Archive for March, 2010

Nesting is Beginning!

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Finally after many long weeks the purple martins are starting to go to the tree tops and pull at needles and bark. All compartments are taken by ASY males and though I have seen SY males I do not see any that have been able to steal away a compartment.

I am hanging a few old gourds on shepherds hooks and though these gourds are barely 4 1/2 feet off the ground, I am sure they will be taken. Every year I get a pair to take up residence in the shepherds hook gourd so this year I added 2 more. Hay, why not? If they are desperate enough to nest in some of the houses I see them in,. why not a shepherds hook. Of course I use a predator protector to keep raccoons and other creepy crawlies from getting an easy meal. This picture was last years ASY takers and they fledged 4 (if I remember) from this gourd. Every morning there is a few ASY males giving tours to interested ladies but at this point many are still playing musical gourds so I can’t tell if they are serious. But I will let you know.

Speaking of serious, the first egg of the 2010 season has been reported. On March 27 in the Orlando area. (Congrats James M!) Mine usually follow by several weeks.

Fate of the Over Wintering Purple Martin

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Some of you may have heard the startling reports of a female ASY purple martin that had decided not to migrate. The story goes as such.

In Apple Creek Ohio at the Yoder colony, the season started normal enough. Their 50 pairs of martins were devastated however, by a 4th of July cold spell that killed 50 purple martin nestlings. An ASY female showed up at their site in mid August. The Yoders did not believe the female was from their site due to the fact that she had a recently fledged youngster that she was still caring for and no recently fledged young from their site. They witnessed the female bringing in nesting material into a compartment in the middle of September.

On November 1st, 2009 was the last sighting of the females offspring. Whether he followed the instinct to fly South, succumbed to the weather or was killed by a hawk, we do not know. Only that after that date the ASY female was alone.

The Yoder’s conditioned her to accept supplemental feedings by tossing meal worms into the air. They fed her approximately 50 meal  worms each day. Feeding her 5 times a day- about 10 meal worms at a feeding.

She survived 7 inches of snow on Jan 3, 2010 and 0°F  (ZERO DEGREES !) temperatures. And like this she was accepting feedings and was chirping up until January 10, 2010. At the last sighting on that date she was seen sitting on the front porch of the compartment she was using. The compartments were checked and no remains were found. Did she finally migrate? Did she fall victim to a hawk attack? We will never know.

The final news on this amazing story are both sad and not. That she survived that long is an amazing testament to the lengths that purple martin landlords will go to to protect “their” birds. A curiosity that makes one wonder how new behavioral patterns are evolved in a bird that has shown one huge evolutionary transitional shift already. But on the other hand, if in fact she did perish, how would the perpetuation of this behavior ultimately serve purple martins as a whole?

Check out for more information on Purple Martins including supplemental feeding of Adult Purple Martins. There you will even find a video of martins being fed.

Swallows Day Parade @ San Juan Capistrano

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

March 20 is the Fiesta de la Golondrinas in the City of San Juan Capistrano in California. (Golondrinas being the Spanish word for Swallows)

It is home to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano that became famous for a legend of swallows that return to nest within the mission/church itself every year. As legend goes the swallows nests were being destroyed by locals who didn’t think much about bird poop. The priest at the local church (the mission San Juan Capistrano) told the swallows to come to his church and find shelter and a home there. Ever since the birds faithfully return to the mission to nest and raise their young.

The three month long celebration of “Fiesta de las Golondrinas” (or Festival of the Swallows) includes events such as the Taste of San Juan, the Kids Pet Parade, the Presidenta Ball, the Fiesta Grande which includes the Hairiest Man & Soiled Dove Contests, and the infamous HooseGow Day round-up. All culminating with the Swallows Day Parade and “Mercado” every year. The parade is the nation’s largest non-motorized parade and draws interest worldwide.

For more information visit and if you happen to be in the area have a great time. Make sure you say “Hi” to all those swallows for me!

Swallow-Tailed Kites Return!

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

After a long absence, the Swallow-Tailed Kites have FINALLY returned. It seems they are much delayed but purple martin are about the only birds I KNOW for sure when they will return.

I think the forked tail is why I enjoy watching these birds so much. Any bird with the name of “swallow” is a favorite. Though I have seen these birds snatch a dove nestling out of a nest. So don’t get too close!

Close Encounter of the Sandhill Kind

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

The area I live in is pretty rural and though my yard isn’t blessed with any wide variety of birds, I live within a short drive to several wetland conservation areas that are teaming with life. The houses that are closer to these areas get many visitors and some of those folks insist on feeding these glorious animals. I am not too crazy about it.

Baby Sandhill cranes are flightless for quite some time and the parents are not so bright. Every year there have been several chicks either hit by cars or mauled by dogs. My theory is let them stay wild and do not put food out for them.
Though this may sound odd coming from a person that puts up purple martin houses and gourds every year, I think that these Sandhill cranes do much better being afraid of us.

On this day 5 Sandhill cranes were just a few feet from the window of my car. I happened to have my camera and this is one of the shots I got. They were eating corn from a plate left out for them by well meaning humans. Remember, there are people that hunt Sandhill cranes. Why would we want them to trust us?

Tucking In My Martins

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

My favorite thing to do is tuck in my martins. I leave the children inside with my spouse, take a coffee (or some other beverage) out on the back patio, and enjoy the show. My purple martins, 35+ at this point, weave an invisible quilt of flight and song. An unseen drain swirls them in closer and tighter until they all swoosh into their gourds in a mad dash to escape one darkness for another.

Today a young male Starling made a home of the repeating nestbox trap. One starling down…200 Million to go.

Last night an American Kestral gave a half hearted attempt at what I can only assume was harassment. I could almost hear the martin laugh. Though speedy his attempt was awkward and clumsy and he flew off in disgust with himself. Maybe his eyes were bigger than his stomach as I am not sure what he would have done if he had caught a martin.

SREH Wing Entrapment of Purple Martins

Monday, March 1st, 2010

So not even a week ago I wrote a blog entry entitled “Switching Martins From Round Entrances to SREH” and in that post I mentioned Wing Entrapment. Well this morning I look out my window and lo and behold a case of entrapment staring me in the face.

For those not familiar with wing entrapment, it is a phenomenon that is increasing due to the advent of SREH. It is basically when a martin gets stuck in the SREH (Starling Resistant Entrance Hole). Without removal the bird will ultimately die as will any birds that are stuck within the compartment itself. Though I am still a strong believer of SREH, entrapment highlights the need to be an active participant in the conservation of purple martins.

A customer asked me only today if getting Starling Resistant entrances were worth it with the threat of entrapment. My response was that the cases of death by starling would always be more common place. That the threats to adult martins, nestlings and eggs is much greater than the risk of entrapment. Never mind the fact that a martin house devoid of martins and producing starlings makes life difficult for all other cavity nesting birds. So in starling prone areas, SREH are a vital component that requires vigilance on the part of the martin landlord.package of weatherstripping foam

A case in point of why doing walk unders is so important. The ASY female would have surely died, had I not freed her. Oddly enough, no other martins were in the gourd. The worrisome part of this case of entrapment is that it occurred on a tunneled entrance that I had placed a wing entrapment protector made of 1/2″ insulation foam weather stripping. Placed above the Conley II entrance, the strip of stiff foam is supposed to (in theory) extend the distance from the foam tapeopening making it less likely for the bird to be able to lean against the opening and have a wing pop through and be stuck.

The PMCA has recently began selling (at cost) a plastic wing entrapment protector as part of a study to determine its effectiveness. The idea for those protectors came from the discussions on several purple martin forums. These discussions brought about the foam weatherstripping modification.

Here are the details of this case of wing entrapment.

1. SY male martins present this AM

2.Troyer horizontal gourd

3.Conley II entrance non-traction stripped tunnel (original)

4.Partially modified troyer neck (NOT cut all the way around as now recommended) though in looking at the interior of the martin she was stuck in such a way that this does not appear to be an issue. It almost seems that her body became stuck due to some conflict that was occurring on the outside of the gourd rather than a fight on the inside as what is usually seen.

wing entrapment tunnel interiorIt is important to note that entrapment can happen on any type of gourd or house that has SREH. My previous cases of entrapment have been on a troyer and on a S&K gourd. One with a Conley II entrance and one with a clinger entrance.

In the worst case scenario of delayed discovery of wing entrapment, the results can be devastating with the deaths of 1 or more birds. But through vigilance and monitoring of your site the benefits of using SREH entrances far outweigh the risks involved.  Though in satellite colonies or purple martin colonies that are not monitored daily, wing entrapment may be cause for more concern. Other techniques to control starling populations, a phone number to call if trouble is detected should perhaps be posted or even more frequent monitoring in the time frame where SY martins return, should be employed.