Archive for April, 2009

Green Cay Predator Guards are UP!

Monday, April 13th, 2009


I wanted to tell you about my recent visit to the Purple Martin colony at Green Cay Nature Center. The facility is immaculate (as usual) and the wildlife plentiful. Birds were in abundance. From a pair of Red-Tailed hawks, mottled ducks, common moorheads and red winged black birds and others that challenged my marginal bird ID skills. I was there to install the predator guardsthat Mr.Updike (a fellow Purple Martin Conservation Association forumite) from Delaware had so graciously donated to Green Cay. Donald Campbell, the manager of Green Cay, escorted me out to the purple martin houses. The martins, for not being as close to humans as the martins at my house, were just as docile. A flurry of feathers to get airborne and then curious swoops as if we had been doing nest checks all along. The Economy 12 gourd rack was the first to come down. Though it has a capacity for 12 gourds, as its name implies, the rack currently only has 8 Troyer horizontal gourds all with round openings. Out of the 8 gourds, 6 of them were occupied with either nestlings or eggs. Those 2 that were not occupied had complete nests. None had any evidence of mites.

Not all of the nests looked the same however. As I opened the access port to the first gourd, I saw feathers had been used in its construction. I was confused. Could a Tree Swallow have nested here? No, I saw Purple Martins perched on the rack before we approached it. If it was a Tree Swallow, it would have kept the martins away from the rack. Never even mind the fact that a Tree Swallow nesting in South Florida would be for the record books. I reached in, unable to see what was laying within.European starling nestlings

The first nestling I pulled out greeted me with a big yellow beak and downy fuzz on its head and back. My heart sank. I reached in and pulled out another, then another, then another until 5 writhing bodies gaped at me. It appeared as though (unfortunately) 3 of the nests were those of European Starlings. The oldest of the nestlings was bold and unfazed by my handling. It looked at me as if to dare me.  A half smile on that wretched yellow dagger of a beak.

When I talk to people about Purple Martins and the threat of non-native nest site competitors (like starlings or sparrows) many people will deny they have a problem…until there is a problem. And when it comes to sparrows and starlings, trust me, there is a problem. But it is a delicate issue Starling Nestlingand there is always the danger of offending sensibilities and beliefs. It’s a subject I tread carefully and this situation gives me a great opportunity to show some of you that still doubt, that sometimes even if there “ain’t nothing broke”, we should still fix it. The situation at Green Cay illustrates perfectly how problems arise. The old housing was unattractive to starlings. Thus, no starling problem. Small 6×6 compartments being the main complaint. By the way, those same 6×6 compartments are unattractive to purple martins also, But necessity being the mother of invention and the Purple Martins being a lot more hard pressed for available housing, will make do with what is available to them. Why else would studies show that in larger compartments that purple martins not only lay more eggs, but successfully fledge more young. This being the case, when the new Troyer horizontal gourds were introduced this year, the Starlings took a good long look.

Being nestled in intimate proximity to an urban setting, starlings in my area have an abundant supply of adequate housing. All they have to do is fly a few hundred feet to reach any number of prime starling nest areas. South Florida architecture is famous for its use of Spanish tiles that starlings nest in quite successfully. Dead palm trees are so soft they are hollowed out by woodpeckers in record time and provide great nesting spots for starlings. So when someone puts up housing in urban areas, even if you don’t see the starlings, it is just a matter of time. And just like any of you that have ever had a picnic know, the flies don’t bother you until the food comes out. But you know the flies are around.

Interestingly enough, in retrospect I wonder if the nests that were completed but unoccupied were empty because a starling already had attacked? Could a starling have already caused damage? Regardless, the colony is thriving and at least it is an easy fix. Thankfully, with the development of SREH, the starling threat can be neutralized.

The Sunset Inn house, with its SREH is safe from the start. Every compartment was filled with 5-6 eggs or nestlings. One compartment had a 1 day old nestling that was dead, but the 4 other 1 and 2 day old nest mates seemed to be doing fine. The nest was sparse and the nestlings in this nest were on the only patch of bare floor but I rearranged the nest so that a covering of leaves provided some warmth. All the other nests were beautifully constructed with huge mud dams and perfectly crafted nests using grasses and reeds. The purple martins are lucky to have such a beautiful setting to raise their young.

In closing I hope that for those that do not believe in the benefits of SREH that you reconsider and make the conversion in your colony’s. A few moments of work will rewards you with unending peace of mind. I also urge the more passive of landlords to spend more time getting to know your birds. As it is with many active purple martin landlords, we check our birds so frequently that their world opens up to us like a crystal ball. A story unfolds slowly but clearly of the challenges they face. With active management small problems can be fixed and large problems can be unearthed quickly. And knowing our birds so intimately gives us an appreciation for these birds that is hard to describe.

But I will keep trying!

Photos and Blog Contents © S.Halpin/

Nest Check, Hawk and a surprise!

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

I have had a busy day so without further adieu-the nest check!

Gourd #1- 5 eggs
Gourd #2- 5 eggs
Gourd #3- 4 twodayolds & one pipping egg
Gourd #5- 5 eggs
Gourd #6- 6 eggs
Gourd #7- 1 onedayold and 3 eggs
Gourd #8- 4 eggs
Gourd #9 -5 threedayolds
Gourd #10- 6 eggs
Gourd #11- 5 eggs (on nestcam-due to hatch 4/16!)
Gourd #12- 4 eggs

Gourd A- unable to find any eggs (previously had 1)
Gourd D- 1 egg               Gourd J- 2 eggs (had 1 egg on 4/7)

Excluder gourd -5 eggs

Natural horizontal gourd - 5 eggs

Sunset Inn compartment A – 6 eggs            Compartment F -4 eggs

AND the shepards hook gourd (located some 35 feet from the gourd racks about 5 feet off ground) with 2 eggs

For a grand total of 69 eggs and 10 young.

The Hawk

purplemartin attacking hawkAs usual, the red tailed hawk continues to make lazy attempts at catching one of the martins. I am not very good at raptor ID, so for all I know, it is a immature hawk practicing. The attacks always frighten and always send the martins up in a flurry of purple. He sat on the top of the purple martins favorite slash pine and was punished for his impudence! Martin after martin dove and harassed till he eventually flew off in disgust. He almost seemed embarrassed. Unfortunately, I am sure he will recover and visit again. Come fledge time, I am already making plans to sit out on a lawn chair and babysit. For today perhaps the hawks are busy chasing down mockingbird fledglings that keep finding their way into our garage…much to the chagrin of their parents.

The Surprise

close up eggI had a series of firsts for today. I witnessed my first pipping egg, which is simply put, an egg in the process of hatching. It is pretty amazing and very slow. The nestlings little beak is just visible through the small hole that it has pecked through the shell. The nestling will have to slowly chip at the egg, the entire circumference of the egg. Since this is the last egg in this nest, there is no danger of the shell becoming encapsulated. An encapsulated egg can cause the death of the nestling inside and should be watched for. During nest checks if portions of the shell remain in the nest, you should remove the pieces. These egg shells can fall over unhatched eggs and trap the nestlings inside-encapsulating them within.

My other first was 2 eggs discovered on a Shepard’s hook gourd. The first year I put up housing for purple martins, the first birds that landed on it were Tree Swallows. Now at the time, I did not know that the Tree swallows were only migrating through, as south Florida is a bit too far south for them. I put up the shepards hook as a “just in case”. I placed it about 35 feet from the purple martin housing and every year I get a male who claims it. Last year a pair built a nest but no eggs were ever laid in it. I think it was just an extra nest built by a pair that nested in one of the other gourds. This year appears to be different. I checked the shepards hook, more as a courtesy, not really expecting to find anything, and lo and behold!!! 2 shiny white eggs! The Shepard’s hook is not more than 5 feet in total height. It has an aluminum stovepipe predator guard, that I wax every year. And now it has 2 eggs! Time will tell if the eggs will be tended to. Perhaps they were just dumped there. A female needing to lay eggs but not having a mate, nest, or the inclination to tend to them. But there they are. I hope they will be OK. It does go to show how martins will overcome many “imperfect” site issues for the sake of being within the safety of a large colony. As most people will tell you that the ideal height for a purple martin nest is at LEAST 10 feet, 12-15 even better. So a 5 foot Shepard’s hook is a stretch.

As I did todays nest check I looked up at one point and saw well over 45 birds flying about. I was dumb-founded and I must say it was an impressive site. As always, my heart skipped a beat.

Blog contents and photos © 2009 S.Halpin/

Nest Check for April 7,2009

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Gourd #1- 3 eggs
Gourd #2- 5 eggs
Gourd #3- 5 eggs
Gourd #5- 2 eggs
Gourd #6- 6 eggs
Gourd #7- 4 eggs
Gourd #8- 3 eggs
Gourd #9 -5 eggs
Gourd #10- 6 eggs
Gourd #11- 4 eggs
Gourd #12- 4 eggs

Gourd A- 1 egg
Gourd J- 1 egg

Excluder gourd -5 eggs

Natural horizontal gourd - 5 eggs

Sunset Inn compartment A – 6 eggs

For a grand total of 62 eggs in 15 gourds and 1 nest in house.

I AGAIN tried to adjust the nestcam and can not get it aimed quite right. I will try, yet again on Saturday when I do the next nest check. I hope to go to Green Cay this Friday. I wanted to go last week but between my dental problems and our schedules; it was not possible.  I must admit that my spirits are always lifted when it comes to purple martins, but as of late any joy is somewhat muted with pain. Hopefully the worst is somewhat over and my dental issues will improve, as will my humor.


 (c) Blog contents copyright 2009 S.Halpin/

Nest Check for 4/5/09

Monday, April 6th, 2009

In my last post I had told you of how I finally was able to do a nest check on 1 of my 3 housing units. All because of a stubborn pole-or feeding platform to be specific. Well here are the nest check results as of April 5th.

Gourd #2- 5 eggs
Gourd #3- 5 eggs
Gourd #6- 6 eggs
Gourd #7- 4 eggs
Gourd #9 -5 eggs
Gourd #10- 6 eggs
Gourd #11- 4 eggs
Gourd #12- 4 eggs

Excluder gourd -4 eggs

Natural horizontal gourd - 3 eggs

Sunset Inn compartment A -(?) eggs-mom in nest & did not move.
For a grand total of at LEAST 46 eggs in 10 gourds and 1 nest in house. 

Next nest check is 4/7/09, I hope.

Now today was a challenging day. I had a tooth taken out and am miserable. When we came home I wanted nothing more than to curl up under the blankets and go to sleep but the weather had other ideas. We have a cold (yes COLD) front moving through and the wind is gusting upwards of 25 mph. I am confidant that my 2 Economy Gourd racks can handle this but the triangular telescopic pole…not so much. I went out with ice pack held firmly against my jaw and assessed the situation. The gusts were making the house appear to twist from side to side. Though I am no structural engineer, I am smart enough to know that this is a recipe for pole failure. I lowered the pole so that only 1 part of the 4 sections is extended. The house looks ridiculously low to the ground but the birds wont mind. My incubating female in house compartment A flew right back in without so much as a pause. My trooper. Some of the other birds hovered, then landed on one of the gourd racks before finally going back into the house. Tomorrow is a nest check day and I will raise it back up then as long as the wind is a bit more behaved.

Perhaps when I am more up to it I will tell you of the dental experience that brings me to the point of having my tooth extracted. But I must admit, talking about my birds is good therapy and I thank you all for listening!

 (c) Blog contents copyright 2009 S.Halpin/

Pole Drama Mama

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Before I opened our business, I did what many people do that want to try their hand at Purple Martins. I went out and purchased an inexpensive plastic house. With the cheap house came a cheap triangular pole, and with the cheap pole came a cheap feeder/platform tray that slides over the pole.

Last year I had big problems with egg shells sliding down the inner opening of the platform feeder and sliding down in between the pole sections. What resulted was severe sticking of the pole. So when I attempted to circumvent this issue this year by gluing a barrier around the opening, I was confident it would succeed. NOT! My gorilla glue lasted about 2 months in the sun and came unglued allowing the bits of shell to slide, once again, down the inner hole and in between the pole sections. What resulted was the delay of nest checks on the Sunset Inn house and today’s story.

As you may or may not realize, I do not sell these triangular poles on my site. I had a gourd rack on a triangular pole that I phased out this year with the new Economy 12 gourd rack and I am sorry I did not go ahead and phase the triangular poles out in their entirety. It has been a continued headache.

I greatly underestimated my desire to hoist up a telescopic pole every few days. Last year one of the plastic tabs that keeps the triangular telescopic pole locked in place broke and I had to use a long bolt in the opening to extend the pole. One pole bent about 10 degrees in a thunderstorm and one developed a very slight bend that made bringing the pole up and down difficult. Then of course there was the problem of the egg shells getting inside the pole sections. I can assure you that next year all my poles will be pulley operated.

What does this all mean to someone that wants to get into Purple Martins without spending SEVERAL hundred dollars? One can easily spend upwards of $500 to $1000 (and more) for a sweet purple martin set up. Does this mean that you should NOT try your hand at purple martins? No, it only means that if you choose to go the frugal way into the hobby do not be surprised if within a few years you find yourself wishing you had a sweet tricked out Purple Martin set up. Do not feel badly that your cheap system has let you down. You may just find that you have outgrown it.

So what do I have on my triangular pole? I placed my aluminum Sunset Inn house on it with a custom made mounting plate. It seems to be hanging in there just fine. It’s my arms that are giving out. And other than the egg shell pain in my noodle, it will serve out this season (I hope) with honor. Finally after a can of WD-40 and much prying and wiggling and banging it came free. 3 delayed nest checks later I was finally able to lower the Sunset Inn and check it and the 2 gourds hanging under it. What did I find? Both gourds have eggs, a total of 7 more for the count and the house itself has eggs but I don’t know how many. “Why is that?”, you ask. Look and see.

This is why I love these birds. Stupid? No, she knew it was me. I was fooling with the pole for some minutes, calling out to my husband and when I heard a rustling and looked, there she sat. Calm and trusting. Watching me and knowing. Partners we are. Tethered and wild. Human and not. Surface dweller and flying free. Working together by the grace of God and under His watchful eye. How can one not want to put up a Purple Martin house?

 (c) Blog contents copyright 2009 S.Halpin/

April Fools Nest Check

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

I know, I am a little late posting these last nest check results. But here they are:

Gourd #2 3 eggs
Gourd #3 5 eggs
Gourd #6 6 eggs
Gourd #7 4 eggs
Gourd #9 5 eggs
Gourd #10 3 eggs
Gourd #11 4 eggs
Gourd #12 3 eggs
For a grand total of 33 eggs in 8 gourds. All ASY pairs, all tunneled Troyer horizontal gourds.

I was UNABLE to check the Aluminum Sunset Inn house. The telescopic pole that I have it on is apparently stuck. It is a triangular pole (that I do not sell) and the feeder tray that it came with consistently allows egg shells from the feeder to slide down the pole and make a nightmare of a time for me. This is the last season with this pole and I am sorry that I did not replace it sooner.

I had previously modified the feeder tray with a plastic hole plug that I had cut the bottom off of. In essence it was like the bottom of a plastic cup…but without the bottom. I sealed it to the tray so that when it rains the contents of the tray do not wash down the center of the pole as it did seasons past- an obvious design flaw. Either the tray should have been designed so that the contents wash to the outer edges vs the center. But this is proof of several things, to me. One being that “shotgun” product design often comes up with many designs. Some good some not so good. More importantly “shotgun” designing has unpleasant side effects to the end consumer when the design is not properly and adequately field tested. I will have to get my husband to help me attempt to unstick the pole and then put caulk around the center hole.

There is still an occasional bird or two sleeping on the porch of the house. Last night it was an ASY male. I have seen several birds at last light struggling from compartment to compartment, trying to find an empty room. I have seen 1 or two birds fly off at dark. I am suspecting that they leave to roost in a tree or another house but continue to try to find room here.

I have visited several nearby houses that I have found on my travels and all still appear empty, as their usual. All these houses have potential but are just located improperly. IE: too close to trees. I have left almost 2 dozen leaflets on local properties with information on Purple Martins for these landlords. To date I have heard back from 3 people and have personally spoken with 2 more. The 2 people I spoke with tell me that they have martins return yearly. Some of the houses I have found have no “proof of life” at least the feathered kind.

Also I have finally moved the nest cam to gourd #11. I will later attempt to point the cam so that you can actually see eggs. But I do believe she has started incubating at least 4 eggs!

 (c) Blog contents copyright 2009 S.Halpin/