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Killer bees

Toa Kyle | Aug 21, 2006


Back from my first stint in the field getting things set up for the coming months.  We set up six nest boxes, mainly choosing forest islands where nests failed last year (due mostly to low quality nests in those areas).  Now the waiting game begins.  Will any of these boxes have Blue-throat chicks in them in 4 months (or will they be used by smaller, non-target species)?  We’ll be keeping an eye on the boxes will continue to search for nests in tree cavities. 

One of the disappointing things I observed last week was the loss of three hardwood nesting trees from past seasons.  Hardwood trees are generally better nests as then motacu snags as they are stronger (i.e. don’t easily fall over), less prone to flooding and can last for many subsequent nesting seasons.  We may have lost at least three hardwood nests already.  One the afternoon we arrived to our field camp I saw one of the nesting pairs from last year fly to the crown from last season and call loudly.  Good news, I thought, we’ve already got one nest being guarded.  Alas the next morning on closer inspection I realized the nest cavity at this tree had been taken over by Africanized bees.  We tried on three occasions to get rid of them (to often comical effect as we tried one failed method after another to get them out).  Final score; Bees: 3, Humans: 0.  Admittedly we weren’t adequately equipped to deal with bee removal.  We improvised bee suits with motorcycle helmets, duck-taping as best we could any gaps between clothing. 

They found their way in to sting us anyways, the worst being when they got into the helmet.  One could only wait for the thing to land somewhere on your face and deliver the venom.  On a positive note, the stings became less painful with each successive dosage.  I have a new found respect for bees (but am determined to get rid of them my next trip out there in a week’s time!).

The other two hardwood tree nests suffered from new large holes located above the nest cavity.  Not good to keep torrential rain out.  I’m not sure if woodpeckers expanded these holes or the trees are getting old and worn down.  Blue-throat pairs may still use these nests later on but we’ve seen in the past that nests with open crowns are lousy nests.  Easy to predate and flood prone (even with drain holes drilled at the base of the nest).  I need to devise a way to cover up these holes while maintaining a natural appearance to the nests.  I’ve got a recipe for sawdust, cement and wood glue that may just work.  Call it nest reconstruction if you will.

I didn’t see as many Blue-throats as I’d have liked this past trip but one week isn’t really sufficient to get a feel for who many birds are out there.  I visited one roost we know of and was disappointed to see only one pair of Blue-throats there (we saw 3 pairs there in late 2005).  It’s a really special place this roost.  Located in a 3ha forest island, over one hundred Blue-fronted Amazons sleep there too, including around 20 Blue and Gold Macaw, four Green-winged Macaw and a host of other birds including herons, ibis and toucans.  Curiously we ended up seeing another two pairs in the area the next morning that didn’t use the roost the previous night.  We’re still a long way from understanding how habitat use varies over time for Blue-throats, as birds are absent from one area at certain times of the year, only to show up later on in our study season.

I’m leaving tomorrow to set up the second of the three field camps for this season.  We didn’t have any luck with nesting success in this area last year (though there were several nesting attempts that didn’t pan out).  I’m optimistic that we can turn things around there this time around.