Nest Boxes at Deer Pond Farm
Nest boxes provide cavity nesting birds, including Purple Martins, Eastern Bluebirds, Wood Ducks, and American Kestrel, a place to have their young. These species are experiencing declining populations, partially attributed to the loss of nesting habitat. The introduction of nest boxes has allowed for the positive growth of population numbers by helping to combat that habitat loss in our local area. Nest boxes at Deer Pond Farm include twenty-four Purple Martin gourds, thirteen Eastern Bluebird boxes, six Wood Duck boxes, and one American Kestrel box. Deer Pond Farm is certified as a NestWatch nest monitor through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
In 2021, Purple Martins (PUMA) had their first nesting season with nine chicks hatched at Deer Pond Farm. Designated as a Species of Special Concern in Connecticut, this newly established colony is a critical new “stepping stone” to other PUMA breeding areas that might offer suitable habitat for the next generation of young, who do not nest in the same place where they were hatched.
On July 13, 2021, the nine nestlings were banded under the direction of Laurie Doss, Purple Martin Conservation Association Board Member, Marvelwood School Science Department Chair and licensed bander under the CT DEEP Wildlife Division. Banding is a technique used by ornithologists to identify characteristics of birds, such as their individual identity or the location where they were born, when they are sighted later at another location. One or two small color-coded or numbered bands are secured around the lower leg. The Deer Pond Farm colony band colors are purple and green. A silver numbered band is also placed on the other leg to uniquely identify each individual.
The Purple Martin colony is located a short distance from our visitor parking, behind the office area near a pond. The white plastic gourds have three different styles of openings, each intended to discourage competing bird species. To attract more new adult Purple Martins from other colonies, two life-sized decoys are attached to each gourd tower and a calling device is also utilized. The calling device broadcasts the Purple Martin’s characteristic dawn call for a few hours each morning through late summer.
The towers were first put up in 2018 after consulting with Laurie Doss. Gourds are set up annually during the first week of April and taken down and cleaned in mid-October. Dry Eastern White Pine needles are placed in the gourds for nesting material. Female Purple Martins add leaves to line the nest before they deposit eggs. Purple Martins were first observed in the area in 2018 and in 2019, male and female Purple Martins “scouts” were observed flying over, singing, perching on towers, and entering gourds in increasing numbers. It was not until 2021 that nesting occurred, resulting in the successful hatching of nine chicks.
Purple Martins are the largest swallow species in North America. These graceful and acrobatic fliers chase and catch insects on the wing in open areas, usually near water. They are very social! Because they nest in groups and require cavities, their population is limited by suitable nesting sites such as large, decaying trees. In the eastern US, they are entirely dependent on artificial structures provided by humans, or “Purple Martin Landlords”. The white gourds reflect the sun’s heat and protect the nestlings from predators like hawks and owls, while the baffles on the towers deter climbing snakes and raccoons. After breeding, they migrate up to 5,000 miles to overwinter in South America.
While visiting Deer Pond Farm or other Purple Martin colonies during the nesting season, please respect the busy parents and do not linger near the gourds.
To learn more, visit the website of the Purple Martin Association and read the CT Audubon Society’s 2013 State of the Birds report, The Seventh Habitat and the Decline of Our Aerial Insectivores.
During the 2021 nesting season at Deer Pond Farm, we successfully fledged 30 Eastern Bluebirds out of our 12 nest boxes. Our dedicated group of volunteers monitored the boxes weekly, collecting data that was then entered into NestWatch.org to keep track of success rate and patterns over the years. As with any nest box program we had our challenges and variables throughout the season, including multiple nest boxes destroyed by Black Bears. For the 2022 nesting season, we decided to try something new in an attempt to counter these losses by installing recycled PVC boxes in replacement of the lost traditional cedar boxes. These boxes are much stronger, and may be better able to withstand or deter an encounter with a Black Bear.
Eastern Bluebirds are a brightly colored, medium sized migratory songbird in the Thrush family and call Deer Pond Farm home for much of the year. In addition to using the nest boxes for breeding, they also utilize them during the winter months as communal roost sites, offering an important role in their year-round survival. Research shows that the Eastern Bluebird populations have been in decline over the past few decades, making the conservation efforts happening here even more rewarding.
The Eastern Bluebird boxes are located in open meadow habitats and stay up year-round. They are monitored weekly during the breeding season and cleaned in late summer when breeding season is over. Nesting material used by Eastern Bluebirds consists of fine grasses and pine needles. In 2019, 35 Eastern Bluebirds fledged from our nest boxes and in 2020, there were 44 fledglings. To learn more, visit the website of the North American Bluebird Society.
The Wood Duck boxes also stay up year-round and are located on posts in ponds and near the shorelines of wetlands. The boxes are cleaned in winter when the water is frozen. Dry wood shavings are placed by staff in the boxes for nesting material. Female Wood Ducks line the nest with their own feathers. Wood Ducks have been observed at many locations in the sanctuary, but they are very skittish and tend to take cover when people are nearby. Confirmation of Wood Duck breeding was made in 2020 with observation of a fledgling, plus 17 broken eggs were cleaned out of the nearby box the following winter. For more information, visit the CT DEEP Wildlife Division’s Wood Duck factsheet.
In the winter of 2021, Deer Pond Farm added an American Kestrel box to our nest box program. The Kestrel box was installed on a tree adjacent to a meadow, where it stays up year-round. Dry wood shavings are placed by staff in the box for nesting material, and it is cleaned yearly. Additional information on American Kestrel can be found on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website.
Click here for the CT Audubon Deer Pond Farm Nest Box Information sheet.