The Durango Nature Center is a hybrid between a place that is kept in its natural state and managed to maximize observation of native species.
This means that although we try to allow flora and fauna to exist without much interference from us, we occasionally provide ways to make it an educational experience for visitors. When we can provide these opportunities through community partnerships, those experiences are that much more valuable.
Last weekend, we helped install 15 new bird boxes as part of an Eagle Scout project conducted by Boy Scout Nick Jernigan. The project helped him complete his badge but also helped Durango Nature Studies create a wonderful opportunity for the public to observe the many cavity-nesting birds that live at the nature center.
Wildlife biologist and DNS board member Aimee Way served as the consultant on the project. She made sure the boxes were placed in areas of optimum nesting habitat for the many species that live at the center. Cavity nesters (especially secondary) can often be enticed to use nest boxes like the ones installed.
Primary cavity nesters are birds that excavate their own nest cavity in trees. Some found at the nature center include woodpeckers, flickers and sapsuckers. Secondary cavity nesters are those that use old nests or natural holes. Some of these include ash-throated flycatchers, swallows, chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, some owls, some kingfishers and bluebirds.
Primary cavity nesters, such as the woodpecker, have chisel-like beaks and excavate their nests in about two weeks. The problem many cavity nesters face is getting trapped in their nests by a predator or a flood. Therefore, many primary cavities are created on the downward facing side of a branch.
Different species have different strategies for keeping out predators. The red-breasted nuthatch, for example, smears sap around the cavity opening and white-breasted nuthatches smear foul smelling insects around theirs.
Forest management practices that remove dead or diseased trees hurt habitat for cavity nesters, who often excavate or find holes in dead wood. Because the nature center does not manage its cottonwoods or piñon-juniper forests in this way, many cavity nesting birds nest there. However, nests are often built in branches around 20 feet high or dense shrubs, making observation difficult.
The new bird boxes will provide visitors a chance to actually observe the breeding habits of birds that will use artificial cavities. Durango Nature Studies is creating a map and guide for the 2016 season, which will tell visitors about the types of birds they might see and show where each bird box is placed. We will also have a daily listing of which boxes are occupied.
Way says, “Activities people may observe include birds bringing nest material during the early spring to parents delivering food to young later in the summer.”
Sally Shuffield is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-9244.