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It Takes a Village: The Juniper Titmouse Nest Box Project

Aldea recently achieved its noteworthy “Community Wildlife Habitat Certification” by the National Wildlife Federation, thanks to the hard work and perseverance of the Permaculture Committee, the Birding Group, individuals who certified their yards, and Tony and the crew. This is a major accomplishment as there are less fewer than 100 such communities in the US. But it is only a beginning. It is a long-range commitment. We don’t just congratulate ourselves, sit back and rest on our laurels.

Most of us who live in Aldea share a love for the landscape, the open space and its wildlife. I know from experience as a birder that the more we pay attention to wildlife, the more we see! Members of the Aldea Birding Group have identified at least 90 different bird species here, including residents, summer breeders and migrants passing through. Personally, in addition to the Aldea Bird List, I would love to see people work on Aldea species lists for mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, and wildflowers. But that’s another article.Aldea Bird houses

So, what does all of this have to do with permaculture? Diana Moore from the Permaculture Committee put it simply and beautifully: “Permaculture is a holistic perspective on how to live in the world. That means respecting every living thing in our ecosystem and understanding that each living creature and plant plays a significant role in sustaining that system.” And then it is acting and living in accordance with this perspective. What can each of us do to contribute to this way of living in the world? First of all, if you haven’t already, consider taking the steps to get your yard certified as a habitat that offers resources for wildlife. Certification is not just a pretty sign we put in our yards. It is a way of life that respects and supports the natural world, and deepens our part in it. It is claiming responsibility.

Our Aldea landscape is mostly high desert pinyon-juniper (P-J), and with that comes some responsibility. According to the NM Avian Conservation Partners assessment process, P-J habitats contain more high conservation concern birds than any other habitat type in NM. Bird species of concern are the Pinyon Jay, Woodhouse Scrub-Jay (formerly named Western Scrub Jay) and the Juniper Titmouse (JUTI). New Mexico is responsible for approximately 42% of the global population for the JUTI and, per the US Geological Survey’s Breeding Bird Survey, JUTI populations in New Mexico have declined by 1.36% per year since the 1960s.  Given that NM has almost half of the global population, if these trends continue, Juniper Titmouse could become threatened on a range-wide scale.  Global population numbers for JUTI are also relatively small: the global population is estimated to be 180,000 individuals.  Compare this to the global population for the American Robin, which is 310 million!  A major limiting factor may be fewer large juniper trees due to extensive clearing of P-J woodlands.  Large juniper trees provide nesting cavities.

This feisty little grey bird with a pointed crest on its head and a scratchy chatter that echoes in our pinyon-juniper hills is in serious trouble. It is one of Aldea’s resident birds and it needs our help. It is obvious that a major contribution we can offer in Aldea is to help monitor the Juniper Titmouse (JUTI) Nest Box Project.

Don Wilson of the Permaculture Committee spearheaded the JUTI Nest Box Project with enthusiastic Santa Fe High students. They built 70 nest boxes for this declining species. Peggy Darr, Aldea resident and Nongame Avian Biologist with the NM Department of Game and Fish, developed a placement plan near open space, and Don has positioned all the boxes. Hopefully the Juniper Titmouse are already checking them out as roosting spots for winter and nesting spots come spring.

Beverly Terry of the Birding Group has already done a great deal to promote this project [see her Birding Group full page announcement in this newsletter]. Please attend the Aldea Birding Group meeting on January 10th to learn how to participate. I guarantee it will be fun, and a great learning experience. This citizen scientist endeavor, in conjunction with Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch project, is a way to demonstrate our goodwill and commitment to the wildlife in Aldea—to demonstrate our pledge to being a Certified Wildlife Habitat Community. It takes a village.

By Lonnie Howard, Aldea resident