The 2016 Kestrel Nest Box Season: Highs & Lows

Even when you are a healthy, spunky little falcon like the American kestrel, life isn’t easy. That’s why Kestrel Land Trust developed our Kestrel Next Box Project: by providing more nesting sites throughout the Valley, we are trying to do our part to make their lives a little easier and their population a little stronger.

The 2016 American kestrel breeding season had its ups and downs. In some ways, it was better than last year, with many more chicks surviving. But they still had their challenges. Here is the summary from Chris Volonte, Stewardship Manager at Kestrel Land Trust:

  • 16 nest boxes were available for use
  • Kestrels were observed on, in or near 12 boxes
  • 4 boxes were occupied by kestrels with eggs laid
  • 4 successful boxes (eggs hatched with surviving chicks)
  • 21 eggs laid in total
  • 20 eggs hatched
  • 20 chicks survived
  • 1 box used by tree swallows
  • 7 boxes invaded by starlings

These numbers contrast with last year, when 21 eggs dwindled to 11 surviving chicks during a tough breeding season following the frigid, snow-packed winter of 2014-15.

Another contrast was timing.  Last year, egg laying and incubation began 2-3 weeks later than we had observed in previous seasons.  In 2015, we banded our first chick on June 30 and our last chick on July 10. This year, we completed our banding on June 27, three days before we even started that process last year.

In terms of nesting success, 2016 resembled our first two years, which each yielded 10 eggs and 10 healthy chicks (2 boxes occupied each year). One big exception to the resemblance is that we DOUBLED the number of chicks this year to 20, with four breeding pairs producing five chicks apiece (6 male and 14 female chicks).

While last year’s results gave us a solid reminder of the challenges faced by birds and other wildlife, this year also hinted at the challenges they face. Our volunteers observed nest site competition between kestrels and European starlings. The kestrels held their own this year, which is a hopeful sign, but starlings are clearly a factor that kestrels in our area need to contend with.

This is also the first year that our nest box on North Maple St. in Hadley did not host a successful nest. The kestrel pair was observed carrying out normal breeding activity at the box during the first two weeks of April, but after that, no further sightings were reported of the female, though the male was seen a few times. Our box check on June 3 revealed no evidence of nesting. It appears that the female may have met with misfortune, leaving the male to seek a new mate with whom to share his prime real estate.  We left the box open in case he succeeded and made a late-season nesting attempt.

However, there is a lot of good news to focus on this season, including:

A recently installed box was occupied for the first time at Hampshire College Farm (east of Rt. 116). The adult female  was banded during a June box check. Here is her portrait:

kestrel portrait

…and here is her beautiful wing.  Sharp eyes might note that she was molting and had both fresh (dark) and worn (lighter) flight feathers:

wing feathers

Our new boxes at Hartsbrook School and New England Falconry continued to host breeding pairs in their second year. Here is one of the chicks, being examined for age so we could determine timing of banding:

chick 1

Graduate student Matt Kamm from Tufts University will continue taking vegetation measurements around our boxes to support a study of kestrel habitat needs. Here is Matt using a drone to take aerial photos on Kestrel Land Trust property in Hadley last August:

drone

drone 2

And more good news — chicks, chicks, chicks!

Box at Conte Refuge, Hadley:

chick w egg

conte chick 5

Box at New England Falconry, Huntington Rd., Hadley:

chick at NE falconry

adult NE falconry

Box at Hampshire College Farm, Hadley:

hampshire chick

We’ll be working on box repairs over the coming months, and we’ll be back in action next March, as will the kestrels, we trust!

 

 

Don’t Let Ticks Keep You Indoors!

 

By Kat Deely, Community Conservation Manager

Have you been out for a hike or into your garden yet? You probably have! But it’s not too early to protect yourself against those little nasties called ticks. With such a warm winter behind us, and there’s a good chance the tick population will be significantly larger than we’ve seen in recent years. That’s not a pleasant notion given the fact that the number of tick-borne illnesses have been steadily on the rise. But, have no fear! Below are some pointers and resources that will help keep tick bites under control so you can safely enjoy your time outdoors.

  • Start doing tick checks now! No amount of Ben’s Deep Woods can replace the effectiveness of doing a tick check — on yourself, on your partner, on your kids, and on your pets. So, best to make a habit of it. Ticks are guided by temperature, so look twice in areas where warmth accumulates Moose in flower field_K Deely(armpits, groin, hairline, back of the knees, under close-fitting clothes). Experts say it takes about a month to establish a new habit, so put it into your outdoor routine now, and come summer, it will be well ingrained.
  • Socks over your pants is totally fashionable.  Thanks to the introduction of skinny jeans, it is now officially cool to wear your socks on the outside of your pants when wearing hiking boots. No excuses! One of the best defenses to keep a tick from biting you is to make it difficult for the tick to get to your skin. Keep them on the outside of your clothing and they’re easier to spot too.
  • Wear khaki.  Or really any light-colored clothing. You’d be amazed how noticeable a small black dot is on tan or white cloth. On this point, the fashion industry has failed us. Can the tick-prevention industry bring back the washed-out denim trend?
  • Armor yourself. Are you a daily dog-walker? Or do you take a nightly stroll just to clear your mind? Consider doing these activities in a designated pair of pants. Now, that seems like a funny idea, but if you apply a Permethrin spray to these pants and allow them to dry, those pants will be your tick armor. Please be sure to follow all safety precautions when applying the Permethrin: Do it with gloves on in a well-ventilated (outdoor) place. Once it has absorbed into your pants and dried, the pants are fine to touch barehanded. You are ready for battle!
  • Protect your pets. Pets that roam outdoors might otherwise be known as “tick shuttles.” Ticks jump on-board and get a free ride into your house, and potentially onto your furniture. There are multiple brands of flea and tick prevention treatments out there, so ask your vet which will work best for your pet. However, just like with you and your family members, nothing works as well as a tick check on your furry friends!
  • Stay in the middle of the trail. Sounds silly because ticks are on the ground, right? No! Ticks can climb, and frequently will get up on low-hanging branches or tall grasses. When you are out for a hike, stay in the middle of the trail for your safety. (BONUS: This is good for limiting erosion on the trail too!)

And if all else fails, studies have found that getting antibiotics within 72 hours (that’s 3 whole days!), Lyme disease can be prevented. Following these precautions will make you less likely to pick up a tick, and find the ones that get on you with ample time to remove them before you need to worry.

Don’t let the ticks get you down–or rather, keep you stuck inside!

Paradise City Arts Festival Auction Will Benefit the Land

Kestrel Land Trust believes in nurturing a love of the land so that future generations will continue to care for it as we do. One of the many ways people can connect with the land is through the arts. The picturesque New England landscape has inspired artists throughout history, such as Thomas Cole who painted the Oxbow in Easthampton.

That’s why we are excited to announce that Kestrel is partnering with the Paradise City Arts Festival (PCAF) as the beneficiary of their silent auction. This world-class arts faiParadise City cover imager takes place May 28, 29, & 30 at the fairgrounds in Northampton.

“Spring is a time when we are reminded of the beauty of the natural world and truly appreciate our open spaces,” wrote Linda and Geoffrey Post, PCAF creators. “It’s why we’re especially excited to welcome this spring’s benefit partner, Kestrel Land Trust. We applaud their mission to preserve our natural wonders, and we thank them for serving as the inspiration for this spring’s special themed exhibition, American Beauty: From Landscape to Dreamscape’.”

Join us to enjoy the 260 talented artists of all kinds from across the country, great food, live music, and “smART talk” presentations. Hundreds of art works donated by the artists will be offered at the auction, and all proceeds will support Kestrel’s work to conserve the land that has inspired artists for generations.

We have postcards with a coupon for $2 off 2 admissions to the festival. Email Kari if you’d like one, then enjoy the festival, make a bid, and take home amazing art to inspire your spirit.

YOU CAN HELP: VOLUNTEER AT THE ARTS FESTIVAL!

Help us run the art auction, support the artists, and have a great time. If you volunteer for at least one 4-hour shift, you’ll receive free admission and parking! Email andrea@kestreltrust.org for details. 

 

The Kestrel Nest Box Project: 2015 Results

2015 was a dramatic year for the smallest falcons in the Valley: The American Kestrel.

 

It’s not easy being North America’s smallest falcon. You’re tiny enough to be eaten by larger raptors. Sometimes, when you visit your favorite feeding grounds, you find that buildings have replaced the grasslands that used to provide tasty prey. The American kestrel’s population is in decline in our region, in part due to a loss of nesting sites.

The Kestrel Nest Box project has been an exciting effort to help boost their chances of adding to the next generation. With the help of our volunteers, 16 nest boxes designed especially for kestrels have been built and installed around the Valley since 2012. Because of skilled volunteers willing to watch and report on activity at all the boxes, valuable information is being shared with the Massachusetts State Ornithologist to add to his statewide study, which aims to learn more about how to save Kestrel Land Trust’s namesake.

Looking back at 2015, we found our most interesting year so far. In the cool, early spring of 2015, we had 16 nest boxes prepped and open for the American kestrel’s breeding season. Our patient volunteers watched the boxes regularly for any activity throughout the season, hoping to spot courtship, feeding of babies, and maybe even fledgling chicks. All of their observations were collected to shape a snapshot of the falcons’ lives in the Valley.

Here’s what they found: American kestrels were observed on, in, or near 11 of the 16 boxes. Six of those boxes were occupied by kestrel couples who laid eggs. However, only 4 pairs were able to successfully hatch their eggs.  A total of 24 eggs were laid, with 15 eggs hatched and 11 of these kestrel chicks surviving.

Box_Cleaning_2.JPG

’14-’15 MassLIFT AmeriCorps Member Jenn Seredejko setting up a nest box.

These mixed numbers contrast with our previous two years, which each yielded 10 eggs and 10 healthy chicks.  Another contrast was timing –- at all of our occupied nest boxes, egg laying and incubation began 2-3 weeks later than in previous seasons. Why is that?  Well, if you recall New England’s 2015 winter weather we had some serious snowfall later in the season! Late January through the end of February produced some of the greatest total snowfall and coldest temperatures on record (e.g. 120 inches of snow in Worcester -– previous record 87 inches!)  Throughout February, persistent cold prevented snow melt.  March also experienced record cold and snow, presenting a deep snow pack when we prepped the nest boxes for the season.

By all appearances, this was a challenging breeding year for kestrels in our area.  It’s hard to know exactly how the harsh winter may have affected them, but the persistent snow pack may have reduced adults’ foraging

Box _14_Banded_Chick_Bucket.jpg

Banded Kestrel Chick

opportunities, affecting their condition and females’ ability to produce viable eggs. It’s also possible that the tough winter affected rodent or insect populations, reducing kestrels’ prey base once the snow melted and the chicks needed to be fed.

This past year serves as a good reminder of the challenges faced by birds and other wildlife.  It also reminds us why the nest box project is important –- not only are we directly supporting kestrels by providing nesting sites on farms and fields that Kestrel is helping to protect as habitat, but we are also collecting information that will help us better understand and sustain the species into the future.

Looking back at the 2015 kestrel nest box season, there are some encouraging things to focus on:

2013_06_04_Box_2_Photo_2_LOW_RES.jpg

Kestrel chicks in nest box
  • This year, 6 of our boxes attracted kestrel pairs (38% of boxes used), up from a previous high of 3 boxes (25% boxes used).
  • 11 baby American kestrels entered the world from our nest boxes: one more than last year.
  • 2 adult females were banded –- a first for our project!
  • Our new boxes at Hartsbrook School and New England Falconry hosted breeding pairs and chicks in their first year.Arcadia_chicks_bucket_COMPRESSED.JPG
  • Volunteer Anthony Hill and Stewardship Manager Chris Volonte banded 4 chicks at a box managed by Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary — Arcadia’s first chicks!
  • At one of the boxes, volunteer Nancy Goodman made some exciting observations of the 4 chicks –- including seeing one chick hanging precariously outside the nest box, but changing her mind about taking a flight that day. Soon the fledglings were out and about, and the family seemed to be thriving.

 As the year wraps up and we look forward to starting up our 2016 nest box project, Kestrel Land Trust would like to thank all of the volunteers in our community who contributed to the project. Your efforts are greatly appreciated and we hope to see you back in the new year -– kestrels need friends like you!

Kestrel close up_Jonas

American Kestrel, Photo Credit: Robert Jonas