Course Bird Community




2023 Year-end Birding and Birdhouse Recap, 

Copake Country Club and the Copake Lake region


On our golf course in 2023, we trimmed our “housing development” to a total of 36 birdhouses.


The scoreboard this year:

*Tree Swallows — 19 successful nestings; 4 failures. Egg totals incomplete. 

-For comparison, totals in 2022 were 14 successes, 3 failures. 

-TS nest constructions usually include masses of feathers, in layers so thick that getting exact egg counts is almost impossible. 

-First sighting of a Tree Swallow sitting on eggs was on April 27th.


*Eastern Bluebirds — 15 successes; 4 failures. Approximately 67 eggs. 

-In 2022, 12 successes, 4 failures. 

-In contrast to TS, Bluebird nests are neat, meticulous models of design and are never obscured by feathers. So egg counts are much easier to get. 

First eggs spotted: April 12th; first babies hatched: May 4th.

*House Wrens — 3 successes; 1 failure. At least 13 eggs.


*Removed — 7 House Sparrow nests (see below). 

-In 2022, that number was 30! So House Sparrow activity on the course was down more than 75 percent from previous year. Good — persistence pays; we’re scaring ‘em off.


-Most of those birdhouses host just one of our main species during the season; but this year eight of them were fortunate to house more than one species — after a first nesting, we clean out the finished nest, and sometimes the next tenants are of a different stripe, so to speak (a TS nest might get succeeded by a Bluebird nest; that’s the most common two-species succession).

-Tree Swallows generally do one nesting per season; Bluebirds often do two and sometimes three. Five times this year we had a Bluebird nesting succeeded by another Blue nesting in the same box. 


-What causes nest failures? Sorry to say that the answer is often “unknown.” But the most common reasons include: when one or another of the parents disappears or dies, and nestlings starve; extreme weather (a cold snap early in the season, a heat wave later).

At the top of the list, though, are House Sparrows, public enemy number one for birdhouse keepers. They’re super-common, like to nest in houses, and worst of all are intensely aggressive — they attack and kill or injure other nesting birds without hesitation so they can take over a box, sometimes building their nests on top of their dead victims. HS are the most important reason we monitor our birdhouses throughout the season — and why you should as well with your backyard boxes. 

Our annual appeal: Because they’re “invasive species,” we’re allowed and encouraged to get rid of House Sparrow nests when they appear in boxes. So if you recognize them, please do. If you need help with that process:

Other predators can invade birdhouses to snatch eggs, but not nearly as often as HS. They include mice, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, possums, snakes (rare), and a few species of other birds.


*Our empire of birdhouse fans continues to expand. In ’23, it was my pleasure to help neighbors who’ve posted a variety of nesting boxes in their yards. (The list has grown to 15 “clients.”)

-On Golf Course Road: Gips, Ehrlich, McCarthy, Kleeschulte, Casey — 13 boxes

-Also in the lake region: LeBrecht, Bouril, Ernsberger, Mende-Boyle — 11

-Elsewhere in Copake, Hillsdale, Chatham: Walsh, Hussey, Dix, Stock, Grubin, Franklin — 25


*THE BALD EAGLES: The rock stars of the local birding scene seemed to be “on tour” elsewhere this year, as far as our longtime nest is concerned. 

To recap an old story: The huge Bald Eagle nest that’s high in a tree on the Braunstein estate hosted successful nestings for the nearly 10 consecutive years that I’ve been monitoring it. 

(Best places for you to see it in fall and winter with the naked eye, and even better with binoculars: Stand on the cart path on the 17th hole around 10 yards “east” of the 5th green. Look to the south at the trees on the horizon. Or just stand on the 6th tee box, look south.)

In 2022 and ‘23, the nest was dormant — nobody was breeding in it, and it started to fall apart from neglect. (Balds are known for using the same nest year to year.)

But throughout these past two years, we also had big increases in sightings of Bald Eagles around the Copake Lake area — clearly there was another nest of theirs somewhere nearby, but its location was never confirmed. (To me, anyway. If anybody has clues, please email me!) 


So here in the winter of 2023-24, hope is springing eternal again. Local spies told me that adult Eagles were seen on and near the nest in mid-December. I did several vigils in the nest area with binocs at Christmastime — saw no action. 

But . . . it sure looks like it’s growing. My photo “archives” show that it very likely is bigger now than during the two-year hiatus. Which would mean that adults are bringing sticks, doing renovations.

So on January 5th: success! I saw an adult fly off the nest and come back in a few minutes carrying a big stick. This is nest-rebuilding activity for sure. 

We will know soon if the nest is ending a two-year drought and becoming a nursery again — Bald Eagles, early nesters, start sitting on eggs by February-March.



SPRING 2022! 

Part 1! 

In the weeks leading up to the Masters tournament, the world (not just the sports world, the world) speculated, with questions and film highlights and hopes, about one topic above all: Tiger Woods. Basically nothing about the other 90 golfers in the tournament, the legendary golf course, the aura — it was all Tiger, all the time.

I’m as big an admirer of Tiger as the next guy. But one wonders how the other players felt about all this. The guy hasn’t competed in 17 months, yet he’s not just Topic A, he’s Topic B through Z.

That’s kind of how I feel when the only bird question I’m asked at Copake Country Club is a variation on “How are our eagles?”

OK, I’m kidding. 

But then again . . . 

We’ve got 44 birdhouses around the course, and as many as 10 beautiful species could nest in them this year, as they do every year; and we’ve got many other phenomenal birds to see and enjoy and talk about.

But all we get is “How are those eagles?” “I saw an eagle!” “So, have you seen our eagles today?”?!

Yes, we have bald eagles, and we have our very own eagle nest. I know — I’ve been monitoring them for almost 10 years!
Doesn’t anybody want to talk about our tree swallows?

I am joking, I promise — I do love our eagles, and it’s really great to hear how many of you do too. They’re the coolest birds in town.

So in spring 2022, to answer those many questions, this is their story.

-The bald eagle nest on the Braunstein estate, just off the southern tip of the golf course, has been active for at least 10 years. I’ve watched (and registered) nesting activity there since around 2015. Every winter, dozens of eagles roam the lake area, including, very likely, our star local couple and some of their kids from over the years. Each January, the adult pair (almost definitely the same duo every year) start to renovate that nest in prep for eggs and raising another family.

-This year, though . . . the news isn’t so great. We had tons of wintertime eagle action on the lake ice and in the neighborhood, per usual; I started my weekly binocular vigils near the nest in January, and . . . nothing. No fly-ins from adults, no mom’s head peeking from inside. There’s a little nest disrepair visible this year (some sticks are dangling off one side of it), but it doesn’t look like nearly enough to deter them.

So it is possible that for the first time in seven years the nest isn’t being used by eagles. It’s a mild bummer. Normally, by early April they’re on eggs, and sometimes by the first two weeks of April I’ve seen them feeding hatched babies. “As near as we can tell” is the mantra — that nest is more than 100 feet up in a huge tree, so our evidence is always speculation based on observing from the ground. But this year’s silence from the nest has been deafening.

-Anyway, we’re not defeated yet. They’ve surprised us in the past. They might be up there after all, just super-discreetly. I’m not counting on that, but spring is the season of hope. 

Meanwhile, please enjoy — and ask about, but don’t touch! — our birdhouses and our other birds. And “watch the skies.” Thanks.

—Tom Walsh

About the Birdhouse Project
Copake Country Club is a wonderland of bird life. In 2011, we decided to make our birds feel even more welcome — and to expand the biodiversity and breeding habitats of this beautiful region — by building a “housing development” for them.
*As of spring 2020, we have 41 birdhouses erected around the golf course. They are meant to attract migratory and resident cavity-nesters. Most of the nestboxes are designed and placed on behalf of the most common users of birdhouses (which, fortunately, are also among the most beautiful): Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows. 
*The rest of our nestbox welcome mats are out for certain species of wrens, woodpeckers, owls, chickadees, nuthatches, and — we’re always hopeful — a certain falcon (American Kestrel). 
*The breeding seasons for almost all of our species begin in early spring and last through midsummer. Beyond that basic similarity, the number of times they might breed in a year, the number of eggs in each nesting, and other factors vary widely.  
*Cavity-nesters are any birds that prefer to build their nests in holes — these manmade birdhouses simply offer them more hole habitats to choose from. The boxes are easy, pre-built homes for them to use instead of trying to find (or, for some, to excavate) proper holes in trees, fenceposts, and other natural sites.
*About 70 percent of North American birds are non-cavity-nesters — they make the kind of nest you’ve seen all your life, like open-cup nests in almost plain sight on a tree branch or a shrub. Those birds — including common year-round species like Blue Jays and Cardinals, or interesting migrants such as Warblers and Kinglets — won’t be using birdhouses. Our boxes are for the hole-seekers. Some people like apartments, others go for condos, others are house-only. The bird preferences are like that, with instinct and biology in the equation. (Also, you might know that bird nests aren’t homes — they’re nurseries. Virtually all birds use a nest only for laying eggs, raising babies; after the nesting period is over, so is the nest — the occupants ditch it and go live out in the world.
*We monitor our nestboxes once per week, on average, during breeding season, per birding guidelines. We check on the safety of the nesters, do egg and head counts, and make the sites clean and ready for the next tenants. All of our nesting data gets registered with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch program ( 
*For golfers and explorers of the club’s scenery, the boxes are there for observing — not for visiting. We really appreciate it if you do not touch or disturb any birdhouse, especially in spring and summer. From April to July, if you’re playing golf or hiking out there, you’ll very likely see some of our tenants flying in and out of the boxes, carrying nest material or bringing food to the babes. It’s exciting — and it’s “for your eyes only,” not for your hands. Watch and enjoy, but please let them be.
The Boxes on the Course

Every creature in the world has a preference for where to live and what to live in. Needless to say, that includes the birds. 


*Around 30 of our 41 birdhouses are placed at the edges of open areas, looking outward from the treelines. That’s the preferred habitats for our top customers, Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows. Both also like the boxes placed low, 3-5 feet from the ground (that’s a bonus for us — we don’t need a ladder to check them). 


*Just about all of these houses include some kind of “predator protection,” like those metal plates or skirts you see (baffles), or the wire cages and extenders stretching out from the entrance holes. “Predators” for these birdhouses mean many things: squirrels, chipmunks, mice, flying squirrels, raccoons, (maybe) a snake or two . . . all of them have a taste for bird eggs and nestlings, unfortunately. Almost all of that predation happens at night, when we’re not around. So our predator protection guards against . . . whatever it can. When eggs or babes disappear or are found dead in a box, we usually don’t know for sure what was responsible. So, in advance and proactively, we do what we must.


*Why are many of the boxes paired up, two of them posted within 10-20 feet of one another? Bluebirds and Tree Swallows tolerate each other nesting close by, but won’t allow another of its own species to nest nearby. So “pairing” like this, per birder guidelines, is meant to help them co-exist and not fight with their own kind for territory. 


*A note for anybody who has a birdhouse or three in your yard (that’s many of you): If you care about your nesting birds and you do only one thing to help them, it’s this — you have to help protect against House Sparrows. These non-native species are very aggressive and destructive to other cavity-nesting birds — a truism among birders is that “if you have a choice of having birdhouses with House Sparrows in them or having no birdhouses at all, go with ‘no birdhouses at all.’ ” That’s how seriously every birder should take this. It’s a lot of information, and it’s important, so please go to this link or others to read about guarding against House Sparrows:


The rest of the boxes: 


These are the “hopefuls,” placed in different habitats from the ones already mentioned, trying to attract more-elusive cavity-nesters. They’re meant for some woodpeckers, one flavor of owl, nuthatches, titmice, and a few others, including Kestrel (falcon). 


These are the bonus boxes that are less-visible out there (and who they’re meant for): 

-3rd hole cartpath, halfway down the steep hill, high in a tree, BIG box (Eastern Screech Owl! Haven’t had one of them use it yet).

-8th hole, deep in the woods left of the green, high in a tree (Yellow-bellied Sapsucker! Put up in 2019; no luck yet).

-Between 11th-12th holes, right of cartpath halfway down hill, tiny green box hanging from a branch (House Wren or Black-capped Chickadee! Successful every year).

-12th hole, high in a tree on the right halfway down from tee to green (Downy Woodpecker! Not yet!).

-13th hole, right of the cartpath deep in the woods, high on a tree (White-breasted Nuthatch! A nice success in 2016; none since). 

-13th hole, right of the forward tees deeper in the woods (Northern Flicker! Waiting).

-16h hole, high in the “wedding tree” near the 5th green, BIG box (American Kestrel! If successful, this would be our finest moment; it hasn’t happened, but Kestrels are in the neighborhood).

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