Pymatuning: Comfortable living for Birds

On Tuesday April 12th, our Tweetspeak cluster had the opportunity to go to the Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area. This wetland environment supports 653 acres of emergent marsh habitat with a variety of bird species, but most notably, waterfowl. Over our day long field trip we made a count of over 30 bird species including Bald Eagles, a Northern Harrier, a Belted Kingfisher, Purple Martins, Canada Geese, and Eastern Bluebirds.

Before braving the harsh cold wind and venturing through the marsh to examine the waterfowl in and around the lake, I couldn’t help but marvel at the intriguing purple martin house.This set the tone for the rest of my birding experience that day.

Purple Martin Housing

Amongst the many questions than ran through my head as I looked at this beautifully structured bird house, I wondered why this bird house was raised so high. I know that, in general, bird boxes/houses are raised to avoid predation. After doing some research, I learned that I was right: It has to do with how sensitive Purple Martins are to predation. Because of their large breeding colony, it only takes one predator disturbance by a snake, squirrel, raccoon or a few visits from an owl, hawk, or crow to make the martins abandon their home. Aside from protection from predation, the hight of the housing relates to their need for big open spaces to be able to feed on insects in the sky. The house has to be taller than any tree in a 40-60ft radius so that they are free to perform their acrobatics. Another striking feature of this house, is it’s white coloring. According to an instructional site on maintaining martin bird houses, the white coloration enables better reflection of the sun, allowing for better cooling for nestlings within the house. Looking at the structure of the housing, it is designed to accommodate large colonies of Purple Martins and for sturdy protection from environmental weather conditions.

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Goose Nesting Boxes

Intrigued by the purple martin house, I couldn’t help but also be interested in all the other nesting boxes around the marsh. It wasn’t until we got scared by a Canada Goose flying out of one of them that we realized these were made for the Canada Geese on the lake. Similar to the Martin housing, some of the goose nesting boxes also had predator baffles and were raised. While these features do protect against mammals, I would venture to say that it would still be easier for mammals to access these types of boxes compared to other ones, since they are closer inland.While I did not see these at Pymatuning, floating nest boxes would serve better protection against mammals considering that they can be placed further out into a body of water. However, the raised nesting boxes still serve their purpose when it comes to providing shelter from wind and good nesting with the provided straw.

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A great learning experience

From our class’ visit to Pymatuning, I learned a lot about bird houses considering that I had never seen a goose nesting in a bird box before. I had always assumed that they just nested on the banks. Another learning curve was from learning to pay attention to signs. We unfortunately trespassed into a disturbing site at the Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area. It is always fun to explore around a habitat, but first it’s important to make sure that it is not prohibited in the area. Aside from this, it was a joy to be able to see so many different bird species. You never know what to expect when birding, but you always keep your eyes peeled to see what you see and your ears open to hear what you hear.


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