Since May of 2014 I’ve been working towards the goal of establishing as much ‘natural’ mosquito control as I can ‘round the ole homestead. I live within the boreal forest and given the right conditions – a mild winter followed by a wet, warm spring – the mosquitoes can be miserable. Without question Mother Nature plays a huge part in our mosquito populations so I decided to attempt to enlist some of her handiwork in controlling said populations. This caused me to do some basic research as to local animals that utilize mosquitoes as part, if not all, of their diets. I discovered two potential sources of said natural mosquito control; Tree Swallows and Little Brown Bats.
Without question the Tree Swallows looked like the best option; they are voracious mosquito eaters and they are very common in this general area. These birds migrate to the northern latitudes in middle spring – up here we see the males in early to mid-May with the females a few weeks behind – where they breed and raise their young before heading back south to winter. I’d seen these gorgeous birds around the village of Talkeetna across summers; their bright, iridescent plumage makes them almost impossible to miss as does their extremely acrobatic flight maneuvers. The Little Brown Bats are much less common in this area although they have been seen. Their range includes a large portion of south central Alaska and I was surprised to learn they are year-round residents.
Not wanting to put all my eggs in one basket – pun intended – I researched the nesting and sheltering needs of both animals. I then constructed three swallow boxes and purchased a recommended bat house. The swallow houses were then given a tough varnish coating. Finally, I looked to locate each of the three in places I thought the birds might find attractive regarding nesting. As mentioned, living in the boreal forest means I lack large, open areas but I do live just 80 to 90 meters from a small lake. I diligently located what I hoped would be good spots and placed the nesting boxes. I then had a friend mount my bat home a year later. And then I began my waiting period.
No Tree Swallows showed interest during the summer of 2014; I thought perhaps the smell of the rather new varnish was putting them off. The same happened across the summer of 2015 so I assumed my placement of the boxes wasn’t suitable. In the fall of 2015 I relocated the boxes to what I hoped once again would be attractive locations. The summer of 2016 came and went with no activity and I was becoming disappointed. I decided if nothing happened in the spring of 2017 I would once again relocate the boxes.
Come this spring I was just starting to look for some new locations when one morning I saw an iridescent blue flash disappear into one of the boxes! I froze and held my breath waiting its re-emergence from the box. Sure enough, in a minute or so a male Tree Swallow flew out of the box and into the trees to the east of my place. I continued to remain motionless and maybe two to three minutes later I saw him fly back to the box with a twig in his mouth. I was just ecstatic as he was obviously constructing a nest! I watched him at work for almost a week marveling at the size of his loads. As my Alaskan malamute – Anana – had just started blowing her coats I removed handfuls of her fur and spread it around by the tree containing the box so he could incorporate that material in his nest. Over the next few days something definitely picked at the fur but I couldn’t verify it was the Tree Swallow especially as many other local birds will utilize the fur in their nests.
Then came the time I began to see the male spending a lot of time perched on my wind vane. From this location he was well above the box and could survey the land all around it. I began to see him there almost continually and I wondered if he had been evicted by his mate. If this was the case then she was most likely incubating eggs. I had never seen her, although to be honest the genders look very much the same unless you can observe them when not in motion, but I’d seen him try to enter the box numerous times only to give up and return to his lofty perch. I became more and more convinced his mate was caring for eggs/hatchlings and I was thrilled.
Then came the glorious day when I saw both he and his mate perched upon my wind vane; while I watched the pair two more Tree Swallows landed on the instrument and I had my first look at the family! I was just ecstatic!! Since that time I’ve seen the female and at least three offspring doing their acrobatic flying around the house. Indeed, one morning when I was walking with my canine companions – Anana, my 112 female Alaskan malamute and Qanuk, my 88 pond male German Shepherd Dog – down the driveway four Tree Swallows buzzed the dogs. As the male was perched on the wind vane I knew the nesting pair had reared at least three offspring.
I’m hoping the nesting pair will return next spring and maybe some or all of the young will follow their lead and set up house in the other Tree Swallow boxes. Heaven knows there is a smorgasbord of flying insects around here and most are the favored mosquitoes. I am just so proud of that initial pair I feel like a ‘proud poppa’ myself! Now, if I can just get the attention of some Little Brown Bats I’ll be well on the way to establishing some solid mosquito control around my place. To this end I’ve applied some bat attractant – which is apparently made from their urine – to the ‘landing area’ of the bat house. Here’s hoping..!