Archive for May, 2009

Purple Martin: CSI

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

I have prided myself in the attention I give my birds. Yes, I know, the Purple Martins are not truly mine but the care I lavish on them is appreciated by them. The trust they show me as I hoist the gourd racks up or down and they sit and wait patiently with bugs in their mouths. Waiting to take them into their gourds to feed hungry nestlings. Imagine my chagrin when over the past week or so an ASY male is dive bombing my head relentlessly. Within inches he strafes my head to the point where I fear for my life…or at least my eyesight. Going to the mailbox which is at the opposite side of a acre + lot even rankles him. What could have upset him so much to the point of this hatred he apparently has for me? Forever the OCD’er that I am, I have thought of a few scenarios.

First, I think this male may be the same male from the natural gourd that was eaten by the red corn snake several weeks ago. There are 2 new nests with nestlings that hatched in the last week and the male may well be one of those daddy’s. Could the ASY male that lost his family just be blaming me for his misfortune? The male survived that attack and definitely saw me removing both the snake and the one last remaining dead nestling from that gourd. Could he be associating the tragedy with me as I was the last one seen at the scene of the crime?

Perhaps it is a totally different male from one of the other new nests. There is a new nest of 5 eggs that on the last nest check (May 28) I found one of the eggs had been broken. Could have been the work of a clumsy fledgling. They seem to be going in and out of nest indiscriminately and getting their tails beat in the process. Maybe the male saw me remove this broken egg from the nest? I have heard that one should shield any dead young and/or eggs from the sight of other martins so to not upset them. Though I generally try to do this, there are times when I am sure some birds may see what is going on.

In short, I am not sure what to do other than wear protective head gear and eyewear whenever I am outside. Though I doubt there is any available treatment for my wounded pride.
Nestcam update. The 5 nestlings on the Nestcam are due to fledge as early as June 2. You can watch them leave gourd #4 on the Colonycam. After they fledge I will move the camera to a gourd on the lettered rack and at that time I may move the main Colonycam so that the Sunset Inn house and lettered rack are in view.

Nestcheck for 5/28

Young in nests remaining:  46

Eggs in nests remaining:   27

Total fledged to date:  66

©2009 S.Halpin/

Mockingbirds Return

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Some time ago I blogged about the unfortunate mockingbird nest that was discovered by the neighborhood crows. The nest was picked clean by a large grim reaper of the bird world, the American Crow. I was sad as the mockers had given up a small roebelenii palm a foot off my pool deck, that they nested in twice last year for a small bush in the neighbors cat infested, unprotected yard. Perhaps they learned their lesson. Perhaps it is a different pair, but they have a young fledgling making his way out of another nest in a Roebelenii palm just outside my front door. They go berserk when my dog goes out the door for his “work” but are nonplussed by me going outside to check on them. As I went outside the door one morning I heard the parents giving their little worried call to the fledgling. The parents were up on the rain gutter looking down at me. It sounds like a soft short moan. Not an alert call at all. I looked around and there in the palm a foot from my head was the baby. Looking at me. I got my camera and took some pics of the little guy and remembered the mockingbirds of my youth and how they would have scalped me in short order if I had ever wandered so close to their baby. I am sure they know that I am a protector not a threat.

A recent study by the University of Florida that was reported in the  Proceedings Of The National Academy of Sciences showed that the mockingbirds DO recognize individual people, after as little as two encounters! Read about the study here. My thoughts of course ALWAYS travel back to the Purple Martins and I am sure that the same science can be applied to the martins as well. My only question is when will that ASY male martin STOP dive bombing me? I am starting to have my feelings hurt. Me? A threat?

Beware of Wet Nests!

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

I recently posted of theck, nest change driving rains that we have been having. Several severe problems are making themselves evident. First off, on the lettered gourd rack, I apparently drilled the air vents on the backs of the Troyers incorrectly as water is wicking inside the gourds of several of them. Even the nests that I changed just 2 days ago needed a another nest change. On Troyer Horizontal Gourds you have the option of drilling 2 air vents in the backs of the gourds. One has to drill them at an upward angle to keep the rain from blowing inside the gourd.  I beleive my problem to be that I did not drill them at a steep enough angle. Not that it is a huge amount of water under the usual circumstances but this last week and a half of crazy rain has pushed all of Murphy’s Laws to the limit.

I wanted to make sure that all are aware of the vital need to do nest checks after such rains and to be prepared to do nest changes. A wet nest can spell disaster for your nestlings and only spells trouble. It is a problem that is easy to fix but can cause huge  losses in a short amount of time. Only 2 days since the last nest change and when I opened the gourd that seems to be the worse off, the nest was well on its way to being a putrid mess. The nestlings feathers were damp and dirty. I cleaned the nest out thoroughly and I believe they will fair well with continued nest checks through this bad rain. My only concern is that a nest is approaching fledge time and that means nest checks will slow down to prevent premature fledging. I am tempted to bring the rack down tomorrow and caulk the air vents closed to prevent any further issues this season.

Unfortunately the nestling in gourd “E” with the cyst/mass on its abdomen did not fair as well. Though the nest was dry the nestling was dead for at least a day and was very smelly. Though it almost appeared sleeping, it did not look peaceful and the 3 other nestlings in the gourd were huddled as far away from the stink as possible. I can only imagine what would have happened if I was not doing nest checks. I disposed of the poor baby and checked the other which seemed none the worse for wear. 

The take away? DO NEST CHECKS!Unless there is a nest that is close to fledging, I do not believe that you can do too many nest checks. As long as you try to oblige your birds with a decent time of the day to do the check, you can not go wrong with checking the nests daily when a problem is suspected or in this case of problematic rain. If you are fearful or unsure of how to do a nest change and want to watch a video of a nest change being done click HERE.

In death there is often life and with the death of this poor nestling a new nest of 3 nestlings was discovered. 3 eggs and now 3 nestling huddled together (in a dry nest-thank God) reaching up with mouths open. The miracle of life makes all the stink and disgusting mess soooooo worthwhile.  I will do this as long as I live. Hopefully I will instill the same love of Purple Martins in my sons and they will carry on in my stead.

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

Not that I am not grateful for the rain that South Florida so desperately needs. I really don’t want the rain to go away. Just give me enough time to take care of business on the 3 poles. South Florida has had torrential downpours in the last week or so as a result of a low pressure system that was actually threatening to turn into an early Tropical Depression. Hurricane season can’t wait to start, apparently.

The nest checks could wait no more. Last nest check of the numbered gourd rack had gourd # 10  smelling quite ripe and needing a change badly. The babies all fledged successfully in that nest but yesterday as I watched the birds coming in for the night, I noticed that no one wanted to enter that gourd. So I was finally able to do several nest changes in empty gourds that had already fledged on the numbered rack and also changed several nests with babies on the lettered rack. The smell was reminiscent of the monkey cages at the Bronx Zoo and General Tso’s Chicken from the neighborhood Chinese restaurant. I doubt I will ever be able to eat General Tso’s Chicken again. Thankfully my experience as a nurse and mom has prepared me well for the foulness of the situation…5 straight days of sideways falling rain, plus bird poop, plus “bug parts” was turning into a potent compost material. I am convinced that had I not changed the nests for some of the nestlings that some will have perished in short order. The nestlings in Gourd “D” were wet and dirty. They seemed grateful to be placed back in a dry clean nest. I noticed one of the nestlings had a small lump on its abdomen that reminded me of a cyst or a tumor. Hopefully it is benign but I will observe it. All but the telescopic pole was checked as thunder was rumbling again and a drizzle began to fall.

Last night I had the strangest dream. In the dream I heard the wolf whistle call of a starling. Then this morning when I went outside to check on the birds and check the trap, as I ALWAYS do. To my surprise I looked down at the trap and I see a bird in the trap. At first I thought it was a fledgling martin that let his curiosity get the better of him. When I looked closer I saw that it was not one but 2, yes TWO Starlings in “the little repeating nest-trap-that-could”. 

There are some half dozen starlings frequenting the yard and I decided to keep the younger of the two as a lure. Now to just work on my baited trap.

I was glad to be able to get some good up close photos of the European Starling and several came out quite well.

Nest Check Results for 5-23-09:

Fledged to date:    58

Total Eggs remaining:       28

Total Young remaining:       38  (+10 ? Unable to check telescopic pole)

Stormy Weather

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

The pregnant clouds finally broke their water and the rain has been relentless for the last 3 days. 5 minutes of sunshine then another “contraction” in the form of thunderstorms. I am glad and the birds seem to be handling the frequent downpours well. There is enough pause between and the storms are scattered enough that they are feeding just fine. A nest check is overdue on all racks and if the thunder stays away while the kids are napping, I may try to squeeze one in today.

The earliest of fledglings seem to still be returning to the gourds at night to sleep but it is hard to determine just what is going on. The other night on the nest cam I noticed what seemed to be 3 adults in with the 5 nestlings in Gourd #4. They were all sleeping peacefully but I doubt that was the case when the party crasher arrived.

Contact number for Folke Peterson 561-793-2473

Fledglings & Hawks

Monday, May 18th, 2009

The fledglings are clambering all over the gourd racks and the house causing a ruckus all day long. The rain has been falling on and off for the last 2 days and they seem to be enjoying the it. All it takes is me stepping on to the back patio and I set them off in a slurry of purple. The flock moves en Mass except for the remaining parents that are still feeding nestlings. More than half of the nests have fledged and my season will be starting to wind down shortly.

The Red Shouldered hawk is persistently attacking the colony and I can only assume that it has been successful, though thankfully I have yet to witness a successful attack. Yesterday I witnessed 3 such attempts that set the purple martin off in an alarming cacophony. I am sure that now having said that, I have jinxed myself and come tomorrow morning I will see the blasted hawk plucking a martin right before my eyes. Please knock on wood!

I have had so many “firsts” this year. First snake attack. First dead nestling on the ground. First pair to actually nest in the gourd hanging on the 5 foot shepherds hook. First nest check with my son. First time broadcasting the webcams. Never mind all the milestones and “firsts” with the website and blog. I already am missing my birds and can’t wait to show them again next year what a wonderful place this is to call home.

©2009 S.Halpin/


Saturday, May 16th, 2009

Purple Martins on Nestcam gourd #11 have fledged!

It is official, they are flying around like maniacs. A bit unsteady but apparently without incident. The Nestcam was so dirty that it was hard to make out who was even in the gourd. I finally brought myself to lower the rack and in doing so flushed out a few straggler fledglings from gourds #11 and 12 but it had to be done. At approx 31 days old, I knew they would be fine. The Nestcam is now cleaned off and on gourd #4 which needs a watchful eye as I have not seen daddy helping and mom seems to be taking her time with feedings. The babies did not seem as plump as I would like and they seemed a bit bony so I will be watching this gourd closely to make sure that they are getting enough to eat.

Two of the nests are down right nasty and if it were not for a clutch of new eggs in gourd #8 (a renest attempt) I would have done a nest change. This was the first nest check for the numbered gourd rack in over a week so a complete check was long overdue. But to do a full nest check and then do a nest change also would take too much time. The nastiest of the nests is due to fledge within a week so I am considering leaving it be. OR I may go out tomorrow and bring the rack down and change the nesting material. I hate the thought of them in that mess.

Under the lettered gourd rack, I found a dead nestling. Approx 4 days old and it had been dead quite some time. It came from gourd H and the other 5 nestlings in the gourd seemed fine. The are about 8 days old. I will never know what was the cause. An SY male perhaps or just a case of natural death and the parents cleaning house. 

I am unable to check the telescopic pole as the nestlings in the aluminum Sunset Inn house are ready to fledge at any time.

In other news: There is lots of racoon feces on our patio and I am starting to get more nervous. A flicker has been cleaning out the screech Owl box since the owls are gone and one of the tidbits it threw out was a whole owl egg. I fear the owls did not have a successful clutch in my yard.

Partial nest check results (unable to check telescopic pole)

Total Eggs:  17 + (10 eggs unable to verify if hatched)

Total Young:  53 (Plus 15 on other pole?) 68

Total (active) Nests:  22

Fledged to Date: 28

If I Can’t Beat Them…

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

I officially have given up on European Starling hunting. I instead, am putting up my old plastic martin house, under the eaves of the house and offering it up to the starlings, as a fine place to make a nest and raise young. Hopefully they will be done teaching their little demon spawn to forage and will be on the look out for more housing and I will comply. Am I nuts? No, but there is a method to my madness. Listen and I will tell you.

My pellet gun skills are not even worth the effort. At this point it seems useless to just “make noise” and chase them from the cross-hairs of my yard to the safety of the neighbors only a few feet away. Dozens of Starlings everyday come and feed off my lawn, which in reality is not that many considering starlings have been know to gather in flocks of thousands. But I digress.

No longer will I scare them away. Hopefully I will entice a pair to nest in the old house under the eaves. I will let them lay eggs and maybe even hatch them. At some point I will take over the raising of one of their young and make it a fine pet. Maybe even teach it to talk. I will teach it to say something quite clever, I am convinced. Maybe even take it with me when I do purple martin presentations. Since they are invasive pests they are not protected by law and I can do this. Then my new pet will be the decoy to call other starlings to my “starling motel”. The Starling Motel is owned and operated by the same infamous motel chain that owns the roach motel. Perhaps you have heard of them? Like the Roach Motel, the starling motel will also not allow check-outs.

Where is the Rain?

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

2 days of pregnant clouds and not a drop of water. The neighborhood ponds are drying up and the wetlands at some of the areas of Grassy Waters Preserve look more like scrub land than swamp. For hours the sky was black and thunder could be heard in the distance. The clouds swirled but not a drop fell here.

 It seems like there has been a bustle of morning hour activity at the purple martin housing ever since the babies have started fledging last week. I am not sure if some of the activity is from other area colonies or my own purple martins. They swoop in with zest and proceed to make themselves quite the nuisance. Peeking in compartments, being scolded fiercely by protective parents, vocal and joyful in both song and flight they are everything that is fun to watch about purple martins. Though a bit mischievous, I have witnessed no serious fighting.

The nestlings on the nestcamare big and ready to go at any time. They are busy flapping about in the gourd, stretching and preening their new flight feathers. Preparing themselves for a maiden flight. There is always at least one with its head looking out the front of the gourd and the others stuck inside looking about or napping. Today they are 26 days old and they are officially old enough to fledge at any moment. The mother comes to the opening and perches for some time often bringing no food, which signals that they are indeed ready. The parents will decrease feeding as fledging approaches. This technique serves 2 purposes. First, it decreases the attractiveness of the nest with its “room service” so that the babies will want to come out to feed. Secondly, to decrease their weight which can be more than an adults. Talk about baby fat! Try getting airborne with all that extra weight though.

 I am still postponing nestchecks on this rack due to the amount of babies ready to fledge and I have been unable to do a nestcheck on the other 2 units due to the thunder.

European Starling fledglings have come around, chaperoned by an adult. One was as close as a foot from the repeating S&S nestbox trap but never landed on the trap itself. Of course I was seriously disappointed and it reminded me that I must go back to Green Cay Nature Center to further observe the gourd rack there. My terrible luck with trapping this year along with the population explosion locally, has brought me to a new level of sadness for our native birds.

RescueFest at Folke Peterson and a NightHawk

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

The day started out hot and steamy. A very nice lady, Karyn L., I met in Titusville at the 2009 Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, braved the heat to make a second trip to my house to take some pictures of my martins. Of course I am ever proud of my thriving colony in my backyard, so of course she is always welcome. I then had to make last minute preparations for a 1pm presentation on Purple Martins at the Folke Peterson Wildlife Center.

The center was having its RescueFest. A fund raiser to attempt to help save the center during our challenging economic times. Friday night was an adults only event with wine tasting, silent auctions and I heard, great fun was had by all. Saturdays turn out was modest and the highlight for me was meeting a Swallow-tailed kite up close and personal. The girl holding the kite told me, erroneously, that they are exclusively insectivores. I told her of the kite who snatched a dove nestling out of a nest in a tree in the neighbors yard and I had the feeling she thought I was quite wrong. This evening I even double checked my facts and according to my trusty Audubon Field Guide, swallow-tailed kites eat insects and “snatches lizards off the trunks of trees.” So from a lizard to a naked nestling, I don’t consider it a far stretch.

I also saw, tonight at dusk, for the second time in my life a Common Nighthawk. The first time I saw one was last week and I did not know what it was. It was about 6pm and the martins were feeding high above the house and I noticed a bird similar in wing shape but a bit larger and with white wingbars. Its flight was distinct and much different than I had ever seen. Described by Audubon as “fluttery” I though it more pulsing yet irregular. Tonight I heard its distinct call and looked up searching. Knowing that there was enough light to catch a view and sure enough, high above calling its buzzy single note. My husband, as usual, thinks I am quite the “bird nerd” and I proceeded to try and convince him of the importance of this event. He was non-plussed. The Common Nighthawk is probably a bird that many of you have heard but never noticed. In the nightjar family, Nighthawks are related to whippoorwills and are equally odd looking. I always hear them at night in the parking lots of Kmart and the like. Never able to see them due to the darkness, I was always intrigued by the nasal “peent” . For many years I though the sound was that of some kind of frog or insect. Next time you go to the local super center at night, listen for the Common Nighthawk.