A remote peek into a Tree Swallow nest!

The joy of nest boxes

Putting up a nest box is a great way to attract cavity-nesting birds to your property. We have almost 300 nest boxes spread out along the trails throughout the meadows and woods of our sites. A small army of dedicated volunteers heads out each week to monitor these boxes. They count any eggs or nestlings present and use their characteristics to identify the species responsible. They submit their data online to NestWatch, which is a continent-wide Citizen Science program run by Cornell University. This generates a massive amount of data on the breeding biology of a variety of birds which scientists can then analyze to uncover patterns and changes. Every summer our nest boxes produce over 1,000 nestlings of Carolina Chickadees, Eastern Bluebirds, House Wrens, and Tree Swallows!

Eastern Bluebird nest with 2 eggs
Using a mirror to monitor an Eastern Bluebird nest.

A nest box with a difference

This year we have one very special nest box. It was generously donated by Rawnie Paradis and Frank Levy, long-term DelNature program participants and supporters, who also happen to be bluebird fanatics. Rawnie designed the modified box with help from Ken Leister, a legendary Pennsylvania bluebird box builder. Rawnie’s big idea was to install a Ring camera. This is a security camera people normally use to remotely monitor visitors when they are away from home. They made the nest box unusually large to accommodate the camera and secure mount. The camera points downwards to view the box contents and sends these images over the internet.

The Ring camera is live and in place!

Ron Heringslack has monitored and repaired our nest boxes for several years and is quite the handyman. He installed the camera and put up the box, together with a roof-mounted solar panel to power the battery. Soon, we could view the contents of the box from our computers or cell phones, at which point it became a case of waiting to see if the birds went for it!

Ron sets up the box ready for live monitoring

The special nest gets attention

The next morning the camera was activated by a female Eastern Bluebird going inside the box but to our disappointment she never started building a nest. However, a pair of Tree Swallows started checking out the box a few days later and soon they started building a grassy nest. We kept our fingers crossed and on May 27th we checked the video to find a single white egg! The female laid a new egg every day and ended with 5 eggs. After incubating them for about two weeks, they hatched on June 13th. We have obtained some fascinating videos of the parents feeding the nestlings and defending the nest against intruders and have been surprised at how active the nestlings are in the middle of the night. The nestlings are now starting to stretch their wings so maybe we will be lucky enough to see them leave the nest!

Screen shot from camera showing Tree Swallow with 5 eggs
Tree Swallow with 5 eggs!

Thanks to Rawnie and Frank’s special box, we can now do live monitoring of a bird nest. Stay tuned for video highlights as we watch the nesting cycle of one our most beautiful native birds unfold before our eyes! For more information about our Tree Swallows, check out this video, and click here to find out more about our Bird Conservation.