July 14, 2014: Almost done! Or are we????

fledglingIt’s mid July, and for migratory songbirds in the far north, fall is in the air! All but our two latest nests have fledged. Although there are still chattering groups of Tree Swallows in the area, they will soon be on their way! (Photo at left is a fledgling beginning to explore the world beyond the nest box!)

Our biggest surprise has been two new nests that appeared recently at our University of Alaska site! One hatched yesterday (JULY 13!!!), and the other is still in incubation. These are by far the latest nests we have recorded in 16 years. We’ll be trapping and banding the adults this week and may be able to tell (if they are banded) if these adults made an earlier attempt at nesting this year in the area.  Stay tuned for more info as we begin to enter and analyze our data.

We would like to give one more HUGE thank you to all the students, as well as our incredible intern Eri Nakanishi, whose hard work and dedication was essential to our successful season.

Also, this project would not happen without the generous financial support of: ConocoPhillips Alaska, BP, the Skaggs Foundation, and the members of the Alaska Songbird Institute. THANK YOU for supporting science education and bird conservation in Interior Alaska! 


July 3, 2014: Rain, rain go away!

fledglingmeasuring bugsgeolocators

Record rainfall in Interior Alaska for the month of June has been a challenge for aerial insectivores like Tree Swallows. Growing chicks need an incredible amount of food, and the relentless rain has greatly decreased the time available for adults to hunt flying insects.  As a result we have noted a handful of failed nests (so far), and the significantly underweight chicks are barely big enough to band at 12-13 days old, as opposed to the usual 10. The birds are showing some adaptability and resiliency, as we have heard them chattering in the brush during the rain, and observed them feeding their chicks a diversity of invertebrates.

We have experienced a wide variety in timing this year. Our earliest nest fledged on June 25, and our latest nest just hatched this week on July 2. We are almost done banding adults, and have recovered FOUR of the 12 geolocators we deployed last year at Creamer’s Field!!! We are so excited to learn what these little devices may reveal about the migratory routes and timing of these northernmost swallows.

Once again, many thanks to our hard working crew of youth & teens who together have volunteered almost 330 hours to working on the project! THANKS Hannah, Tjarn, Jordan, Maggie, Katy, Natalie, Rowan, Lex, Hank, Dana, Will, Logan, Ali, Ahnika, Aubrey, Elsa, Jennah, Kinsey and our intern extraordinaire Eri.

Photos (clockwise from top left): Students at work weighing chicks and recording data; a young fledging at age 21 days; geolocators retrieved from returning swallows. All photos by Alaska Songbird Institute.


June 18, 2014: Hatching, banding, & more!dinnertime


It has been a busy month! Between Creamer’s Field & the University of Alaska, Fairbanks campus, our students are monitoring 61 active Tree Swallow nests. The majority of our nests have recently hatched, and the parents are busy feeding their ever-hungry chicks while we are busy banding as many of these breeding adults as possible.

The bands help us track site fidelity (how many of the birds return to the same area year after year). We have made some interesting discoveries this year! Most of our older birds (who have been returning for at least 2 years) breed very close to the same location (in the very same nest box, or a neighboring box). We have at least one pair that is together again for the second consecutive year!

While banding the adults, we collect basic morphological measurements on each bird and take fecal samples. The fecal samples will assist a graduate student from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who is investigating the impact of declining bee populations on North America’s songbirds. (He will screen the samples for the presence of bee DNA in the swallow’s feces, thereby determining what percentage of their diet is currently made up bees!)

At the same time we are also looking for the 12 geolocators we put on birds at Creamer’s Field last season. We have retrieved three so far! These tiny devices will reveal some of the mysteries of each bird’s migratory route and wintering area. They are part of a large collaborative study that will allow scientists to look at migratory connectivity across western North America.

Our amazing crew of students (ages 10-17) have volunteered over 200 hours on the project so far this season. HUGE THANKS to: Hannah, Tjarn, Jordan, Maggie, Katy, Natalie, Rowan, Lex, Hank, Dana, Will, Logan, Ali, Ahnika, Aubrey, Elsa, Jennah, Kinsey and our intern Eri. 



May 17, 2014: First eggs of the season!

swallow eggs_May 19th

The very first Tree Swallow eggs appeared on May 17. This is the EARLIEST lay date on record for our project at Creamer’s Field.(Data goes back to 1999.)  Interestingly, this pair is alone in its early strategy and seemed to take a day off amid laying. Most birds will lay one egg each day until their clutch is complete. It will be very interesting to see if all the eggs hatch and how the chicks fare being a week ahead of the other swallows hatching out around Fairbanks!

The next clutches did not begin to appear until a full week later then these early birds–May 24 at Creamer’s Field, and May 25 at UAF. This is very close to the mean lay date for most recent years. So far we have 16 active nests between the two sites and expect many more to begin laying in the next few days. Stay tuned!


May 2, 2014: The Tree Swallows have arrived!


The first Tree Swallows arrived at Creamer’s Field just in time for the Spring Migration Celebration! The birds will begin scoping out nesting sites and building their nests in the next couple of weeks. We will keep an eye on what’s happening and will begin checking the boxes in mid May to monitor nest construction and egg laying. Thanks to all the students who have signed up to help!

(Photo by Brain Ralphs from Flickr Creative Commons)

April 19, 2014: Swallows are on the way!


The first Violet-green Swallow was reported on Arctic Audubon’s annual spring birdwatching trip to Delta Junction on April 19!This means the rest of the birds won’t be far behind. Break up has been early and fast in Interior Alaska, so we anticipate an early start to the season. We have 16 students on board to help out, and are busy scheduling student trainings and ensuring all the nest boxes are cleared out and in good repair. (Photo by Alan Vernon from Flickr Creative Commons)