Archive for July, 2009

Runt Update- A Visit to Busch Wildlife Sanctuary

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

After a long evening of re-hydrating the purple martin nestling and then this morning continued Gatorade and crickets, the nestlings belly was much softer, poops were normal and most importantly-he was still alive.

All morning without any chirps, I was wondering if mom was anywhere around. Usually you would think that the nestling would give out a few chirps if he heard her. I did see a SY female coming to the porch twice in a 4 hour period. Once to drop off a large cicada on the outside porch. I wasn’t impressed with her efforts. At around noon I lowered the gourd rack and took out the 2 thin-est of the remaining 4. I left the 2 strongest nestlings which after careful aging, I determined them to be 22 days old. The runt definitely is feathered, for the most part, like a 16 day old. The 3 skinny ones then made a 20 minute ride to Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter after having a drink of gatorade.

I met David Hitzig, the executive director of the facility. It was great to finally visit this center that I had heard about but never visited. As you may know from previous posts, I had always used Folke Peterson, which is only a few minutes away, but now that they are closing (due to financial problems) this was a wonderful opportunity to make the drive. Had I known what a full service, top notch facility it is, I would have come sooner. I brought the family and my 2 boys were kept happy and amazed at the animals including Florida Panthers, Deer, foxes, birds of prey and every sort of native Florida wildlife. I meanwhile spoke with David.

He is astute and quite aware of the dilemma these birds find themselves in. Being so late in the season, and no other nests that could foster them, the best place for them is with momma. As negligent as she is, their best hope is to fledge with her. Without the post fledging care that they will receive, their chances are dismal and I know it. My fear is that the runt will be so malnourished, that he would die or be so far behind in growth that he would be left behind or easy pickings for a predator. David saw to it that the birds received a fluid injection to hydrate them quickly. They also got a big meal of juicy live crickets and meal worms before I took them home. Now that the runts belly was softer and poop was normal, I feel much more comfortable returning him to the nest with a day of rescue feedings under his belt.

The 3 were very active on the drive home and after a quick stop at the pet store to by a dozen live crickets, I gave them one last drink of Gatorade and belly full of food. I lowered the rack and placed them back in the nest after checking the 2 much heavier nestlings.

I did see the mom flying about and I think I know what is going on. Before returning the nestlings I heard her calling out to the nestlings with her chew chew call. A call I hear the parents make when they are trying to coax them out of the nests to fledge. That would explain her leaving the food on the outside porch. She is trying to lure them out so they will fledge. Unfortunately she is inexperienced and like most birds, has no access to a calendar. She has no idea that feathered as they are the birds are just not ready to fledge. The runt is so under feathered that it would perish for sure if it didn’t die from the malnourishment first.

The nestcam is now on gourd #6 and my eye is fixed on the action.

Many thanks to Mr. David Hirtzig and to Busch Wildlife Sanctuary. I will be sending in a donation to this fine facility and coming back again soon.

© 2009 S.Halpin /

One Nest To Go-But Where is Mom & Dad?

Friday, July 10th, 2009

The last remaining nest is on the numbered gourd rack. Gourd #6 has 5 nestlings that I have neglected terribly. I had watched the ASY male and SY female feeding vigorously  3days ago. Yesterday I saw no feeding but the racks have been covered with purple martins for the entire morning and well into the afternoon. I was sure that I just missed them. Today I saw two little heads poking out of the front of the Troyer horizontal gourd. I was sure that the nest had been hijacked by a lazy fledgling as the two heads looked so vastly different in ages. So I lowered the rack.

When I opened the gourd I noticed it was pretty dirty, but I had seen worse. I proceeded to take everyone out and put them in the 5 gallon bucket to do a nest change. When I looked at the nestling however, I noticed that 4 of the nestlings looked to be about 20+ days old and the one runt seemed to be lagging way behind. He had the feathering on his body and head of a 16 day old but his flight feathers were about the same length as his nest mates.

On further exam, I found all of them to be underweight. The runt, worse of all and another nestling not to much better. All had an easily palpable keel bone. What is a keel bone? It is the bone in the center of the birds chest that should be surrounded by breast meat. The runts keel bone stuck out like a razor, skin flaky and dry. He proceeded to poop on me but then I saw his large hard abdomen. And when I say hard, I mean hard like a rock. And unless something is made of bone (or cartilage) there is nothing on a living body-human or animal that should be that hard. I kept him out of the nest and replaced the others. A Bot fly? A partial blockage? A tumor? I do not know what his problem is but I am vigorously re-hydrating the poor fellow.

Observing the nest is difficult with 2 young boys getting into everything but I tried to watch for mom and dad martin to no avail. The entire time I was checking the nests, changing, etc, there were no concerned parents flying about. I am beginning to think that an Owl has attacked and flushed the parents out. The nestlings being to young stayed safe in the dark far reaches of the Troyer gourd but without mom and dads care, they will soon expire.

Since Folke Peterson Wildlife Center is closing soon I placed a call to Busch Wildlife Center in Jupiter, Florida. I spoke to the director and if the nestling is still alive in the morning I will take him there. I will try to observe the nest to make sure that the parent/s are feeding. If not, I will remove them all and take them to the rehabber. It can be a case of late nest syndrome (I just made that name up) but all that means is that in very late nests it is not uncommon for one (or both) of the parents to loose interest in the process and slack off.

My first purple martin pair was a ASY male and a SY female. She worked her tail off and he would come by a few times a week. He would sleep in the gourd on occasion but basically left the entire raising of the clutch to her. She successfully fledged her 2 nestlings-all alone- after all the martins were gone.

But as for this nest, I am concerned.

FREE Purple Martin Bird House Plans

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Call me a collector but I seem to be collecting quite a number of free purple martin house plans. Thanks to dedicated purple martin landlords such as John Balga and Bob n Jo, and thanks to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, I have put together a small collection of houses that the DIY can build. I even have plans for a gourd rack!

Of course, I am not the handy type so I have NOT made these houses myself. I guess that is why I started PurpleMartins-R-Us. If you are like me and can’t build a birdhouse yourself, check out this large selection of houses and supplies that utilize the latest in purple martin research and innovation. Believe it or not, I did NOT start this business to get rich. I did it so that I can do what I love. If I get rich that is nice but looking at my books, that won’t happen anytime in my lifetime.

So where can you get these plans? Go to the Free plans page HERE and enjoy!

If you know of any other FREE house plans for purple martin houses, please let me know. And please let me know how the house you build turns out. I would love to see it.

P.S. Tonight is the first night that all the fledglings have not returned at night to sleep in the Nestcam! Only one in there tonight. My season is winding down.

SY Males-The Enemy Within

Monday, July 6th, 2009
copyright 2009
copyright 2009

When we talk about the dangers and hardships that purple martins face, we usually talk about about the usual suspects. Hawks, Owls, Starlings and Sparrows usually top the list with raccoons and snakes thrown in for good measure. But we often forget to mention the ugly truth about SubAdult (SY) purple martin males. Having survived their first round trip migration, the SY males are full of hormones and bravado and can sometimes make themselves the most unwelcome of guests.

I recently mentioned about the attack I witnessed in Gourd “C” on the Nestcam.  About a week and a half ago I was witness to a  SY male viciously beating on the 5 nestlings in that gourd. The SY was set on making trouble. Several times the SY female “mother” caught the trouble making SY male outside and gave him a good lashing. While she was gone, however, he would return and seemed intent on plucking the poor babies in the nest. Thank goodness for them they were about 23 days old and well feathered and substantial enough to take what he was doling out, but still it made me wince and I thought of the carnage that could have resulted if these babies were younger. This scene is not often witnessed but is actually quite common.

Often times when the younger SY males arrive they find either all the nest sites taken or all the females taken. Some of these trouble making bullies are simply out to break up a happy family with the hopes of convincing the female to re-nest and try again. If there are eggs in the nest they have been known to damage the eggs and experienced it myself this year in a previous blog entry, read about that attack HERE. That attack resulted in no damaged eggs but the male did become entrapped with the resident male inside which could have resulted in both of their deaths as well as the eggs. If there are hatchlings the SY males have been known to kill them.

What is the purpose of all this violence? Well, according to a fellow PMCA forumite and a well known and active martin landlord, Steve Kroenke, there are several reasons why. Read the article HERE. Can anything be done to stop this behavior? The only suggestion that I have heard that is feasible is to keep some housing closed, perhaps another house or gourd rack that is kept closed until the influx of SY’s take place. Even though this technique means that you will be hanging up a “No Vacancy” sign to many ASY purple martins, it can assure that the later arriving SY’s have a place to stake a claim to and thus defuse some of the aggressive behavior. Will this eliminate the problem? From reports it does have a noticeable result. Also important to note as this will not be a suitable technique for colonies that are not full. If there is available housing and you are noticing this aggression then just about all you can do is pray.

©2009 S.Halpin /

Roost Makes News

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

The Broward edition of the Miami Herald ran the story on the Davie roost today. You can read the article HERE.

We drove down to the roost and did not see any martins but we were a tad early so it is hard to say if the roost has, in fact disbanded. It is just about time for the birds to move out but I can not say for sure. My 2 kids were quite tired and I could not bare to have them sit in the car for another 30 minutes to see if the martins would show up. I will have to depend on any of you that may life closer to update me and the blog as to the roosts status.

The story was very nice and a special thank you to the journalist, Julie Levin, who was so patient waiting to see “my” purple martins. Remember, there are photos of the roost at my photo gallery and there is also a video of the roost that is quite nice.

The babies on the nestcam have officially all fledged and the gourd was empty for most of the day. They are sleeping in the gourd tonight though. Looking so big and grown up. Thankfully all the babies appear nice, fat and healthy. Unlike some issues that seem to be going on up North our temperatures, though hot are not too bad and the rain is enough to cool things down plus keep the bugs abundant.

Purple Martin Emergencies-New ONLINE info source!

Many northern landlords are having serious issues with very abnormal low temps and landlords are reporting nest failures and dead babies by the dozens. Early jumpers due to the extreme heat in Texas has been reported and supplemental feedings can save lives. For those with babies that need care, our parent site, has a page dedicated to Emergencies INCLUDING how to give food and fluids to purple martins, contact info for Wildlife Rehabilitators and more. Feel free to check this information out.


Heads Up on Newspaper Story

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Just wanted to give you all a heads up on a Newspaper story due to come out on Sundays edition of the Miami Herald -broward edition (fingers crossed!) I will of course put links to the online version of the story.
At the colony another nest (gourd C) is fledging. Yes, this is the one on the nest cam and I believe at least one of these babies was out today, despite the light rain that has been falling almost all day. Thankfully they seem well after a SY male was in the gourd a few days ago beating them senseless. It serves as a reminder that I wanted to post about SY terrors! Look for that post coming soon!

Snakes in the Grass

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

After my snake debacle some weeks ago, the last thing I want to deal with are snakes in my yard. Yes, I know they are there. Yes, I know they serve a critical and important role in the food chain. I just am still a bit irritated at the red corn snake that got past my predator guard and ate 5 beautiful little featherless baby purple martins. Read the post here.

As I was looking outside I saw a large 4 foot black racer (I call them-no idea as to the sp. name) browsing my patio. It was “looking” in the sliding glass doors and peacefully gliding along. Perhaps due to my husbands mowing of the grass this weekend or the heavy rains that have been a daily occurrence, the snake was making itself quite at home. I was shocked as the snake was by far taller than my sons. I ran outside with a broom and managed to corral the snake under a bucket. Not sure what I was going to do with it, I placed a weight on top and collapsed on the sofa to the delight of my children who had a million questions as to everything. After catching my breathe I called my husband to tell him of my adventure and as I was talking to him a SECOND black snake crawled across the patio. “How did he get out from under that bucket?” was the only question that entered my head as I hung up the phone (without saying bye) and ran out, again with the broom to corral the snake. The snake made a much speedier exit than I made my entrance and I was left empty handed. How did he get out? I lifted the bucket partially only to see the black tail of the snake still under the bucket. The boys are now convinced that the back patio is a snake thruway and I almost feel I am in 100% agreement.

2 snakes in less than 20 minutes. What is going on. I watched the purple martin housing for some 15 minutes to see if anything was out of the ordinary. All seemed normal. The lettered gourd rack seems to attract an abundance of SY’s and HY’s fighting. The numbered gourd rack seems to be the ASY’s favorite and is a much calmer place to be. Gourd #6 must have newly hatched babies as a ASY male and female are busy feeding. A late clutch for sure. I finally relaxed and played with my boys.

About 2 hours later I look out the sliding glass door and again, what do I see??? Yes, ANOTHER large black snake. Now it is getting creepy. Well, fast forward through the broom, roundup and bucket and I now have 2 snakes in a plastic bag…very much alive and well. As soon as my husband came home I took a short drive about 3/4 of a mile down the road and released them.

Yeah, live and let live…just not in my yard anymore.