Washington State University was one of five recipients of the Public Land Owner Stewardship Fund last fall which provides grants to BHA clubs to support stewardship projects on public lands and waters. This is a recap of their grant project.
The Washington State University (WSU) collegiate chapter of BHA was able to help in an amazing project this past year building and then installing American Kestrel nest boxes around the university. This area was originally called the Palouse Prairie before 99% of the native prairie was converted to agriculture in the past century. Since only small remnants of native prairie exist, it is crucial to help the flora and fauna of the region. The Phoenix Conservancy is a local non-profit organization in Pullman, WA that focuses on restoring the native Palouse Prairie. Our BHA club reached out to them in August 2022, hoping to volunteer for some of their current projects or start a new collaboration. They informed us that they had started collecting materials to build American Kestrel nest boxes but did not have the manpower to make or install the nest boxes. We happily agreed to help and started learning about kestrels!
American Kestrels are the smallest bird of prey in North America and although are considered common around the United States, have had steadily declining populations in the Palouse Prairie region. This is thought to be because of increased agricultural activity, resulting in less snags in which they nest. They feed mainly on insects and are important to maintaining a balanced ecosystem.
Our first meeting focused on building nest boxes, which meant removing potentially harmful paint off of boards that had been given to The Phoenix Conservancy, drilling holes through which the birds could enter, and including a board on the side that could be raised in case the nest box ever needed to be cleaned out or checked. Most of this meeting was removing paint with sandpaper, but members worked hard for several hours and we ended with several nest boxes.
The second part of the project was installing the nest boxes in conservation areas around Pullman. We did this in early April, before the kestrels were looking for nests but once the weather was cooperative enough for us to work outside and on ladders. The Phoenix Conservancy also informed us they had several native bee boxes and a bat box that could also be installed, so we were able to help with multiple projects. Native carpenter bees lay one egg per “nest”, or small hole, and often need areas that are clean and free of mites. Bats have been on a steep decline for years now, and installing both of these boxes helped threatened wildlife species in the area.
We were able to install 3 American Kestrel nest boxes in areas that overlooked high quality habitat and were placed in appropriate trees, 8 bee nest boxes in a restored riparian area, and one bat box in a conservation area. All three of these species are native the Palouse Prairie and are crucial elements to both prairie restoration and helping pollinate plants and control insect populations.