Nest Boxes

It is that time of year again, time to empty the nest boxes. I empty the boxes in the fall on the first of October and fill them with wood shavings every spring on March 1st. Emptying and refilling them annually reduces the parasite load, thus, reducing risk for the birds.

This spring I purchased two additional nest boxes, bringing the total to five. I placed the two new nest boxes in the wooded area at the bottom of the slope at the back of our property. Additionally, I moved two of the other nest boxes so that there was greater spatial separation between all of the nest boxes.

Despite the additional nest boxes, only two were occupied this year. Again, a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) took up residence in a nest box and raised a clutch of chicks. That nest box was occupied last year by a pair of nuthatches so I wonder if it is the same pair.

A white-breasted nuthatch on a tree
White-breasted Nuthatch. By DickDaniels ( – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The nest box used by the nuthatches
The nest box used by the nuthatches.
Nuthatch nest in a nest box
A nest made by Whte-breasted Nuthatches

A nuthatch started building a nest in the other large nest box but abandoned it after a week. I don’t know if it was chased off by another nuthatch or if it moved to the nest box that was occupied this year. Come spring, I intend on moving the abandoned nest box further away from the other large nest box in hopes that I might have two nesting pair of nuthatches next year.

An abandoned nuthatch nest
A nuthatch started and then abandoned this nest.

No Black-capped Chickadees took up residence in any of the nest boxes this year. However, I am confident a pair of House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon) occupied one of the new nest boxes located in the wooded area of our property. I didn’t observe them entering or leaving the nest box. However, they were frequently nearby, I observed them on the nest box, and they made a raucous whenever I or Lizzie were near the nest box. (Lizzie, for her part, ignored them.)

House wren on a branch
House wren. By Christopher Eliot from Brooklyn, NY, USA – House Wren, Troglodytes aedon, CC BY 2.0,
Small nest box
The nest box occupied by the house wrens
House wren nest in nest box
House Wren Nest

The other new nest box was occupied by two mice when I opened it up. From the looks of it, they had not been in there for long as there was no nesting materials beyond the wood chips I had filled it with in the spring. They ran off before I could take a picture or identify them. Lizzie had a fun time hunting them in the brush pile they scurried into. She caught and killed at least one. I wandered off before I saw if she caught the other one.

Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

A Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) has been a regular night time visitor. Other than a stray cat, it is the most frequent visitor to our night time yard.

A picture of a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana)
An opossum (Didelphis virginiana) in the backyard.

From the images captured on the game cameras, it appears the opossum is searching for food under the shrubs in the back yard. It has been going there nearly every night for the last several weeks. Maybe it is finding grubs and worms. When I’ve looked in that area I haven’t found much of anything else.

A picture of a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana)
An opossum (Didelphis virginiana) in the backyard.

I hope it keeps a low profile during the day because I don’t want Lizzie finding it. Two years ago, Lizzie found an opossum in our yard. When she attacked it, it played ‘possum, looking for all intents and purposes to be dead, releasing a foul-smelling liquid in the process. Lizzie, being a dog, promptly rolled in it.

Because the door to our house was wide open, I was concerned Lizzie would enter the house, fouling it with the her new “perfume”. I let her mess with the “dead” opossum while I stealthily made my way back to the open door. As soon as I closed it to prevent her ingress, I called her to me, ran to the exterior water faucet, turned it on wide open, and grabbed the attached hose. Grabbing her by the collar as soon as she got within reach, I hosed her down. Lizzie, disliking baths, tried to escape but I kept a firm grip on her until I had thoroughly rinsed her. To this day, she watches me warily any time I use the hose.

First Observations of 2019, Part 2

This is a follow up to my First Observations of 2019 post from May.

On Sunday, June 7, around 4 in the afternoon, we heard the first cicadas of 2019. I call cicadas the “hot bugs” because they are the most active when the summer becomes hot. While the temperatures were pleasant on Sunday, I knew we were getting into the hot time of year when I heard the cicadas .

Lizzie Chases Shadows

Lizzie chases shadows. In the morning, when the sun is shining into the living room, she will lay on the floor, waiting for birds to come to the feeders and make shadows on the floor for her. And when a bird does make a shadow for her, she will bite at shadow while animatedly wagging her tail.

In the winter, on sunny days when the snow can be formed into snowballs, we will throw snowballs in the air so that shadows move across the yard. Lizzie happily chases after those shadows, occasionally barking at them. If our timing and aim is right, the snowball will land on her back as she chases its shadow across the yard.

After the snow melted this spring, there was no handy shadow making materials. Kat got the idea of using balls and purchased a bag of cheap plastic balls. The slow-motion video below is of Lizzie chasing the shadow of a ball and then catching the ball.

In the above video, Lizzie is wearing a bandage on her right front paw. She had a torn nail that was causing her some discomfort, so we bandaged it up. She is all healed up now.

Images from the Game Camera, Part 3

Now that the nighttime temperatures are above freezing, I have deployed our game cameras. I bought an additional camera so I could better understand the movement of animals through our yard. I had only deployed the second camera for a week when I observed a raccoon cross our yard from the west fence to the east fence. I’m hoping to make more observations like that because I’m curious how larger animals such as raccoons and fox move through our fence-enclosed yard.

The seemingly ubiquitous Eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) is the most frequently photographed animal by our game cameras. However, after a red fox was observed in our yard, I noticed there were less rabbit sightings.

A picture of an Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus)
An Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus).

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) clearly has no issue getting over our fence. I’m hoping to actually capture an image of one jumping our fence.

A picture of a red fox (Vulpes vulpes)
A red fox (Vulpes vulpes) in our yard.

I have mixed thoughts about raccoons. One thought I have is they are just another animal passing through our yard like any other animal and they deserve to do so without harassment. Another I have is they have damaged our property and are a host for a type of intestinal parasite (Baylisascaris procyonis) that can infect humans. Realizing that I cannot keep them from our yard, I only undertake to keep them away from our house by utilizing repellants. Otherwise, I leave them be.

A picture of a raccoon (Procyon lotor)
A raccoon (Procyon lotor) walking in our yard.

This year was the first time a game camera captured an image of a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana). I have seen them previously during both the day and night. Lizzie even found one in the big brush pile at the bottom of the hill, but, they have been eluding our cameras. However, something was triggering the new camera, which I had placed on the east side of the yard, but the camera was failing to capture any images. After I realized the motion sensor had a wider angle of detection than the camera had for image capture, I placed the camera closer to the ground. The next night, the camera captured images of an opossum.

A picture of a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana)
An opossum (Didelphis virginiana) in the backyard.

On Nextdoor, people have reported seeing coyotes (Canis latrans) in nearby neighborhoods. Because of that, I don’t let Lizzie out alone at night. At 55 pounds, Lizzie easily outweighs a male coyote (about 30 pounds) but I don’t want her tangling with one regardless. I would, however, like to find images of one on our game cameras.

First Observations of 2019

This is the first year in which I recorded the first observations of the year. The following are a few of our observations:

  1. Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) – I heard but didn’t see the first red-winged blackbird in our yard on Sunday, March 31. This was 10 days after others had seen them in the Twin Cities area. I didn’t see or hear a red-winged blackbird again for at least a month. A pair, however, has set up home near us and are regular visitors to our tray feeder.
  2. I saw the first bumblebees on Monday, May 13.
  3. Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) – I saw a female ruby-throated hummingbird flying around our backyard on Wednesday, May 15. A day later I observed a male in our yard. They now visit our feeders numerous times per day.
  4. Kat saw the first monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on Thursday, May 16.

Nest Boxes

Three years ago, I bought a nest box and placed it on a tree near our garage. It was a nest box intended for woodpeckers and my hope was that a woodpecker would use it. Despite having plenty of woodpeckers frequenting our yard every day, they didn’t use the nest box. Instead a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) took up residence in the nest box and raised a clutch of chicks.

Inspired by that family of nuthatches, I bought another nest box and placed it on a tree outside of our dining room. I was hopeful we would watch nuthatches raise a family while we enjoyed our dinner. A pair took up residence in the nest box and laid a clutch of four eggs. Unfortunately, a house sparrow (Passer domesticus) killed all the eggs, threw them from the nest box and claimed the box for itself.

When I discovered this, I was livid. Researching house sparrows, I learned they are an invasive species introduced from England and are known for taking over nest boxes and displacing native birds, in particular, blue birds.

I also learned I simply needed to narrow the opening to the nest box. House sparrows don’t tolerate openings that are 1 ΒΌ-inch in diameter whereas native song birds such as White-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees have no issue with an opening that small. To displace the unwelcome occupant, I opened the access panel to the nest box, dumped the contents and tilted it at an angle so that the house sparrow could not build a nest in it. It returned daily with nesting materials but all fell out to the ground. I then purchased the appropriate constrictors and attached them to the two nest boxes I had, preventing the house sparrow from entering.

This year, much to our delight, the nuthatches came back to raise a clutch of four chicks in one of the nest boxes. It was a joy to see the chicks following the adults around from tree to tree, learning how to forage for food.

A picture of a nest box containing a nest.
A nest box containing a nest in it.

I have a yearly schedule for the nest boxes. I empty the boxes in the fall on the first of October and fill them with wood shavings every spring on March 1st. Emptying and refilling them annually reduces the parasite load, thus, reducing risk for the birds.

We now have three nest boxes, this year one was occupied a Black-capped Chickadee family and another was used by a nuthatch family. The third was too close to another box, so, it remained unoccupied. I moved it further away this fall, I hope it will to be occupied next summer. If all three boxes are occupied next year, I’ll buy another nest box and place it in the other corner of our yard. With luck, in a year or two, we’ll have four families of song birds living in our yard.

Acorn Bombardment

We have a dozen White oak (Quercus alba) trees on our property, several of which are large and overhang the house, patio, and sidewalks. Starting in August, there is a constant staccato of knocks on the roof when the oaks drop their ripe acorns. When the wind gusts, the bombardment from the falling acorns is particularly heavy. And this year, the bombardment has been especially heavy, even on calm days with little wind.

Last year, the oaks produced a very small crop of acorns, so much so that I don’t recall seeing any on the walkways. This year, as if to compensate for last year’s meager output, the oaks produced a copious quantity of acorns. Regardless if we sweep the walkways once or twice a day, by the next morning, they are covered with acorns.

An image of acorns scattered on a sidewalk.
Acorns scattered on a sidewalk.

This morning, the bombardment by the back steps seemed strangely intense and concentrated. Looking out the window, I saw two acorns hit Lizzie in quick succession. When I went to investigate, I saw a gray squirrel up on a branch. It was the cause of the intensified bombardment!

After the squirrel had ran off to a different tree, I ran inside the house to retrieve my phone so I could take photos. Returning with the phone, I squatted to take pictures of the acorns scattered on the sidewalk when I was hit on the head by an acorn! Unbeknownst to me, the squirrel had returned while I was inside and had renewed his bombardment!

An image of acorns scattered on a sidewalk
Acorns scattered on a sidewalk.