Tree swallows on the rise in local area (Score: )

July 31st, 2008

The Leader Newspapers, NJ
by john on Wednesday, J
By Susan C. Moeller- Senior Reporter
Mosquitoes beware. The tree swallow population is growing in the Meadowlands, and the little birds consume copious amounts of insects.

Naturalists at the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission recently announced that they have documented an increased number of breeding tree swallows in the local area. This year alone, 610 eggs were counted and 485 babies matured and flew from their nests.

Why are tree swallows choosing marshes near the bustling New Jersey Turnpike to raise their young?

Mike Newhouse, a wetlands specialist with the commission, credits the installation of nesting boxes, many of which were built by volunteers from the community.

Tree swallows are “cavity-nesting birds,” and they typically nest where woodpeckers have made holes in dead trees, Newhouse explained. Thus, suburban environments, with little open space and an aversion to dead trees, aren’t conducive to tree swallow nesting.

The commission’s nesting box program has given the swallows an alternative for nest building that’s not dependent on woodpeckers or hollow trees.

Roughly 250 of the boxes have been installed in the district, according to a statement released by the Meadowlands Commission. And 60 percent of the boxes were used this year — an occupancy rate higher than expected, Newhouse said.

“We knew tree swallows were nesting in these boxes, but until now we had no idea just how effective the boxes are,” stated Robert Ceberio, executive director of the commission.

Gabby Bennett-Meany, a program specialist at the NJMC, helps volunteers with nesting box projects, providing plans and details about material. Local boy scouts, high school biology students and a group of people with disabilities have all joined the effort, which the NJMC hopes to expand to 300-350 boxes in 2008.

In addition to nonprofit volunteers, Panasonic, with its North American headquarters in Secaucus, has made nesting box construction one of its eco-initiatives for October, explained David Thompson, director of the Corporate Environmental Affairs Department for the entertainment giant.

The company is trying to raise the environmental consciousness of its employees, encouraging them to volunteer in an ecologically responsible activity each month. Panasonic even provides its employees with the time off from work for such projects.

With the Hackensack River across the street from Panasonic’s offices, the nesting box project was a natural opportunity, Thompson added.

Birders get ready

The swallows, with their iridescent blue feathers, are easier to watch than some of their winged cousins. “We just love this dynamite little bird,” Bennett-Meany said.

But, Newhouse’s affinity for the birds isn’t based on their beauty or their temperament. It’s the mosquito and insect control that piques his interest.

Newhouse likened the tree swallows to the notorious nocturnal insectivores, bats. But, he noted, the tree swallows “are the daytime crew.”

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