Archive for the ‘birding’ Category

NWF Certifies

Monday, February 6th, 2012

The National Wildlife Federation just recently certified our property as a wildlife habitat. It is well know how the NWF helps protect wildlife by being America’s largest conservation organization. The National Wildlife Federation works with more than 4 million members, partners and supporters in communities across the country to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future. By certifying our site we have shown our continued effort to provide food,water, cover and places for wildlife to raise young, not only for purple martins but many other animals that call our yard home.

Our property, at almost 1.4 acres is not only home to our 45 some odd pairs of purple martins, but a family of screech owls and wild rabbits. Not to mention the assortment of birds that visit our bird feeders and water fountain.

And speaking of purple martins, no nest building of yet, but I expect that to begin anytime. Almost all compartments are taken except by either ASY pairs or singles. The only compartments that have not been taken are a few compartments in the aluminum houses and the shepherds hook gourds. The shepherds hook gourds are simply a few gourds that I hang up on plain old 5 foot shepherds hooks and every year they get taken also. No SY birds have been seen yet, in any State, but they aren’t too far behind.

Screech Owls Need a Hand

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

As a proponent of all native cavity nesting birds, I again was reminded of the housing shortage when the floor to the much sought screech owlsafter Flicker nest box fell out. After several seasons of hard use, interest by Woodpeckers, Greater Crested Flycatchers, Screech Owls and most recently, Horned owl attacks, 2 new nest boxes will be going up this weekend. I will be adding some experimental Owl Guards to keep the larger Barred/Horned Owls from killing their smaller “Screech-y” cousins.The Screech Owls seem to get caught by the Repeating nest box trap once a season. Even though the trap is placed lower to the ground than what Owls are said to like, my theory is that they are always desperate for nest sites and will investigate any cavity.

As a few cool days have reminded me of approaching winter and the news shows snow storms already battering some States, I welcome my yearly Eastern Phoebe friends that I have seen.

In “Honor” of National Feral Cat Day…really?

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

As a cat lover and even former cat owner (indoors, thank you) I feel perfectly at peace talking about National Feral Cat Day and re-posting one of our former posts on Feral cats and their impact to bird and native wildlife population. I am saddened thinking about the millions of feral domestic animals (yes, cats) that are thrown out by humans. And again my thoughts go to the HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of birds and other native wildlife who’s lives are not deemed as valuable by the people that enable these cat colonies. Read on…
Did you hear that? It is the sound of my soap box being pulled out of the closet and dusted off. I have been wanting to write about a very big pet peeve of mine for some time…so now that my birds are gone, here goes.

As a birder, it goes without saying that I am a conservationist. As a purple martin landlord, that just adds fuel to the fire and makes me even more pig headed when it comes to the house cat being outdoors. First off a few facts MUST be cleared up.

Fact #1 Cats are domesticated animals-not wild. Many people consider letting their cat room outside as an extension of the cats native environment. They consider it cruel to keep cats indoors. When actually the opposite is true. Cats were domesticated some 4,000 (four THOUSAND) years ago. They do not occur naturally anywhere. They have only been in North America since European Settlers arrived.

Fact#2 Cats hunt and kill whether or not they are hungry. Studies show that well fed cats actually kill MORE than feral cats. In other words they hunt for pleasure. The portion of the cats brain that is used to hunt is not the same part of the brain that registers hunger. Thus a cat will hunt even if it just ate a huge bowl of food. They hunt to kill, not necessarily to eat. Also neutering and spaying have no impact on a cats desire to hunt.

Fact#3 Studies have shown that Bells do not keep cats from killing. On the contrary bells may actually make cats more successful at hunting. Besides the fact that a bird does not necessarily associate the sound of a bell with danger, bells teach a cat how to hunt even more efficiently. The cat will learn how to move silently. And bells are of no help when a nest full of helpless nestlings is being stalked. Consider this product called the CatBib. Their website has a study that was conducted that shows an 81% decrease in the amount of BIRD KILLS! That is impressive. Unquestionably more effective than a bell this device allows the cat free movement, is soft, flexible and lightweight yet restricts a cats ability to stalk prey.

Fact#4 Cats kill HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of birds nationwide per year. That is no trivial number even though it is a low ball number. According to a post on that estimates over a BILLION birds are killed each year in the US alone. And looking at the math, that number may be conservative as well.

Follows is a sobering quote from :
The American Veterinary Medical Association estimate in 2007 there were 81,721,000 pet cats in the U.S.
According to Cat Fanciers, 43% of cat owners allow their pets to roam outside, that gives us: 35.1 million outdoor pet cats in the U.S. Add the number of feral and stray cats. numbers published by feral cat advocacy groups say there are between 60 to 100 million cats. Lets just take half that number say 81 million.

So that’s 81.7 million + 35.1 million = 116.8 million outdoor cats. More realistic might be a range of 95.1 to 135.1 million (based on possible feral range). But for arguments sake, lets just stick with 116.8 million cats for now.

How many birds killed by cats? According to a study in Michigan by Lepczyk et al, outdoor pet cats across an urban to rural gradient killed an average of .683 birds each week during the breeding season. If you can extrapolate that across the full year, that would be an average of 35.5 birds killed by each cat/each year. If you can use that figure for all outdoor cats, you get a calculation of 4.1 billion birds killed each year.

But maybe cats don’t kill birds at the same rate all year long, or at the same rate everywhere that they do in Michigan. But lets presume that the only kill birds during the breeding season (22 weeks in MI), that would still be 1.76 billion birds killed per year.

Another study in San Diego found each cat to kill an average of 15 birds per year (and 41 other small animals). If you multiply this number by the number of outdoor cats you get 1.75 billion birds killed per year. And that’s just in the U.S. and doesn’t take into account our migratory birds killed by cats in Canada or Latin America.”

Fact#5 Cats are responsible for the EXTINCTION of 33 bird species since the 1600′s. That is more bird species than any other cause, except habitat destruction. Currently there are dozens of seriously threatened birds that are still experiencing high levels of predation due to cats. Ground nesting birds, such as the Piping Plover, Least Tern and California Tern are even more at risk and several monitored nesting sites have been abandoned by these birds due to cats.

So you know all this data and you still feel it necessary to let your cat out. If that is the case, you are placing more value on your cats experiences outside than the animals that it will kill in its time outdoors.


If you think your cats rodent killing is a positive, think about this. Each mouse that a cat kills is decreasing the available food supply for native hawks, owls, snakes and other predator species.

If you believe TNR (Trap Neuter Release) programs work to decreasing the problems caused by feral cats, I urge you to visit TNR Reality Check. This site offers an eye opening reason why TNR programs are a huge dis-service to the community, environment and our birds. Most importantly it show why these TNR programs do NOT work.

So if bells don’t work, what can be done. The American Bird Conservancy runs a program called “Cats Indoors!” which I am a big supporter of. (I am available to give PowerPoint presentations of the “Cats Indoors!” programs to groups, BTW)

Don’t have a cat and want to make a difference? Re-Tweet this post and help inform birders and cat lovers alike.



Coleman, Temple and Craven (1997). Facts on cats and wildlife: a conservation dilemma., USDA cooperative extension, University of Wisconsin.

TNR Reality Check

Winter, Linda and Wallace, George (2006) Impacts of Feral and Free-Ranging Cats on Bird Species of Conservation Concern

More News on our Western Purple Martin Friends

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

The Nanaimo News Bulletin in BC Canada featured another article on our Western purple martins a few days ago. It’s hard to believe that the season is still winding down for our Canadian neighbors. As the final day of summer approaches, it’s almost a “last hurrah” of sorts for us here in the extreme Southern range of the Eastern species.

It is nice to hear that despite the poor weather they still managed to have a good year and some 585 pairs that managed to produce some 2,200 baby martins. 110 of those pairs within the Nanaimo area itself.

Of course you can read the entire article by clicking on the picture or visit or

Purple Martins in British Columbia

Monday, August 29th, 2011

As my purple martins are gone, most of you know that I often amuse myself and keep the blog going by following up on interesting news articles, roost updates and by the time winter roles around I dabble in reviewing purple martin products and even general birding information.

Well I happened upon a very interesting article about some of our West Coast martins. For those of you unfamiliar with geography or The Great White North, British Columbia (BC) is on the Pacific side of our States. North of Washington State and South of Alaska,  BC was home to over 4 million during the 2006 census. Unfortunately it is home to a small population of Western Purple Martins, also known as Progne subis arboricola, where they are a threatened species.

This article in the features selfless volunteers such as Kiyoshi Takahashi, from Port Moody, who work tirelessly to put up nest boxes, monitor nest sites and band young martins. From a low of only about 10 purple martins in the entire BC region, the volunteers with the “BC Purple Martin Stewardship and Recovery Program” have brought the numbers up to over 1100 birds.

You can help, where ever you live by not allowing European Starlings and English House Sparrows from nesting on your property. These birds are nest site competitors brought into our ecosystem back in the 1800′s and unfortunately have caused a huge decline in our resident secondary cavity nesting birds all over the North American continent. To read more on the very real threat to our native birds, read this article on

Gone to the Birds Festival at Shockoe Bottom, Virginia

Monday, August 8th, 2011

In another display of bird lovers coming out to witness the spectacle of a Purple Martin premigratory roost, Shockoe Bottom (by Richmond) in Virginia had their annual “Gone to the Birds” festival. Not the largest roost but still mighty impressive at an estimated 25,000, a cluster of Bradford pear trees served as the center piece for the 4th festival at the 17th Street Farmers’ Market in Shockoe Bottom. The celebration featured purple creations of all sorts, from purple snow cones to purple martinis for the grown ups. To read the article and see a video of the birds coming in to roost, click on the photo.

For more info on this yearly event you can go to the website at for their blog, news and more.

Its Purple Martin Roost Time At The Bridge

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

Though the season here is done and I suspect our South Florida roosts are also done, up in North Carolina things are heating up. The William B. Umstead Bridge in Manns Harbor plays host to a huge purple martin premigratory roost. The Manns Harbor roost is swarming with martins at dusk. For about another month or two these birds will be roosting under the bridge in such large numbers that warning lights were installed to slow traffic as hundreds of birds were being struck and killed by cars at dawn and dusk.

As years past the Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society (CCPMS) will be having boat tours and for $30 a person you will be witness to a spectacle of nature. You can read about the tour on a previous blog post from last year or go straight to their website to contact for reservations at Purple Martin Roost Boat Tour Information.

Know of a roost near you? Make sure you visit it before they are gone.

(c) 2011 S.Halpin PurpleMartins-R-Us

2011 Purple Martin Season is DONE!

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Every season seems to end the same for me, here in South Florida. The end of martin season coincides with the start of our rainy season. Each morning our colony would get a faithful dozen or so visitors that would sit on the housing and chatter at any remaining nests. Late in the morning they would leave to only to return again the next morning. But then when a few days of poor/rainy weather persists, they are gone. I wrote a post last year about how it is thought that birds are sensitive to changes in barometric pressures and the weather , could avoid bad weather by delaying migration to an area of poor weather or vice versa. I’ll repost it here:

According to Melvin L. Kreithen and William T. Keeton of the Division of Biological Sciences, Langmuir Laboratory, Cornell University in Ithaca, New York,(23 October 1973) Homing pigeons were able to to detect air pressure changes. As purple martin landlords can tell you, a purple martins homing ability is at the very least equal to that of a homing pigeon. So the correlation is fair.

By any account, my season is over here in South Florida and all martins have left.

The factors that affect a birds migration are complex and not completely understood. Click this article for Neotropical Migratory Bird Basics from the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. If you want to learn more about Neotropical Migratory Birds read this article on Birds Built-in Barometer.

Not that my birds need bad weather to end their party, migratory birds know when it is time to go based on known factors such as the length of day and for some types of birds, even star patterns. There is nothing to be done for purple martins (or any other migratory bird-for that matter) that linger on. Some folks will tell you to lower or remove housing, but don’t bother. Just like the old wives tales that persist that tell hummingbird aficionados to remove hummingbird feeders to push hummers to migrate, nothing needs to be done.

So keep the feeders full, leave the housing up till you feel like it. Birds have been migrating for a long time and the only thing we need to do for them is support them, by way of a beak full of nectar, a belly full of seed or perhaps a dry place to sleep at night.

Purple Martins and Mis-Identification

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

I was poking around Twitter last night and came upon a tweet from someone saying that their purple martins had returned and were again starting to build a nest under their eave of the persons home. I had to chuckle since I knew  it was no Purple Martin. As many serious birders will tell you, one of the most important facts in properly identifying a bird is knowing the birds range, behavior and habitat. This person makes a perfect example. Knowing that purple martins do not nest on house eaves makes it easy to correctly I.D this bird as a Barn Swallow. Commonly mistaken by the novice birder, many of the swallow species like Purple Martins, Tree swallows, Barn Swallows can be confusing to some. Add in there Rough Wing Swallows and Violet-Green Swallows and even Bank Swallows, even the experience birders will have to look closely and carefully to distinguish these birds from one another.Heck, I wouldn’t have been able to tell a Rough Wing Swallow from a SY Purple Martin before reading up on it myself.

I found a great little site with some great photo comparisons of these commonly mistaken birds at which has some great tips to help you quickly tell these apart. As for the person tweeting about the purple martins mud nest under the eave of their home, I don’t think they care. But still it makes me think of how many people are out there convinced they are helping martins who may not be? Every year I hear from well meaning people that place housing and tell me about the bright yellow bills of their purple martins or how their martins will not allow other martins to nest in the house. Inevitably I find out that starlings nesting or Tree Swallows are dominating the house. Not to compare a Starling factory with a pair of Tree Swallows, but both examples show how purple martins can be pushed aside.

I recommend our Purple Martin vs Starling ID page to help those that are new to the world of birding. It is a side by side comparison of Purple Martins and Starlings. Even if you are not new, take a look and be sure…If I had a dollar for every time someone swears they have Martins and come to find out they are not!

Another great resource we recently added to our parent site was the addition of Daniel C. Drew, M.D. page on Tree Swallow/Purple Martin and Bluebird/Purple Martin INTERFERENCE. With his permission we added this page to our site so that new landlords can be more successful in getting purple martins in their Martin housing and Tree Swallows and Bluebirds in their respective housing as well. Though that page is up again, in its original site we both thought that the information contained within it is vital to new landlords that have lots of tree swallows and bluebirds but no luck in attracting Purple Martins to their properly set up site.

Cats In The News

Monday, March 21st, 2011

I know it is a sore subject with many. And believe it or not. I AM a cat lover. I had a cat many years ago named Elvis. He was an adopted Siamese mix and he was awesome. An indoor cat, he was friendly and loved cuddling. So, I am not “out for cats” in a bad way. I am however, a bird lover and I realize that cats are not a natural predator. They are an introduced species…a domesticated animal…that occurs nowhere else in nature, except where man has put it. Cats kill whether or not they are hungry or full. They hunt for pleasure and they kill VAST numbers of birds.

The New York Times has just released an article highlighting a new study by The Journal of Ornithology. The study tracked baby catbirds in Washington State and found that cats, hands down, were not only responsible for the most bird deaths but were actually driving local populations of birds away.

The American Bird Conservancy has long been against feral cat colonies but cat people continue to argue that either the science behind the research is wrong or that the effects of habitat destruction far outweigh any damages that a cute cuddly cat can inflict. No one can deny the effects that habitat destruction has had on birds or any animal, for that matter. But consider that in your neighborhood, where habitat destruction has already happened. Natural habitats have given way to suburbia…now why is it OK to continue to stand by and let innocent birds die?

Read this article and please consider keeping your cat indoors. If you must let your cat out I strongly suggest using a product called CatBibs on all outdoor cats. You can order them from