Great owl story!
Tree Swallow nestlings fledge at the same time, and the parents seem to be
programmed to deal with that by going where the action is. The fledglings
stick together someplace outside the box and the parents continue to feed
them. If one or more unlucky young birds get stuck in the box, the parents
will not return to feed them.
I've actually witnessed this myself... two years ago one swallow nestling
did not leave the box, for whatever reason, and the parents did not visit
the box at all... they were quite busy caring for its siblings, all of whom
were by this time practicing their flight skills around some trees near our
After a couple of hours, afraid for its life, I decided to remove the lone
nestling from the box and place it in another swallow box that contained
nestlings I knew were close to fledging, in the hopes that it would be
"fostered." That appears to have worked -- all of the birds successfully
fledged from that box within a couple of days.
I can't speak to the question of why fledglings have more trouble with box
exits than adults. Maybe the fledglings are weaker because they haven't
developed their flight muscles yet. Or maybe adults DO get stuck and I just
haven't heard about it.
From: Vermont Birds [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of jane
Sent: Sunday, April 29, 2007 10:13 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [VTBIRD] Bluebirds/fatalities
Miriam, thanks for the very interesting detail. I'm picturing the
typical bluebird/swallow nestbox, though, and having a hard time
imagining nestlings being unable to get out when they're ready to
fledge. Since they're darn close to adult size at that point, what
would keep them from getting out if the adults can get in and out? Are
they that much weaker? I would think that most of them could get out
just by using the backs of the rest as a starting place. Even if it
took a little longer to manage it, wouldn't the parents continue to
respond to their food begging for at least a while past the usual time?
Owls and swallows may be very different in this, but I know of a
situation where a nesting barn owl was inadvertently trapped in an open
church steeple cupola in a town southeast of Boston when workmen put up
chicken wire to keep pigeons from roosting inside. She apparently
hunkered down on her nest in a dark corner and wasn't noticed by the
The situation wasn't discovered until well into the fall, and all that
time, the male owl had continued to bring mice and small snakes and
other goodies to his imprisoned family, by that time four full-grown
birds, with of course, no help from the female. He had to work even
harder because much of the food he left for them was dropped just out of
reach of the birds inside, and the little roof terrace just below the
sill of the cupola was thickly littered with the unreachable and uneaten
meals he had so faithfully been dropping off. I'm exhausted just
thinking about the job that poor bird did so dutifully for so long!
Amazingly, all four birds inside appeared healthy and well-fed, and even
the youngsters were able to fly right out once the chicken wire was
taken down, having apparently gotten enough practice flying around
inside the cupola.
Lawrence, Miriam wrote:
> I've had 9 nest boxes on my property for going on three years. All have
> been occupied by Tree Swallows and Bluebirds (as well as a couple by House
> Sparrows, a problem I'm trying to solve now).
> My understanding is that smooth walls more commonly cause problems for
> Swallows than for Bluebirds, because the swallows have weaker legs. And
> problem is that the fledglings can't get out. I've never heard of adult
> birds of either species having any such problem.
> We lost a large number of swallow nestlings to cold rainy weather two
> summers ago, but the Bluebirds did not have a problem. The knowledgeable
> bluebirders I consulted attributed this discrepancy to the fact that
> Bluebirds eat insects from the ground, but the swallows catch them on the
> wing, and rain suppresses insect activity. This means the swallows have
> travel much farther for food and either can't get enough to feed the
> nestlings, or can't keep them warm enough, or both.
> But these are all problems that occur AFTER nesting and breeding are
> underway. Based on what I'm hearing and seeing, what's happening right now
> is that the Bluebirds are not showing up or nesting in the first place.
> As of yesterday, we still had our one pair of Bluebirds (I saw the female
> for the first time yesterday) aggressively defending a nest box from
> swallows. I did not see the Bluebirds today--but it was also very quiet on
> the swallow front.
> Miriam Lawrence