This photo of a female Eastern Bluebird sitting on a nest made of cattail (Typha latifolia) fluff was taken in 2007 at Penn State in Harrisburg, PA by Andy Ohrman, President of the Bluebird Society of Pennsylvania. He did not see the bluebird construct the nest. He did monitor the box, and the bluebird family fledged successfully.
Andy indicated that there are pine trees in the area, but this bluebird chose cattails from a small nearby pond, which is very good warm material for a cold Spring. The nest will be added to the BSP nest collection. It will be interesting to see if a cattail nest appears again in the future.
Tree Swallows were nesting in this box (above) in 2006. Photo by Shari Kastner of Berlin, Wisconsin. She indicated the nest was in a suburban area with various trees (pines, maple, etc.) cut grass, small ponds and flower beds. I have never seen a Tree Swallow nest with maple seeds in it, although there are plenty of maples in my area. Tree Swallow nests in CT are made with dried grass or pine needles. I wondered whether another creature (a rodent?) added the maple seeds to the nest which was then used by a TRES. However, the box is mounted on a metal pole (no baffle) but does not look like it would be readily accessible to a rodent.
After these birds nested, Shari cleaned the box out, and Eastern Bluebirds nested in it, in a nest also made of maple tree seeds with leaves and grass, below. Jenny of Southern Maryland reported seeing a bluebird getting maple seeds from the gutter and putting several in a nest.
Sometimes birds will use a nest made by another bird or animal, so unless the birds are seen actually carrying the unusual nesting material into the box, it's hard to be sure they were the "creators." For example, an abandoned Eastern Bluebird nest (see photo) was used by a Black-capped Chickadee, possibly after a failed nesting attempt elsewhere. The only modification made was addition of some fur to the nest cup. In another case, I found a Black-capped Chickadee nest used by Tree Swallows, with the only addition being a few feathers.
Thank you Andy and Shari for allowing me to post your incredible photos.
You cannot begin to preserve any species of animal unless you preserve the habitat in which it dwells. Disturb or destroy that habitat and you will exterminate the species as surely as if you had shot it. So conservation means that you have to preserve forest and grassland, river and lake, even the sea itself. This is vital not only for the preservation of animal life generally, but for the future existence of man himself—a point that seems to escape many people.
-Gerald Durrell, The Nature Conservancy
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