September 14, 2020
By Resident Lyn Boone
Aug. 28, 2020—It’s not that easy, raising babies at Kendal. That’s right — babies at Kendal! Baby birds, that is. To humans, it might look easy, but from the birds’ point of view, it isn’t.
Fellow resident Christie Vargo and I have recently come to know this firsthand. On the request of Kendal landscape manager Cindy Dill, we have served this season as monitors of the 31 bird boxes that dot the Kendal campus. We’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly on our weekly rounds, and we record it all in a permanent inventory. Fortunately, we see more success than failure.
Breeding birds are attracted to Kendal for a number of reasons, including the commodious nest boxes, the diversity of habitat, and the abundance of vegetation, insects, and feeders at resident homes. It’s a long list of amenities, but all that doesn’t necessarily mean the livin’ is easy if you’re a bird. There’s a lot to contend with when you’ve got an all-consuming mission to accomplish, a limited amount of time, and all the obstacles that Mother Nature can throw at you.
“Kendal’s nest boxes attract a variety of species,” says Christie, who before retirement was executive director of the Grange Insurance Audubon Center in Columbus. “Our most welcome box-nesting species are bluebirds, tree swallows, and house wrens. Throughout the spring and summer, we see busy parent birds going through the cycle of nest-building, egg-laying, incubating, feeding, and fledging their young. It’s a race against time. Remember, birds have to get done in the span of a summer what humans do over 18 years.”
Nest success depends on a number of factors. Competition for nesting sites can be significant, and non-native species, such as the house sparrow, can crowd out native birds. Even more harmful are natural predators, like raccoons, snakes, and flying squirrels, all of whom enjoy lunching on fresh bird eggs and hatchlings. Availability of sources of protein (such as insects) for the insatiable babies is yet another crucial factor for the frazzled bird parents. With so much that could go wrong, it’s never a given that a nest will ultimately produce any fuzzy newcomers.
But I’m happy to report that 2020 has been a good year, with only occasional losses to predators or general nest failure. As of mid-August, the nests in our Kendal boxes have produced a total of 87 young birds: 33 bluebirds, 16 tree swallows, and 38 house wrens. And a dozen more house wrens are still on the way!
Why count the birds? ”Kendal’s beautiful campus — with forests, meadows, ravines, and wetlands – is a natural laboratory for all of us who live and work here,” says Christie. “Observation of the land and wildlife, including inventories like bird counts, is good stewardship. Over time, the data we collect about birds’ breeding success will help us know whether we’re living here sustainably … And besides,” she adds, “those baby birds are just so darned cute!”