Archive for July, 2008

Getting my Martins in a row

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

I finally got the houses down and washed. The gourd rack is laying dejected on its side awaiting the final touched before being hoisted in to the garage. I am leaving all aspects of the rack intact except to place garbage bags over each individual gourd and taping it so that no critters can get in…or our for that matter. I am already on Google earth deciding where the next rack unit will go. Of course I have to decide what kind of rack I am going to go with. I am relatively sure it will be a gourd rack. But I may be swayed. I will let you know.

My fingers have been busy with painting and I have completed my best work yet. I call it “Gourd Martins” You can check out all my art at www.mypurplemartinblog.com/gallery2

As always you can visit PurpleMartins-R-Us.com for the largest selection of Purple Martin themed gifts, art, apparel and more coming everyday. Check us out!

I have also uploaded my art at imagekind.com by request. Now my art work is available with rich color duplication and archival inks. The prices are very competitive with great quality. They look like true art reproductions-not color copies. Check them out.

Jose’s Martins #1

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Jose greeted me today with a hearty “Hola!” and an invitation to have his Jell-o. He only likes the red Jell-o and he only gets the green. He tells me he has made several complaints-to no avail. I could tell him that hospitals and “homes” usually never give red Jell-o but I decide to nod my head in understanding. He finishes off his lunch and I wheel him to the courtyard.

I had many questions reeling in my head to ask him. About his martins, what brought him to Florida, his life in South America, his family or apparent lack there of. Today though, we will talk of Purple Martins. A subject free of any sadness or memories that can cause pain. He talks of his memories of hundreds of thousands of birds flying free and his spirits rise like they are lifted up by the martins themselves.

Jose was a handyman by trade. Odd jobs, car repairs, unlicensed electrical work was his forte. He laughed at my reaction to at least 4 stories of how he checked for current to electrical outlets and light sockets. I suppose whatever investment it would take to purchase a volt meter was out of the question. He would stick his finger in the socket. My disbelief is still quite strong even after his vehement and at length explanation on the difference between amps and watts and volts and I don’t even know! But on to the Purple Martins.

All his houses were handmade. He would use scrap wood and made great use of wooden pallets which he found in large quantities. Legally, I hope. The wood was rather thin and of poor quality but with a slathering of paint would last multiple seasons before needing repair or replacement. The rough wood was well liked by the martins. I showed him photos of my gourd rack and he snorted, “They look like Calabaza.” (A spanish pumpkin) I explained they were actually plastic and that brought another snort. He tried to explain his housing to me and the best I could understand is that they were 2 story square, flat roofed box type houses with no porches and round entrances. He did make the nests accessible but had a hands off approach. Usually 8 compartments per house and they were about 10 inches deep. He never used “plans” and would vary the housing depending on his whims. He estimated, at his height of “Land lording” he had about 100 pairs. “Puedia pero no queiria”, he explained. (I could have but didn’t want to) When referring to having more housing and Martins. The ‘explative’ Halcon’s (Hawks) made my life a misery, he recounted in Spanish. This was the only time when sadness entered our conversation. He told me of a season when he had fledgling’s taking to the air daily, only to be met with deadly talons and beak. His solution? “I went over into my neighbors yard one night and poisoned those trees…then I offered to cut them down over the winter for free. I was a big hero and everyone was happy.” The legalities didn’t seem to phase Jose or concern him in the least. I guess when you are 80-something you have worse things in your past to worry about than a few trees. “Susanita, can you find me help to the bathroom?”

Of course Jose…and I will see you soon.

Is It a Sparrow?

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Is it an English House Sparrow otherwise known as HOSP? If you are pulling nests or trapping, it is important that you are sure. It is amazing how many times even the most common of birds is misidentified.  

It’s important to note, that there are other birds that look VERY similar to HOSPs.  Remember, Non-native HOSP will enter a cavity and destroy eggs, young and adult native birds. The only other bird that will destroy eggs is a native House Wren. House WrenHouse Wrens are smaller, have a long pointy beak(NOT a fat conical beak), tail often held upright(Not held down). They Have NO BLACK bib. They have a drab grayish- brown, belly. House Wrens are native and are protected.

English House Sparrow (HOSP)

 Male HOSPMale HOSP

male HOSP head shotMale HOSP head shot

(NOTE: Males have a black, v-shaped bib on the breast under their beak and GRAY cap on the top of their head with chestnut below.) 

Female HOSPFemale HOSP

Female HOSP head shotFemale HOSP head shot

(NOTE: Females DO NOT have the black bib or the chestnut (reddish/brown) color on the sides of their heads. They do have a pale streak running back from their eye. They have a dull NON-streaked breast.)

 Some birds that Look like hosp

Chipping SparrowChipping Sparrow: Cap is chestnut (reddish-brown) NOT gray. NO BIB. Smaller in size than hosp. Will not harm birds or eggs. Does NOT nest in a cavity.

House FinchHouse Finch: Both male and female have a streaked breast. Notice reddish cast to head and chest of male. NO bib, no grey cap, no chestnut head.(Photo courtesy Terry Sohl of www.sdakotabirds.com)

Black-Capped ChickadeeBlack Capped Chickadee: These birds DO nest in a nest box but DO NOT harm any eggs or birds. They are smaller than a HOSP. No chestnut (reddish-brown) markings. (Photo Courtesy Terry Sohl of www.sdakotabirds.com)

Many thanks to Bet Zimmerman from www.Sialis.org for HOSP and Chipping Sparrow photos. And thanks to Terry Sohl of www.sdakotabirds.com for photos of the chickadee and house finch.

An Afternoon with Jose

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

It seems like a lifetime ago. When I used to work…when my days were filled with the smell of antiseptic, not my baby’s diapers. When my thoughts were of what life threatening emergency needed thwarting, not who was teasing whom. ANYWAY, Many of my friends know of my “Purple Passion”. They joke and say it is what has kept my mind sane-not that I would say I was sane before having kids…hmmmm.  

An old nurse friend, who works at a local “nursing home” told me of a man that I may be interested in meeting. She told me of a man named Jose who talks in broken English and curses at the other residents if he sees them throwing breadcrumbs to the birds in the courtyard. I laughed, knowing instantly that I liked him already. Any enemy of English House Sparrows is a friend of mine!

The old smells and sounds of a nursing home never change.  My friend brought me to the courtyard where she introduced me to Jose. He sat in a wheelchair next to a concrete bench under a large tree. We talked of nature and Purple Martins. Lost family and new friends. He would occasionally “shoo” other residents away. He would say, ”That one always feeding those $&!# birds!” He is a fairly slender man who looks younger than his age. His hair is still mostly dark with one large gray patch on the side.

He says he was born in 1920 but he admits that his medical records say he was born in 1924. Either way that makes him between 88 and 84 years old. I was surprised at the sharpness of his mind though he speaks mostly Spanish (which I do understand) and Portuguese (which I do NOT understand) His English is broken-which he speaks to others, but with an almost embarrassed, self conscience manner. Born in Argentina, his parents moved to Brazil at some point when he was a young boy. His parents being Argentinian explains his excellent Spanish. His Portuguese was picked up while he lived in Brazil. He told me of how he first found his love of Purple Martins…or the, “Golondrina”. Of the first time he heard their song and saw them flying. He was walking somewhere with his mother. He was somewhere around 6 or 7 years old. He saw ”a cloud of swirling life” in the sky as he walked and was amazed. He had never seen so many ‘bats’. His mother told him what they really were. “Golondrinas” or Swallows. He thought they looked like angels playing and he would watch them until he became dizzy-staring up in the sky.

 His family immigrated to New York some time in the 1940′s. He had married in his early 20′s and never had children; I could tell this was a sensitive issue. His story jumps to Belle Glade where he put up martin housing for over 30 years until the big storm season in 2004 which destroyed his housing and precipitated his admission to several nursing homes. Which brings us back to the bench in the courtyard with a man named Jose. “OYE, Stop feeding those $&!# birds!!!”

I will post more of my meetings with Jose ASAP! And thank you all for your interest.

Protecting your Martins from SPARROWS

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

magic haloI have to always make sure that I am specific when I refer to English House Sparrows. There are several birds that look like HOSP (English HOuse SParrows) but are not. I will cover that subject on another thread!

There are several popular courses of action that can be taken to protect your martins (or Bluebirds or Tree Swallows) from HOSP. All of them are better than letting the HOSP successfully rear young. Let’s tread gently, as to not offend anyone. Many people have a problem (initially) when they think about euthanizing a bird to protect a bird. It may seem counter-productive at first.  Also keep in mind if you choose to use non lethal ways to control sparrows, you risk Sparrow Rage. A deadly behavior that HOSP exhibit when their breeding cycle is disrupted.

Lets talk about

1. Stop feeding cheap bird seed. What type of seed you offer should be dependent on your area and what kind of native birds you get. There are many options for bird food that natives prefer over the inexpensive seed mixes that contain large amount of millet (proso millet). Do not feed bread. Offer seeds like sunflower (black oil) or thistle, again depending on the natives. Woodpeckers love peanuts (whole). Trim the perches on your bird-feeders so that the HOSP can not perch on them (5/8 inch) but natives will. Use upside down feeders for birds like goldfinches.  There are also woodpecker specific feeders that encourage clinging and are very HOSP unfriendly. There is a device that can be used to deter HOSP from your feeders, like a “Magic Halo” see photo at top of page. Some people have reported that placing a bird feeder inside of an upside down bucket with the handle hanging down, will deter HOSP from entering up into the feeder. If all else fails, consider removing your feeders.

2. Do NOT allow a HOSP to nest in a nest box. Remember, every HOSP will kill a native bird, if it has an opportunity. There are several things you can do. These work very well if you do not have martins at your site yet.  Pull the nest material out as often as they fill it up. Do this daily, if need be. Plug the entrance until the HOSP find somewhere else.

3. TRAP, TRAP, TRAP! What you do with the sparrow is up to you. (It IS a free country) The best solution is to euthanize the HOSP. If you have issues with euthanizing some other non lethal approaches have been tried. After the sparrow is trapped, you can trim their wings. Its like a haircut. Not painful at all and will grow back. If you trim one wing the bird will usually fly down in a circle. Clipping both will usually make the bird able to navigate a bit better as it will have equal forces of thrust on both sides. Though achieving any altitude will be difficult. You can trim the tail feathers also. The purpose of the wing trimming is to focus the birds energy on survival rather than breeding. An important note is that relocating the HOSP is NOT an effective way to control them. Besides spending a ton of money on gas, the sparrows will return before you do. Besides, the relocating of your problem to another area may well spell death to a native bird in that area. Your initial conscience saving action will only lead to the death of countless other birds, other than the one you just spared. There are sparrow traps that use food as a bait. There are also several different sparrow traps that are put within the nest.

What is Sparrow Rage? Basically when the HOSP breeding attempts are interrupted the sparrow will enter other cavities and will destroy whatever eggs, young and adult birds he is able to. No one is exactly sure why they do this. As many other birds do not do this. We can only assume it has to do with decreasing competition for nesting sites and to better insure the next clutches survival. You can be assured that English House Sparrows will be actively causing destruction whether you witness it or not. There is no such thing as Martins and Sparrows “getting along” Your colony may achieve a temporary equilibrium where a few martins can raise some young along side with HOSP. BUT if sparrows were aggressively controlled the numbers of martins at your colony would increase substantially.

Always keep in mind, doing something is always better than doing nothing. Many people describe initial hesitance with euthanizing the HOSP but after they witness the destruction, many conclude that they have to be a bit more proactive and when they do, they are glad they did. These people will all attest to the increase of martins at their sites.

Coming soon: When you want to get SERIOUS about controlling HOSP and HOSP Identification
Add to Technorati Favorites

July 11, 2008 English House Sparrow Blues!

Friday, July 11th, 2008

No, thank God I have NOT suffered any losses due to HOSP (House Sparrows) but the threat is ever present. All Martin Landlords or wanna-be landlords should know about the non native birds that threaten the existence of native cavity nesting birds. Though European Starlings AND English House Sparrows will kill eggs, young and adults, only the sparrow is small enough to thwart our attempts to block them from entering a nestbox. Thanks to the development of SREH (Starling Resistant Entrance Holes) Native birds now have a fighting chance against the threat of Starlings. Unfortunately there is no such “easy fix” for HOSP.  Wood Ducks, Buffleheads, Northern Flickers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Gila Woodpeckers, Acorn Woodpeckers, Great Crested Flycatchers, Tree Swallows,  Eastern Bluebird and Purple Martins  can all be killed due to a HOSP attack. By their sheer numbers and prolificness they have single handedly caused significant declines to many of these birds. If you really want to see what a HOSP can do, I STRONGLY suggest going to this link to view what happens to our beloved Martins and other native birds, when such a ubiquitous bird attacks. I will warn you that the images ARE GRAPHIC. >link to HOSP attack: http://www.sialis.org/hospattacks.htm < 

The worse thing that can be done is to allow a HOSP to nest in one of your nest boxes. It may seem like a beautiful experience but with the hatching of the sparrows eggs and their subsequent fledging and flying out into the world, you have sealed the fate of some other cavity nesting bird somewhere. Through one act of inaction, it is possible to be responsible for over 2,000 birds in a few years.  Though the Purple Martin will only lay 1 clutch of eggs in a year, a HOSP will raise 2-5  clutches every year. Whereas the Purple Martin takes about 26 days to fledge(fly), a HOSP will fledge in about 14-16 days. A person may allow a HOSP to successfully nest because they have no native birds nesting, so why not…”What harm will it do? They’re so cute.” The fact that those 2,000 birds will disburse and spread and wreak havoc somewhere else is a heartbreak to Purple Martin Landlords, Bluebirders and TreeSwallow ‘Keepers’ everywhere.

Next posting will cover ways to control HOSP.

I Thank Sialis. org for there wonderful info and link.

Owl Protection

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

A whopping 3 Martins on the wires for less than 5 minutes. That was it.

I have been thinking a lot about Owl Protection for next year. I have several options…and so do you.

I strongly encourage all those that do not have predator protection in place to give it some thought. The work that Purple Martin Landlords go through to attract these birds is significant. The damage an Owl can do over the course of a few nights is devastating. With a few simple deterrents you can save the lives of many martins.

Its amazing the animals around us that we are not aware of. We look out our windows or get out of our cars and we have no idea the eyes that are watching us. I did not think there were that many Owls out here where I live until I spoke to a nice man at the local grocery store. He proceeded to tell me of the 4 nest boxes he had on his property…about 2.5 miles from me, that fledged baby Horned Owls every year. I was amazed since I figured that since I had never heard “hooting” that there were no Owls. WRONG! I have read many a posts from landlords who lost their entire colony to some predator or the other. Purple Martins just don’t pick up and leave. Something drives them away. Be it snakes, raccoons or Owls (to name a few) There are creatures rooming around in the dark scouring the neighborhood for an opportunity. And trust me, being 15 feet in the air is not protection.

Here is a short list of things you can do to protect your colony from Owls. (Many Thanks to the PMCA, Purple Martin Research Group and the Purple Martin Clubhouse)

1. ENLARGE THOSE COMPARTMENTS! 6×6 is so 20th century and so unsafe. 6×12 is the way to go. A simple feat to enlarge existing compartments. Some housing systems (Like Quad Pods) use a baffle to deter Owls. That is simply a plastic barrier, withing the compartment that prevents the owl from seeing past it and into the compartment itself.

2. USE TUNNELS! The tunnel can work like a baffle in some respects, preventing the owl from seeing all the way in the compartment. Mainly the tunnel makes it difficult for an Owl to reach in and pull out birds with his talons. An Owl can reach all the way in a 6×6 compartment and pick off every last bird. With a tunnel, the birds have some measure of safety.

3. WHITE NOISE! Do you have a pool? Is the pump near the martin housing? If so that is a perfect way to mask the noise of the birds “talking” at night. And YES, they do talk. And yes, an Owl flies around listening for just such sounds. Other ways to make white noise are fountain pumps or waterfalls. Even a sound machine sold at your local Wal-Mart or Target can be used to make white noise. Cost is under $15. Or how about a cheap radio set in between stations. (As long as your neighborhood is safe enough that it won’t get stolen) Usually if the radio is playing static, no one will really mess with it. (who wants an apparent broken radio!)

4. WIRE ME UP! 3″ x 4″ hardware cloth or ‘chicken’ wire can make a great owl guard. Wrapped around the housing, the martins will quickly learn to navigate the wire and have a safe escape if an Owl comes calling. You can also purchase Owl Guards that are made specifically for your housing that wraps around it-serving the same purpose.

5. LIGHTS ! Many have found that flood lights, either on all night or motion activated can somewhat deter Owls. Apparently the lights can spoil an Owls stealth approach. My philosophy is-every little bit helps.

There are a few other things that you can do to help. Make your gourds as “swing-free” as possible. (Thank you Mr.Pampell!) Look into a product called Niteguard. It is an artificial “eye”, a blinking light that simulates the eyes of an owl on the top of the housing. Owls stay away from other Owls. So if the Owl thinks there is one parked on top of your Martin house, he will keep going. (Thanks Lisa) Though some say this does NOT work, others say it does. You decide. I would not trust it exclusively to protect from owls.

So those are my tips on Owl Predation Prevention. And you all know how much an ounce of prevention is worth!

I have been working hard on the website. New Purple Martin Polymer jewelry has been added as well as some beautiful Swallow apparel. Check it out http://purplemartins-r-us.com.

Talk to you soon.

July 4, 2008 Happy 4th of JULY!

Friday, July 4th, 2008

I just wanted to wish all of you a safe and happy 4th of July. My kids are looking forward to the fireworks.

I took the house down and have yet to give it its final wash. It sits in the grass as a lonely testament to the martins departure. I remember last year I was so worried about the house as I still had babies in a nest. I was worried that the mother would abandon them from all the smoke and fireworks that goes on out here. Thank goodness we have had alot of rain. No need to worry about wildfires this 4th…or what the martins will think.

Speaking of Purple Martins. I saw 1 today. A lone martin on the wire for about 5 minutes. Then he was gone. I am being over run by Grackles. They are trying to eat me out of bird seed. A faithful pair of cardinals tries to wait their turn at the feeder, the 1 fledgling they bring is so ugly…but cute. I chase the grackles away and that buys the cardinals a minute or two before the grackles return. The baby cardinal begs relentlessly at the feeder only centimeters away from seed. The male parent hulls the seed and stuffs it in his beak. So cute.

Mr. Roberts tells me that only a few dozen Martins are returning to the Davie roost.

July 1,2008 Origin of the Swallows (A legend)

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

This is a translation of something I found on a South American Website. Written by Raul Ortelli, “El Zorro y las Aves” Buenos Aires, Argentina,1964  

ORIGIN OF THE SWALLOWS,  a legend

Twenty centuries ago, in Nazareth, the Child Jesus, while playing with his friends, made some delicate bird figurines with clay from a nearby creek.

While they were playing a Pharisee who was passing by started screaming at them: “Don’t you know that today is Sabbath day and you are not allowed to do any type of job?”  Immediately he tried to squash the figurines with his foot but Jesus extended his hand and the birds began to fly.
That is the way  swallows were born.  These same swallows later made their nests on the roof of Jesus’ home.

Many years later, when Jesus was already a man and was on his way to Golgotha, the swallows were desolate as they followed Him. The Teacher was going to die and a stream of blood mixed with tears was running down his face.  The little birds then, one by one, took the thorns of the crown off the magnificent face. At that moment the Earth trembled and  the sky was clouded over.

From that day on swallows acquired the mourning cloak that they still carry.