2004 Tree Swallow Nest Box Project Report
Friends of Fresh Pond Reservation
March-July 2004

The idea for the Tree Swallow Nest Box Project grew from an offer by Friends group members Lore and David Levitt to help plan a family program during which participants would assemble birdhouses, and from a recommendation by Friends group bird walk leader Nancy Guppy that the group build nest boxes for tree swallows. These cavity-nesting birds usually raise their young in holes in dead trees, many of which have been removed from the Reservation for reasons of public safety.

The "Birdhouse Building Workshop" on March 21, 2004 was attended by 35 children and adults. The workshop opened with a story told by Lore Levitt about a baby bird who discovers the world. Then younger children made bird boxes from ½ gallon milk cartons. The children covered the cartons with overlapping pieces of masking tape, a 1¼-inch hole was drilled for them, then they wiped the surface with brown shoe polish to give a woody-looking, waterproof surface.

The wooden tree swallow boxes were designed by Elizabeth Wylde using patterns from several websites including those of Cornell University and the New York Bluebird Society. Elizabeth pre-cut and pre-drilled the pieces from white pine boards. Adults and two older children at the workshop assembled the boxes using rustproof decking screws. Each box was fitted on the bottom with a threaded pipe flange for mounting on a threaded ¾ inch metal pipe. Finally, the outsides of the boxes were wiped with linseed oil.

By the beginning of May tree swallows had been observed around and entering all four boxes. On May 8 Elizabeth and Jean opened Box 1 at Black's Nook and photographed a fine looking nest made of dried grass and lined with feathers. The builders fluttered nearby and returned to the box as soon as we left the area.
Watershed Manager Chip Norton and Reservation Site Supervisor Vince Falcione were very helpful in getting permission for the boxes to be put up in appropriate locations on the Reservation. The Water Department also donated four threaded galvanized pipes.

Early in April Chief Ranger Jean Rogers and Elizabeth placed the boxes at sites on the Reservation that were near water and open fields (see map). We also posted laminated signs on two nearby Information Boards, in the Ranger Contact Station, and on the fence next to the box that overlooked Fresh Pond. The signs encouraged Pond-walkers to report the activities of any birds on or near the boxes. Many people called Jean to report seeing birds, and many more read the signs and enjoyed observing the birds.

On May 20 we visited all four boxes. Because the adults inside Boxes 1, 2, and 3 refused to leave when the box was tapped we did not open them. There were no birds around Box 4, so we opened it and took a photograph that showed several white eggs in the nest. We added to the fence an "Update" sign with this photo of the eggs:  
  Our third visit, to Boxes 1, 2 and 3 on June 15, revealed young swallows in all of the nests, with six nearly fledged birds in Box 1. Our second Update sign had photos of all three broods.  
Several days later near Little Fresh Pond a large number of fledgling tree swallows were seen sitting in dead trees being fed by their parents. On June 25 we visited all four boxes and found no birds inside. We removed all of the boxes and pipes except for Box 4, which we opened and attached to the fence so that people could look at the nest. The headline of our final update sign on the fence was "SUCCESS!"  
The Nest Box Project was a success on several levels: We offered a program that many people attended and appreciated, we provided nesting sites for birds that might not otherwise have been able to breed, we connected with people who had not previously known about Friends of Fresh Pond Reservation, we gave people who walk at Fresh Pond an opportunity to observe a part of nature they might not otherwise have seen, and we created an opportunity for people to communicate with one another and with us about something that they valued at Fresh Pond Reservation.

Photos and Report
by Elizabeth Wylde
July 7, 2004