It was a struggle for home territory. A willow tree located on the northwest side of the wetlands was the site of the dispute. On one side, a resident pair of Carolina chickadees, the other, a pair of otherwise transient tree swallows.
I occasionally see tree swallows passing through our area during migration. They dip into the wetlands, perhaps spend a few minutes to an hour hawking insects over the water, then they’re gone. They do, though, nest at some of the large area reservoirs. But locally, they’re essentially more western and northern as far as breeding range is concerned.
The chickadees in the equation were a pair that had a nest in the branch of the willow. The hole was carved out a few months back by some industrious brown-headed nuthatches. I don’t think the nuthatches actually used the hole, but I did witness them hardily excavating the hole during the early spring.
I was not aware of the chickadees nesting in this tree until the swallows arrived on the scene. The two swallows were sitting on a thin branch, seemingly resting. What I didn’t know at first, until I heard a chickadee scolding, was that the swallows were observing the comings and goings of the chickadees. Being cavity nesters like the chickadees, they had an eye on the nest hole.
Then, one of the swallows flew to the willow branch and perched at the edge of the nest hole, occasionally, and with caution, peeking inside. The chickadees had young in the nest. I’d seen them enter the nest hole with food, coming out empty. They weren’t going to give up this nest easily. In fact, they weren’t going to give it up at all, not to a couple of swallows.
I watched the nest throughout the day. The swallows persisted with their inspections of the hollowed out branch and the chickadees continued with their protestations and scoldings. The action continued at least until 5 PM when I had to leave for the day.
The swallows were still present the next morning, but by mid day I was unable to locate them. They’d given up and continued their journey north, or perhaps to Falls Lake, some 8 or 10 miles east as the swallow flies.
The chickadees had the home field advantage in this little skirmish and appear to have won.