March is a month of big changes in the Meadowlands.
The lingering snow piles and biting-cold winds finally disappear, you can taste the spring in the air, and some of our favorite avian visitors start arriving.
Ospreys, which have successfully nested again in Kearny and Carlstadt in recent years for the first time we can remember, should be returning by mid-month.
The Tree Swallows are the real crowd-pleasers.
“We should get a few of these beautiful little birds on the next really nice day,” says the NJMC Naturalist Gabrielle Bennett-Meany (right), who spearheads the NJMC’s Tree-Swallow nesting box program. “But early April is when they arrive by the hundreds.”
For the iridescent blue and white birds, the lure is the same as it has been for more than a decade: Thanks to community groups, scouts, and schoolchildren, the Meadowlands offers some of the best housing opportunities around.
This Saturday Meadowlands Commission staffers will work with students from the Secaucus Middle School Environmental Club to build 50 nesting boxes for nearby Secaucus High School Marsh and Mill Creek Marsh. Home Depot of Secaucus is providing the pre-cut wood for the boxes and helping with the construction.
Last week, with an assist from the Home Depot of North Bergen, the Ridgefield Environmental Commission and 30 volunteers built 34 Tree Swallow boxes last week for Skeetkill Creek Marsh. (Bergen County Audubon Society also pitched in with $100 in materials and building know-how.)
And in early February, Eagle Scout candidate Michael Effner of Troop 120 in North Arlington supervised the construction of 15 Tree Swallow boxes for DeKorte Park.
All told, that’s nearly 100 new homes for returning Tree Swallows.
“The boxes are an easy project for all sorts of groups, and they produce tangible results,” says the NJMC’s Bennett-Meany. “The birds like the boxes so much they start to move in before we even have placed them in the marsh.”
Another reason the nest box projects are so popular is that these are amazing birds, says Bennett-Meany: “Tree Swallows are dynamic – just delightful to watch. They’ll fly right in front of you in search of insects. I’m never bored watching these little birds zip around looking for food.”
The benefits to the community go beyond the sense of accomplishment that goes with building nest boxes for these beautiful birds. Tree Swallows are some of nature’s best bug zappers. It has been estimated that a family of tree swallows can eat hundreds upon hundreds of midges, mosquitoes and other insects in a day.
NJMC Communications Officer Jim Wright maintains the Commission’s daily nature blog, meadowblog.net – featuring beautiful photography and the latest info on the region’s natural wonders.