In hiking different segments of the Prescott Circle Trail over the last few weeks, I have had several interesting bird sightings. This past week, I hiked the segment from the intersection of Pioneer Parkway and Williamson Valley Road to Pioneer Park. The trail wanders for several miles through pinyon-juniper and scrub habitat on the north side of Pioneer Parkway. Eventually the trail goes through a large, cement box culvert underneath Pioneer Parkway into Pioneer Park.
As I approached the culvert, I noticed a pair of northern rough-winged swallows perched in the scrubby habitat. I had been on the trail for almost an hour and a half and had not encountered any swallows, so it struck me as odd to see two swallows perched in this location. Birds are very habitat specific, and this was not where I would have expected to have seen rough-winged swallows.
Almost instantly, however, a thought came into my mind—“this pair of swallows is here because the box culvert is where they are nesting.” The reason the swallows were there wasn’t so much about habitat or food; it was about a place to rear young.
As I approached the entrance to the culvert, I immediately saw their nest site — a recessed tube in the concrete.
The ingenuity of birds continually impresses me—in this instance, their resourcefulness in adapting to and utilizing a man-made structure to meet a need. The fact that this lone pair of swallows found a remote location to place their nest, far removed from where other rough-winged swallows nest, fascinated me.
At a recent speaking engagement, I discussed the four basic needs of wild birds — food, water, shelter, and a place to rear young. As a homeowner, it is relatively easy to provide food and water to attract wild birds. Providing shelter and a place to rear young require more effort. Shelter is a year-round need for birds, whereas places for them to rear their young is more of a seasonal need, based on nest-building, egg-laying, incubation, and rearing young.
Birds usually place their nests in locations that are well hidden and that provide protection from the elements and from predators. Predators abound — snakes, house cats, raccoons, skunks, and other birds, such as hawks, roadrunners, ravens and jays.
Wild birds’ needs for shelter and a place to rear their young are best met by yards that are filled with native trees and shrubs.
As much as possible, leave your yard wild and native. Don’t clean it up to the point that it is sterile and void of thickets and brambles. Dense vegetation, brush piles and plants that grow down to the ground provide a protective shelter, under which birds can nest, and offer the greatest chance for a successful breeding cycle.
Some local birds — such as ash-throated flycatchers, bridled titmice, Bewick’s wren and woodpeckers — nest in cavities. Providing man-made nesting boxes can be useful for some of these species. Providing nest-building materials can also be helpful, such as cottontail nesting balls or hummer-helper nest-building materials.
Upcoming activities: At 7 p.m. tonight, Thursday, April 19, the Prescott Audubon Society meets at Trinity Presbyterian Church, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 21, the Earth Day Celebration will be held in Prescott on Cortez Street between Gurley and Goodwin Street by the courthouse plaza.
I hope to see you there!
Until next week, happy birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with three locations in northern Arizona – Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. He has been an avid birder for more than 50 years. For questions about wild birds, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.