Boxes will help assess bird contaminant exposure

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – The planned installation of 20 nesting boxes along the shoreline at the Wyandotte Shores golf course could help federal officials to assess the impact of the Great Lakes’ contaminant exposure on birds.

Christine Custer, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of the Interior, recently asked the city for permission to install the boxes for the summers of 2010 and 2011 in order to provide an additional source of data. The City Council approved her request Dec. 7.

Custer hopes the data will provide another important piece of the picture that explains the health and well-being of nesting birds along Michigan and bordering states’ Great Lakes shorelines.

The boxes will be designed to attract and accommodate tree swallows, which prefer the open habitat of lake and river shorelines. The birds return from their wintering area in early April. Nest building begins in mid- to late April, with egg-laying beginning the first week of May.

Fred Pischke, superintendent of recreation, leisure and culture, assured Councilman Leonard Sabuda that the nesting boxes would be well outside the area of play for the golf course.

Swallows are also very tolerant of humans near their nesting boxes, biologists say, and will not be bothered by lawn mowers and golfers. Predator guards, or stove pipes, will be put on the poles to discourage raccoons.

Custer proposed installing the 7-foot poles in the ground in December before the ground froze solid. The poles ideally would be placed 20 to 30 yards apart.

The birds feed on the aerial stage of benthic aquatic insects, which allows scientists to measure the sediment contamination by examining the amount of contaminants present in the eggs of the swallows.

That allows for the measurement of levels of chemical like PCBs, dioxins, furans and mercury, as well as newer chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (used in flame retardants) and the perfluorinated chemicals found in stain repellents and surfactants.

The Interior Department is working with other natural resource agencies in the United States and Canada.