20 Years of Nestboxes, plus Flycatcher Updates

Earlier this month, we had a celebration of 20 years of the Putah Creek Nestbox Highway. It was a wonderful opportunity for many of the past and present nestbox project staff, volunteers, donors, landowners, and other contributors to meet up and celebrate how the project has grown and evolved. Jean Jackman of the Davis Enterprise wrote a lovely article about the celebration and our project, which you can read by clicking here.

The ash-throated flycatchers (ATFL) have been moving in these past several weeks. We have banded 18 ATFL nestlings so far this year — more than last year! Our nestcam flycatchers have fledged, leaving the empty nest available for an eager pair of tree swallows. They were hanging around the nest even before the ATFLs were out, and now they’ve started building their grass nest on top of the old bed of fur.


Ash-throated flycatcher chicks, moments before leaving their nest for good


A tree swallow checking out the empty nestbox the next day

There are many birds laying second clutches in their nests this season, so once again there are eggs and small nestlings all along the creek. The second wave of banding has started.






Summer approaches

The school year is ending, and many of our nestbox interns will be leaving town for the summer. They’ve done a great job improving their wildlife monitoring skills, and they’ve been so helpful with this busy season. Thank you to all 49 of our volunteer interns this year, to the students with the museum that often help us out, and to the three other field leaders: undergraduate WFCB students DeLayni Millar and Estefania Maravillas, and ecology PhD student Alison Ke (Davis Nestbox Network). They not only collect data but also maintain suitable nestboxes for the birds. We appreciate your work, even if the birds don’t!


Bird Haven and Flycatchers

Our furthest nestbox site, Bird Haven, was just set up this year, but the nestboxes are already very popular with the birds up there. The site is more rural and quiet than our Putah Creek spots, especially during the songbird breeding season. We’ve gotten nests from house wrens, tree swallows, and an ash-throated flycatcher up there so far.


Students working with the museum checking Bird Haven nestboxes. Top left: Danielle and Matthew check a nestbox. Middle: DeLayni (left) measures a house wren chick while Lynette (right) records the data. Bottom: Estefania (left), the main monitor for this site, checks a box with volunteer UCD alumni Jake.


The eggs in our ash-throated flycatcher camera nest in Winters have hatched. The female has been hard at work feeding them a lot of moths while keeping the nest clean and warm. They’re growing quickly, and they’ll be banded tomorrow! We leave nestlings alone for a couple of weeks after banding to let them fledge, but this time with our camera, we’ll be able to continue to watch them even after that.


The female ash-throated flycatcher brings a moth to her small nestlings. They’re about three days old at this point.


The nestlings have grown a lot in a few days. Here they are shown at six days old.

Meanwhile, all of our sites are still busy with chicks to band! Our interns and field leaders are doing a great job keeping up.


From left: Interns Jenna T, Diego B, and Matthew C. band nestlings at Russell Ranch.


Nest Camera and More Chicks

We’re trying something new: we’ve installed a nest camera into one of our boxes. We had one box redesigned to fit a motion-activated camera on top, and we’ve started monitoring an ash-throated flycatcher nest that has eggs being incubated. It’s fun to see what’s happening on the inside when we’re not around!


We’re still in the middle of the busy banding season. Last weekend brought a sudden cold spell, and unfortunately some of our nestlings didn’t survive. Some have also succumbed to mite infestations in a few nests. But thankfully there are still plenty of healthy nestlings to band.


Tree swallows, house wrens, and bluebirds are all abundant along Putah Creek. Interns Doris W. (top right) and Michelle M. (bottom right) helped band and measure tree swallows.

The white-breasted nuthatches seem to be done with their breeding season here, and their nestlings are banded and ready to leave the nest. They’ve had an unusually successfull year! The ash-throated flycatchers (like our nest camera star) are just starting to lay and incubate their eggs, and I’m hoping they’ll have good luck too.


White-breasted nuthatch chicks a few weeks ago. These chicks are now out of the nest, but they’ll stay near their parents for a while more.


Ash-throated flycatcher eggs. We’re still awaiting the first egg hatching this year.

The creek has dried a lot since April, making the nest sites much easier to navigate. The recent colder weather has been strange, but I’m sure the summer heat will be coming soon.



Banding time at Putah Creek!

We’re in the middle of the first big peak of the breeding season. We’ve been banding lots of birds, and there are still dozens of nestlings that will need to be banded within the next couple of weeks. Our interns have been doing a great job of helping us get measurements and other data from the birds. It’s always fun to see people hold baby birds for the first time.

Clockwise from top left: white-breasted nuthatch, western bluebird, and tree swallow.

Interns focused on measuring nestlings. Clockwise from top left: C.C., Sam Y, Sophia P, RJ, Sophia V, and Alice M.

We’ve been able to catch several adult birds lately, too. This allows us to take record of any returning, previously-banded birds, and to band any new adults so we know where they’ve been in case we see them again in later years. All these birds are released as soon as we’re done writing down some quick data in the field.

Adult tree swallows in hand. Clockwise from top left: captured bird in bander’s grip, Amelia R, Sophia V, Tesa B, Alexis B, and Monica B.

Recently we also had a Nestbox Walk for the Yolo Audubon Society. The participants were able to take a closer look at the eggs and nestlings at our Picnic Grounds site. They took some great photos of adult birds, too!


Adult tree swallow. Photo: Zane P.

Swallow fligh shot

Tree swallow in flight. Photo: Zane P.

Nuthatches passing food

White-breasted nuthatch feeding its mate in a nestbox. Photo: Zane P.


Nestbox walk group with project interns watching a nestbox.


Davis Nestbox Nestlings

As of Sunday, May 14 (Mother’s Day!), there are 16 nestlings and 5 eggs along the Davis Nestbox Network! The 16 nestlings mean that all eggs that we observed so far have hatched, and no nestlings have been predated. The oldest nestlings are a group of 6 tree swallows by Northstar Pond:

We measure the wings of a few nestlings in each box to estimate their age and when they can be banded.

The youngest nestlings are a group of five bluebirds. They barely have any feathers yet!

All of these nestlings will be banded within one week. If we band them later, there is a risk that they fledge early. They grow up so fast! As none of the parents of these nestlings are banded, hopefully we will see some banded individuals return next year.

-Alison Ke

Covell Greenbelt Bluebirds

Today, we checked the Davis Nestbox Network boxes along the Covell Greenbelt and found eggs in two bluebird nests! Each nest had five eggs belonging to unbanded adults. We also found one more egg in the tree swallow nest, making 6 eggs total!

An unbanded male bluebird checking in on his eggs

To our surprise, when we took down one of the nest boxes, there was a female inside the box incubating eggs! We put the box back up immediately and waited for her to fly out.

beautiful turquoise bluebird eggs

There was also a tree swallow inside the nest box when we arrived. Warm eggs means that the birds have been incubating.

tree swallow parent checking out the surroundings

Fingers crossed for nestlings next time!

-Alison Ke