Duck Caldwell, Senior Advisor
In our first spring on the farm in 2022, we were brimming with excitement for all the possibilities. In addition to being able to grow programming to meet demand, stewarding the land brought with it weighty responsibilities. And as we saw it, one of those responsibilities was to lessen the impact of our farming practices on the land and all its creatures by finding ways to support and create wildlife habitat, from the soil microbes right up to large predators.
One immediate, low-cost project was identified, which was to install 13 songbird nest boxes around three farm fields. Our goal was to attract specific species that are beneficial to farming but that need additional nesting support due to habitat loss. A recent study by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology proved that encouraging and supporting bird habitat on fruit farms in California was more effective in managing pests – including rodents – than the widespread chemical means currently in use. It has also been widely shown that certain chemical use on farms can destroy soil health, cause disease in pollinators, and kill birds.
The boxes we installed are small wooden boxes mounted on poles, which a person can easily reach from the ground. This was important because we wanted to monitor the boxes weekly to to check on nesting activity, and to be able to intervene if there was predator activity (such as raccoons), invasive species (such as House Sparrows and European Starlings), or pests (such as mites) threatening the eggs or any hatchlings. We were delighted to find almost immediate occupancy by Black-capped Chickadees, Eastern Bluebirds, House Wrens, and Tree Swallows. Most of our boxes were utilized, and our monitoring insured that there was minimal disruption from invasive species. Additional nesting species we have monitored outside of nest boxes include Carolina Wrens, Killdeer, and Barn Swallows.
This spring, we installed another 8 nest boxes around our largest field, which also borders Fort Brook Pond. This brought many more Tree Swallows into nest boxes, happily, as they prefer to be near a body of water. This species is currently declining in numbers, as are most migratory species, due to habitat loss and environmental toxicity. It is very satisfying to see the Tree Swallows acrobatic flying over the fields, watching them eat thousands of insects, and knowing that we are providing safe habitat and supporting their ability to reproduce successfully.
Boston Area Gleaners
91 Martin Street
Acton, MA 01720