West Virginia, having expanded their range south quite a bit over the 30 years I've been monitoring nest boxes.

When we first moved to southeast Ohio in 1992, there was one spot in the county where we could see nesting swallows--a flooded embayment of the Ohio River. Now, they're everywhere, making new cocoa-brown and white babies like this one. In my boxes--sometimes two broods a season! And here, in these dead snags. Lovely to see.

Long may they nest at North Bend!


great info and photos. thank you for sharing them. I love to see the downeys and red breasted ones that come to my backyard occasionally for suet. it is so exciting to see them.

It's nice to see why they are called tree swallows!

"Box swallows" just doesn't have the same ring.

Julie, A neighbor and fellow bird lover sawed off a downed maple branch for me. As a thank you I sent him your book "Letters from Eden". The tree swallows arrive so early in the spring up here in Minnesota, cold snaps can be deadly for them.

Posted by pickles July 14, 2011 at 8:30 PM

Julie, you will be happy to know that they are nesting in the dead snags in the swamp up the street from me also. I have been observing them all summer but I never even get close to the nests! Not only do I not want to disturb them but they are out in the middle of the swamp where I would never or could never go! Great for the birds though! Gotta love those swallows!

Id like to invite everyone to read a blog post today of a woman who joined the old order Mennonite church from the outside. I'm extremely lucky in publishing her very first, and most likely last post on Amish Stories. A lot of work was involved in her getting permission to be even able to write anything on the internet, and permission was given by her bishop. So please stop by and read about a woman who gave-up her car and other worldly possessions for the person that she loved. Richard from Amish Stories.


I'm thinking my beloved ratsnakes "gotta love" a bird that sits tight on her eggs when they come across a nest.

I wonder if tree swallow mommas react the same way when an arboreal expert like a corn snake pokes his nose in the cavity for a sniff and a snack.

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