I found these dead Black-capped Chickadee nestlings during routine monitoring on 6/7/08. I had checked the box on 6/1, and the eggs were in the process of hatching. The box is on a trail I recently adopted. The single holed boxes were all mounted on 4x4 wooden posts on a town green. The roofs have little overhang (2-5" overhangs can help prevent this kind of loss.)
I assume a cat climbed up on the roof and killed the mother as she was entering or leaving the box. The nest itself was undisturbed. I did not see any fur stuck on the box. However, the box and post had a number of sharp, fresh scratches in it. The babies were not injured, but were clearly wrinkled, and probably starved. One baby corpse was laying parallel to the front door by the entrance hole. The others were deep in the nestcup. They either starved to death, or died of exposure (only the female incubates.)
There was a 1.5" metal hole guard on the outside of the box, and a 1 1/8" hole restrictor on the inside of the box, to protect the chickadee nest from House Sparrows, as this is an experimental no trap trail.
The 7 single-holed boxes on this trail were plugged up, but someone removed the plugs, so they are in use. Three singled-holed pole-mounted boxes with a sparrow spookers on them successfully fledged bluebirds the same season.
Obviously I should have re-mounted the boxes on metal EMT with wobbling baffles, or at least put up a conical baffle or a NOEL guard. But I was too busy. This chickadee family paid the ultimate price. I later found out that a neighbor allows an outdoor cat to have a litter once a year to 'control mice."
I have three hanging boxes on this trail, but unfortunately chickadees have not shown any interest in them. They would have been a safer choice. A family of White-breasted Nuthatches in a hanging box on this trail fledged successfully after the loss of the chickadee nestlings.
You cannot begin to preserve any species of animal unless you preserve the habitat in which it dwells. Disturb or destroy that habitat and you will exterminate the species as surely as if you had shot it. So conservation means that you have to preserve forest and grassland, river and lake, even the sea itself. This is vital not only for the preservation of animal life generally, but for the future existence of man himself—a point that seems to escape many people.
-Gerald Durrell, The Nature Conservancy
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