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Friday, August 5, 2011

Noteworthy Nests of Gabriola

During our first spring on Gabriola, in 2007, a family of dark-eyed juncos nested under the eave of our back deck, right over the hot tub. I had thought the parents would have preferred somewhere quieter to raise their babies. But maybe they decided the additional heat from the pool was worth any hassles? Whatever their decision-making process, I have to assume that the benefits outweighed the potential risks. It’s not like potential nest sites were few and far between! That nest placement piqued my curiosity, though, and I ended up taking the Cornell Lab of Ornithology online course, “Courtship and Rivalry in Birds.”

In that course I discovered that nest selection is an extremely risky business for a bird. In comparison (which is ridiculous, but fun), the selection of a house by a human is a snap. If you rent it, then wish you hadn't after a week, you give your 30 days notice and try again. And even if you buy it before discovering the walls are full of termites (or some equally distasteful scenario), the worst that can happen is you lose some money. But for a bird, selection of the wrong nest site, or the right site at the wrong time, can spell death. And often does.

When home is a sailboat
A couple of weeks ago Iaian and Kristin stopped by the bookshop to tell me about a nest in the boom of their sailboat at Pages Marina. The boat was for sale, and they wanted to do a little work on it, and they wondered what birds had decided to call their sailboat home and when they might leave.

Iaian and Kristin's sailboat - home of the nest. 

Good questions! Off I went to have a visit - camera, binoculars, and three ID books in hand. Unfortunately, I went in the heat of the afternoon, when mama birds slow down their feeding, and my patience ebbs. But I heard the babies peeping away. They appeared to be located in the middle of the boom, far from the entrance, and I thought about our violet-green swallows who spend much of their final few days taking turns sitting in the opening of the nest box. How would these birds be able to do that? Was that necessary?

The opening in the boom.
The nest is in the middle of the boom (we think) about where the FOR SALE sign is in the previous photo.

I focused the binos on the entrance to the boom, hoping to see the parent arrive with food. But it seemed that every time I looked away from the entrance (distracted by other birds!), the mother or father would slip in, laughing at my folly. In the end, however, I did manage to see both the male and female at least once and to identify the birds as tree swallows (tachycineta bicolor). 

Tree swallow. Photo by Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Never having seen a tree swallow before, I went on to do some research and discovered all kinds of fascinating things about these birds. But that’s for another post. (Stay tuned.) Certainly, this was the most unusual nest site I’ve seen on Gabriola, but I could defintely see the value of the location, since most predators would be unable or unwilling to enter. 

Nest, nests, nests

This adventure got me to thinking about nests again. So I sent out a call to a few islanders for photos of their nests. Here are some of them: 

Baby hummers in a Gabriola nest. Photo by elen.

Empty robin's nest. Photo by Carol Martin.

Towhee nest. Photo by elen.
Violet-green swallow hatchlings ready for a mouthful - under the eave at FolkLife Village.

Violet-green swallows in our nestbox fitted with a camera so we could
spy on them all day long - and half the night!

It's not a bird nest but it's pretty spectacular! Taken in the 707 yesterday.
Do you know what it is? If so, please tell!

Junco nest in a fish! Photo by Dee Jacobsen.

Not a Gabriola nest, but definitely worth watching ...  
I hope you enjoy this video of bufflehead babies leaping from their nest!

Please send your Gabriola nest photos!
Do you have a photo of a nest you’re willing to share, and maybe a story to go with it? If so please send it to I'd love to add photos to this post until ALL the birds of Gabriola are represented!


km said...

Hi Sharon-
Thanks for writing about our stow-away birds. If you have never seen a tree swallow, then they must be pretty rare on Gabriola, so I guess we should feel honoured that they chose our boat. But we are glad that they have finally flown away, so that we are now free to finally sail away.

elen said...

Saw your stow-aways the other day. They're also up in the 707 - quite a few.