Q: I'm monitoring bluebird boxes in Adams. In the past three weeks, I've found a dead swallow in an empty nest box, then yesterday a dead wren in another.
— Nancy S., Adams
A: I have encountered this in our backyard, where I had two bluebird nesting boxes. One regularly housed bluebirds unless the English sparrows (often called house sparrows) claimed the box first. Then I would repeatedly destroy their nest. These “cute” adaptable birds, originally native to Europe, were first released in New York in 1851. This prolific species has spread to just about all corners of the world, and is aggressive to say the least.
One time, I noticed no activity in the box occupied by a bluebird family. I eventually opened the box carefully to find a dead bluebird and several punctured eggs. I also noticed English sparrows keeping an eye on me. I trapped and removed the sparrow (actually not a sparrow at all, but a weaver finch) and several others that attempted to take the box. Eventually, bluebirds returned and were successful. The other box, on a taller post, housed tree swallows successfully until I tired of removing the English sparrows and gave the boxes to one of our daughters who lives in open country in Sheffield, where she never sees these interlopers.
So, the damage may have been done by English sparrows.
Another culprit may be a house wren, although they are more simply nest destroyers that will fill the active nesting box with twigs covering the newly built nest, with or without eggs. These little birds will readily chase off larger birds like bluebirds, chickadees, and tree swallows and occasionally kill adult birds!
Q: I put out a hummingbird feeder this year and have not had a single visitor yet. Is there anything I can do to improve my chances of getting any? And what can I do for the pollinators like bees that I know are so important if our foods are to continue to grow.
— Elaine, Adams
A: You did not mention flowers in your yard. Sugar-water feeders are not the hummingbird’s only source of sustenance. They are attracted to flowers, especially red, and the small insects the flowers attract
Here are 8 tips for attracting pollinators to your space:
- Plant single flowers — those with one ring of petals around a central disc. They provide more nectar and pollen than pom pom-shaped double flowers.
- Keep gardens blooming and feeders filled! Hummingbirds can consume 100 percent of their body's weight in sugar water or nectar every day, in addition to as many as 2,000 tiny insects! (Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
- Avoid pesticides, even organic ones, as they will harm pollinators. For example, if you use a pesticide to control caterpillars, you risk harming butterfly larvae.
- Grow a variety of flowers! Bees tend to be most attracted to blue, purple, and yellow flowers, though you'll find them on flowers of other colors, too.
- Include plants that are native to your region. They'll be adapted to your soil and climate conditions and will be magnets for wild bees and other native pollinators.
- Include plants of various heights in your landscape, including flowering trees and shrubs.
- Provide shelter. Butterflies, bees and other pollinators need shelter to hide from predators, get out of the elements, and rear their young. If possible allow a section of your landscape "go wild" with unmown lawn, fallen leaves, and small piles of twigs.
I have a feeder where I put jelly and half an orange.
[We had] A catbird eating jelly and a rose-breasted grosbeak eating an orange.
I’m looking for a pic of the tanager I had last year.
— Gloria W., Pittsfield
My answer: These are not the only birds that like grape jelly. The list I have has: Northern cardinal, house finch, gray catbird, northern or Baltimore oriole, woodpeckers including red-belly woodpecker. To that list, I will add: Rose-breasted grosbeak and scarlet tanager. Readers, any other birds dining on jelly (grape) or orange halves? Let Naturewatch know.