Archive for August, 2008

Migration is in full swing

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Purple Martin LakeArt:copyright“PurpleMartin Lake”

My martins have been gone for over a month. Reading the posts from the Purple Martin Forums, as far north as Canada, the final martins are heading towards their premigratory roosts. Within a week or two, they will all be gone.

Down south I have noticed some other departures and some new arrivals. The Swallow tailed Kites have all left. They leave shortly after the martins do, also forming premigratory roosts. Though their numbers are far less, their size and beauty makes them no less inspiring and amazing to see. I have begun to notice large flocks of barn swallows feeding silently as they zip back and forth, fairly low to the ground. Their rust colored necks and bellies in varying shades of cream and rust are a dead give away. Around the house, 15 Miles away by the Super Target, and many points in between I see them in groups of 10 to 50 birds. I would guess there must be thousands of these birds spread out all over south Florida in such a fashion. I will have to wait for the first cold snap up north to bring the large flocks of Robins that come every year. I am fortunate to live near a large wetland preserve and there are always large numbers of birds that fly to and from the preserve. Robins always coming and going to the preserve, En Mass. Some other winter time visitors to my yard make illusive appearances such as the pair of Eastern Phoebes that come every winter.

I will shortly begin planning next season in earnest. Another pole, Predator protection, a bat house and more gourds of course. I strive to give my neighbors something to laugh at. If they only knew the joy these birds can bring.

Lunch With Jose

Monday, August 18th, 2008

I left a message Saturday night with Jose. I told them to let him know I would be coming by Sunday for lunch. My youngest son and I went to a Cuban restaurant to pick up something nice for Jose. I picked up an assortment of pastries and croquettes and a couple of bottles of “Malta”. (It’s a soda type of beverage)

My son was a handful and all he wanted to do was run around. Having worked in a nursing home (10 years ago) I was totally freaked out by this. Doesn’t he KNOW what spills on these floors! Uh, no…he’s two…why would he know. OK, OK, so I couldn’t get Jose out to the patio fast enough. Jose looked the same. Lanky and happy to have someone to talk to. My son was fascinated with his wheelchair but soon took to playing in the grass while we talked. Between bites of food Jose told me little stories of his time in Brazil. I gather that his father was not around much. Apparently his job took him to some other town and he would return on weekends. He and his mother were close though.

I told Jose that I recently had taken all my Purple Martin housing down, as season is over. I asked him if he did the same. “Yes, for quite some time” he said, “But little by little the body gets lazy and the mind gets tired, then I started leaving it up. The rain was hard on the would, though. It was cheap wood.” Jose had told me on an earlier visit that he would use wooden pallets and take them apart to pirate the wood for Purple Martin houses. I asked if he pre-built nests for the Martins. “Oh sure, sure. I would use a lot of palm trees.” You mean pine trees? (Typical nests down here are made of pine straw) I asked. “No, Palm trees. I cut up the fronds after the tree drops them, like so.” He motioned with his fingers a distance of about 5 inches. “They like that alright. Sometimes, you know, they change it. Most times they like it fine. They add the leaves and I change out after they all done with the babies.” Wouldn’t the fronds get wet and soggy? I asked “Nah, its a bird. It’s no brain surgery. They like it fine.” I asked him what was the earliest that he would get the Purple Martins back and he said, “I always have everything up and ready before 3 Kings day.” (January 7-I think) “But they came earlier than that quite a few times. I think New Years one year was earliest…Sometime in 1968, or something. Long time ago. My mind gets tired you know.” With that he polished off his 8th croquette.

A Disney trip

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Weekend before last we took our two boys to Disney World. Always a big hit with them, it usually results in years taken off my life. We went, as usual, to magic Kingdom. I found myself taking photos of Sparrows which simply covered the floor in some areas. Apparently they are in the midst of fledging young. The fledglings were easily in arms reach in some spots. I jokingly said to some friends at the “Purple Martin Clubhouse” that it took all myself control to not reach over and put them out of my misery.fledgling HOSPHosp fledgling

I think I will enter a few of the photos on my GALLERY site  ,as I got a few good shots that may help some of you with HOSP Identification. Like this photo of a female hosp shows the UN-streaked chest and light streak behind the eye.hosp female

The last time we went to Disney we saw the Purple Martin houses that they had at Epcot. Top class housing. At the time I asked a few Disney personnel that walked by if they had any info on who cared for them. Noone knew a thing. Purple Martins were flying about on a nasty rainy overcast day. Sparrows were abundant and perched in the entrances of several gourds. I could only hope that Disney was being responsible enough to manage the S&S. Well, it took awhile but I am pleased to report that the Epcot colony IS managed superbly by a gentleman named James Mejeur who also manages a colony at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I am not sure if he is a Disney volunteer or employee but I DO know that if the colony there can fledge martins with the abundance of S&S around, then their is no excuse for those that think they can not beat the pesky S&S. Mr. Mejeur cleans the HOSP nests out every two days and not a single one fledged a chick out of the colony.  Even better is Between the colonies at Epcot and Animal Kingdom, they fledged close to 500 chicks this year. Astounding and simply wonderful! I love Disney even more, now that I know this about them. My hats off to James and his wonderful work!

SERIOUS Hosp Control

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

OK, so you are convinced. Your Martins are outnumbered at best, “out-beaked” at worst. You have decided that all is fair in Love and War, and it’s WAR! You have gone through all this effort and as soon as you get martins to nest, the hosp show up and the martins exit, stage left.

You have to consider, with habitable purple martin housing at an all time low, the martins arrive and are desperate for nesting space. All the younger SY birds arrive and all the prime spots are full of ASY (after second year adults) birds. What is a strapping young pair of Martins to do? Well, they can wait until later in the season. Then they have to deal with hot summer temps and the disaster that can spell for nestlings. OR they can nest in housing that’s infested with (S&S) Starlings and Sparrows. The landlords will usually note that a pair started to nest, maybe even laid a few eggs but then “just disappeared”. True, several things can make a pair just vanish but I’ll bet you it’s ALWAYS some form of predation. And S&S are like cockroaches; for every one that you see, there are a dozen watching and waiting to take its place.

Enough talking. What are your trapping options?

Well, you have 3 options.

Bait trapping: Wire cage using food or nest material to lure S&S into a cage. Usually more effective with HOSP than starlings.

Nest trapping: Traps S&S within the nest compartment. Is not selective and will trap ANY bird. MUST be monitored frequently to prevent harming native birds.

Shooting:Great option for the outdoors-man who likes hunting. Takes some practice, but not as much as one might think. ALSO: check with local ordinances when it comes to discharging either a firearm or pellet gun in your area.

So lets get into this.


Bait traps can either be repeating or not. By repeating that means it re-sets by itself. A real time saver. Some of these have a holding are that you can place a bird or two-separated from the trapping area.They work a LOT better when you have at least one bird in this area as it serves as a lure for investigating birds. But since native birds can and do get caught in these traps you must monitor this type of trap and release natives ASAP.

Cheap bird seed (lots of proso millet), white bread and popcorn make great bait for these traps. During active nesting a few feathers and nest scraps make a great lure also. Try pre-baiting an area for a day or two to get the S&S accustomed to feeding in this area before you introduce the trap. But if you have martins, a day or two can be enough to cause huge losses so weigh your options. If you don’t have the luxury of pre-baiting an area…don’t worry about it. Bait your trap and get going. These traps are available on eBay for a good price. Or just Google “sparrow traps” and see a plethora of choices. There are also traps called “funnel” or “V” traps that have no moving mechanism and work on the principle that birds aren’t the brightest bulbs. (Hence the term bird-brained) These type of traps work better with sparrows but are used quite successfully on a large scale with Starlings. Basically, a narrow entry allows entry but is difficult for the trapped birds to relocate in order to escape.

Nest traps  can either be on the Purple Martin’s housing or at a separate location that the martins would not be interested in. Such as close to a tree or under a house eaves. Traps within the Martin housing have a tripping mechanism that must be reset after each catch. Unless you make the entrance hole to the compartment containing the trap smaller, you can catch sparrows AND starlings AND MARTINS! So monitor closely. There are numerous commercially available traps of this kind, depending on what type of house or gourd you are using. My personal favorite type of nest trap is a repeating nest box trap. It automatically resets after each catch. The bird enters the “nest” and drops down into a holding cage. Since you can place this trap closer to trees or a building the chances of catching a martin are slim but woodpeckers love mine. I release them quickly.

Shooting success is based on your skill level. So practice is essential. I, personally, am not comfortable with my level of expertise but its an easy and effective way to dispose of S&S in one easy step.

So you trap these S&S and what do you do with them? First, make absolutely sure its a European Starling or an English House Sparrow NOT a native look-alike.male HOSP head shotFemale HOSP head shotMale and female HOSP

Well, I do NOT recommend driving them somewhere and releasing them. Unfortunately you will just waste gas and they will fly right back or give some other poor birds grief. So what can you do to quickly and humanely euthanize the S&S you trap? I HIGHLY suggest visiting one of my favorite sites  for great detailed info on your options who I thank for the HOSP photos. The link will take you to their page which outlines numerous legal and non-legal techniques that people use. Whichever technique to trap and dispose of S&S I wish you luck. Remember, that being a Purple Martin landlord is an active endeavor. It is a hobby in which your success is often a direct measurement of your actions and in-actions. If you are fortunate enough to be in a situation where you are protecting your martins, please send a prayer to all those striving landlords that are doing everything right. Unfortunately, due to the damage inflicted by S&S, in Purple Martin numbers, many landlords housing sit empty waiting for those fortunate enough to wage the good fight with the S&S, to tip the scales and re populate the skies with the graceful bird we all love…the Purple Martin.

God Bless!

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