Tree swallows are thriving in the Meadowlands once again, thanks to an innovative nesting box program.
And the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission now has the data to prove it.
With a huge boost from local scout troops, families and other groups, the Meadowlands Commission has erected some 250 nesting boxes in marshes throughout the 30.4-square-mile district.
They found that more than 60 percent were occupied by nesting pairs, with 610 eggs laid and more than 480 nestlings successfully fledged as of July 15.
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It has been estimated that a family of tree swallows can eat hundreds upon hundreds of midges, mosquitoes and other insects in a day.
The birds arrive in the district in April, raise their families, then migrate to Florida and points south again in midsummer.
The nest-box program began nearly 20 years ago when a Meadowlands Commission naturalist put up a few nesting boxes for the six-inch-long birds, which have slowly been losing places to nest as the region gets built-out.
The program has grown into a major grassroots effort. For the past six years, the Meadowlands Commission has conducted workshops that have enabled families and groups to build the nesting houses from kits – and then donate them to the tree swallows.
The community response has been strong, including families, scouts, Women’s Clubs, and a group of adults with developmental disabilities that created boxes so beautiful that the NJMC naturalists hate to put them in a marsh.
But building the nesting boxes is just the start.
After putting the boxes on poles along the edge of marshes throughout the district over the past two decades, Bennett-Meany and Newhouse are now in a labor-intensive effort to record the activity in each of the 250 boxes every two to three weeks.
The Meadowlands and its more than 8,000 acres of urban wetlands are prime habitat not just for tree swallows.
The district provides a year-round or seasonal home for more than 260 avian species, many of them threatened and endangered.
Like the tree swallow, many of these imperiled birds breed in the Meadowlands.
They underscore its importance, both as a magnet for birds and as an indispensable habitat for other species whose population has been dwindling.