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Report prepared for The Sanctuary Project by Tomkin G; Williams R and Garrett C. 

April 2010


Nest Boxes and Gourds for the 2010 Season

For the 2010 season 74 nesting boxes of varying dimensions with entrance holes of 1.25 to 1.5 inches have been cleaned out and hung, usually more than 7 feet up and hanging from a branch at least 3 feet from the trunk. About 17 are on the trunks. 

For Purple Martins, 62 gourds have been placed in five towers in a more open location than previously. 36 of these are of white plastic with a slightly smaller entrance hole than the brown ones. Preliminary observations in April 2010 indicate the new white gourds are not popular.


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Volunteers Rachel Williams and Christopher Garrett working hard on data collection and box assessment and cleaning - 12 Mar 2010 - 

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Two Seasons without Cleaning -

60 boxes were cleaned and hung in early 2008 and were left in position during the winter of 2008 - 2009. 15 more were hung in May 2009, which was rather late, as most of these were not used. All boxes were cleaned, repaired and checked 12 Mar 2010.  The hole sizes were 1.25 to 1.3 inches (27 boxes) and 1.4 to 1.5 inches (35 boxes) and each type showed about 80% occupancy. Nest types appeared to be sparrows (mainly), blue birds and chickadee (titmouse). Three had mud-dauber runnels; five had ants present, of which two also had mud-dauber work. No snake skins this time ("Birding_2" box 'AL' 2005).

Drop Height from Entrance Hole

Unused nest boxes with a drop from the nest hole entrance to the base ranged from 9.0 to 5.0 inches with an average of 6.4 inches in 21 cases. Used nest boxes drop heights ranged from 8.5 to 3.3 inches with an average of 5.5 inches (52 cases).

It therefore appears birds like boxes with slightly smaller drops, so those with a drop exceeding 5.5 inches are less likely to be used, irrespective of the entrance hole size (between 1.25 and 1.5 inch). This suggests the drop height of the well-known Peterson bluebird house is on the long side at 8 inches, and might successfully be shortened to 7.5 or 7.0, at least for use in this area.


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Each box is hooked on a long pole and maneuvered into place on a suitable branch

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Purple Martin Gourds

38 purple martin gourds were placed in two areas. Two towers had 12 gourds each of brown plastic and were within 30 feet of trees. The lower tier of gourds in each was 12 feet from the ground and were not used (8 gourds). A third tower was placed in a more open space with the lowest tier at 14 feet. Here 5 of 6 of the lowest tier were used.

Two years observations had almost identical results, as about 40 % (23/38) occupancy took place. The new placement is over 70 feet from the nearest tree in more open ground, and five towers are in a group.

Nesting Platforms and Duck Boxes

14 platforms were placed in four locations and only 4 were used (28%) by swallows.

Two duck boxes were placed beside open water. So far no signs of use.


Our thanks to trusty volunteer assistants, including Sherman Williams Jr (12); Rachel Williams (16); Christopher Garrett (20); John Carter (20); Debbie Carter (55); Ben Page (27) and Jeremy McKee (32).

Real Science

The more alert of the readers will have noticed this report is written in quasi-scientific format. There are two killer reasons preventing this being usefully scientific (a) not enough data points in each of the groups discussed and (b) lazy and inaccurate observations, including the types of birds, egg counts, and much more. The design and location of the boxes prevents any checking inside during the season, and observations are limited to "Oh that looks like another LBJ beside that there box." (LBJ = Little Brown Job). Not very scientific, and dead lazy to boot. So any conclusions should be viewed as seriously suspect. Especially remarks about Petersen bluebird boxes, as we have zero comparative samples.

Environmental Help

But we have done some work and not all was a waste, especially since we have made a small move towards environmental improvement by placing almost all of the nesting boxes among pine trees. As you all know, pine trees are inimical to most life, and it is good to see avian action among these trees which would otherwise not be taking place.

The birds are certainly having a good time, and that has been the whole point.


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Not only the birds have a good time

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Cocktails at Sundown

We're looking forward to late June, when the 62 gourds are bound to provide a real show as the purple martins wind up to fever pitch. If once again we achieve 40 % occupancy, this will imply about 25 breeding pairs with 2 offspring each, making about 75 birds altogether. About 50 feet from the gourd towers we have our patio table and chairs in place ready for the tall drinks with tinkling ice to enjoy their evening antics as they come to roost. It'll be a sad day in late July when they head south for their endless summer in Brazil.


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Table (left) lists box types with contents 08/09 as hung early 2010. Map (right) shows locations. Please click to show each image properly; then 'maximize' with bottom right button (pointer hover to find)

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Gourd Tower (left) shows simple plastic pipe construction. Five Towers (right) sway with the wind. The birds do not care as long as they stay up!

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