Archive for the ‘Daily reflections’ Category

Homage To The SUPERGOURD!

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Sometimes it is hard to see the forest through the trees and we forget the roots of the modern day conveniences that we only recently have been able to enjoy. Ask a teenagers how they would feel without their cell phones and the endless texting and tweeting that would not exist if they had to depend on the phones of just 2 generations ago. Like comparing today’s instant access to news and information to our ancestors scribbling on cave walls, you can trace the evolution of the modern day conveniences of purple martin gourds and the SuperGourd by Bird Abodes.

It wasn’t that long ago when offering gourds was a downright intensive labor of love. Complete with environmental and health hazards thrown in as a free perk. Before the 1970′s, if you wanted to hang a couple of gourds, you had to go the au naturale route. Make sure you wear a mask, lest you breathe in the hazardous gourd dust as you drill holes in them. Make sure you wear gloves so you don’t get any of the poisonous herbicides on your skin as you soak them in the toxic fungicide-Copper Sulfate. Make sure you make arrangements to dispose of the Copper Sulfate, unless you want to be single-handedly responsible for killing a bunch of the plants and fish in the body of water where it will drain into. Make sure you properly glue, screw, and drill all sorts of entrances, canopies, entrance caps, and drain holes.  And that’s just for starters. Don’t believe me? Read this article posted by EmptyEasel.com.

Then in the 1970′s plastic gourds started making their their way into the market. But just because these gourds were easier to offer didn’t mean they were better. In reality they were just making it possible for more people to offer substandard and downright bad housing for our beloved purple martins. No access ports, hard to clean, hot and translucent, lightweight and cheap, these gourds traded the best properties of gourds out for the gimmick of being easy to buy and inexpensive.

Fast forward to 1987 and introduce the Grand Poobah of the modern day purple martin movement, Jamie Hill, III. If you have never heard of him, it is probably because you came upon this article accidentally while doing a Google search for Purple Doc Martin shoes. But to purple martin folks (the birds, not the shoes), Jamie Hill was the man who founded the Purple Martin Conservation Association.

Jamie Hill saw the plastic gourds that were on the market and wanted to marry the best qualities of gourds with the actual qualities that matter. The conveniences and ease of a plastic gourd are nice for us humans but include the things that really matter to a purple martin. Jamie wanted to make purple martin gourds safer for martins so that we could be better landlords and so the martins could in turn lay more eggs, raise more young, and fledge more babies. So in 1996, Mr. Hill introduced the SuperGourd. One piece blow molded means no seams that leak or loosen. Big interior dimensions mean more eggs and babies. Large access port means easy inspections, nest checks, and clean outs and the easy grip Heavy Duty caps will last. A ribbed perch-able canopy means protection from rain and easy place to perch. A variety of openings including round, bluebird, and SREH crescent entrances to choose from. There is even an insert trap that is available that was designed specifically for the SuperGourd to make trapping of invasive pets birds like English House Sparrows and European Starlings Super easy. Then inject some high quality recycled plastic with UV inhibitors means the gourd or access cap won’t become translucent over time. All of these factors and more, add up to a very nice gourd.

All New SuperGourdFast forward again to 2014 and Jamie Hill is at it again. Now the SuperGourds have an all new SuperGourd Porch available for purchase. The porches are made specifically for the SuperGourd and are sturdy, attractive, and add to the overall attractiveness of these gourds to purple martins. Now when you purchase your SuperGourds from PurpleMartins-R-Us.com, you can add on the new porches to your order. These porches work with any of the entrances and fit both inside and outside the gourd giving a nice convenient landing spot for your birds outside and a safe place underneath for the martins to make their nest. Perfect on SuperGourds with crescent SREH entrances, these porches install flush to the entrance, unlike some other porched housing. The Purple Martin Conservation Association recommends that SREH entrances are placed as near to flush as possible to increase the effectiveness of Starling Resistant Entrances. The rounded porches give the SuperGourds a beautiful outline, keeping with the organic shape of the gourd. It is good to see that though the SuperGourd was one of the earliest of the modern era gourds, they are still leading in innovation.

Most of the modern purple martin gourds that are sold on the market today have taken cues directly from Jamie Hill, even so far as using the same cap, mold maker, and blow molder to make their gourds. It is important to give credit where credit is due and today we here at PurpleMartins-R-Us.com give a great big “thank you” to Jamie Hill. His contribution of the SuperGourd has improved conditions for purple martins all over North America.  18 years after their introduction most, if not all of the original SuperGourds, are still in use. With over 250,000 happy purple martin families calling the SuperGourd home, we are sure many more will come to love SuperGourds even more with the addition of these new porches.

 

(c) 2014 PurpleMartins-R-Us, llc/ S.Halpin

Our Humble Beginnings

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Sometimes on days such as today, I look back and am amazed at how our colony here has grown. From our small meager start with a cheap plastic house, to our 44 compartments of state of the art purple martin heaven, our colony has far exceeded any dreams we could have had for it.

But just how did our colony start? Our first attempt to put up a house was very late. I believe it was in late March of 2007 when we put it up. In April, being very late for our birds (considering that our birds arrive in January), we did succeed in attracting a SY female. She raised 2 martins to fledging. Her ASY mate and all the other martins had long since left. But she faithfully watched over her brood of 2 and I was lucky enough to watch them sitting side by side in a tall tree as she brought them dragonflies to eat. She fed them most of the morning and afternoon in that tree and in the late afternoon she coaxed them off that branch and flew southward and never came back. The house was quiet.

A lot has changed since then. And I am sure she came back the next year. Actually I am relatively sure she came back for 3 years after that. But each year she returned she saw better housing, better planning…and an earlier start.

A Beautiful Day

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

20130414-194108.jpgThough the day was a bit windy, it couldn’t have been a more beautiful day. My heart goes out to the landlords up North who are dealing with unprecedented Spring snow storms. The damage to property has been devastating in some parts of the country but thinking about the poor martins arriving home to be greeted by cold snow is so sad.
I will be doing a nest check soon and I have seen most nests being faithfully guarded in the morning hours by male martins. I am wondering if a few eggs are already present.

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 Windstar.org 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 www.Windstar.org :
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.


Sources:

 

Coleman, Temple and Craven (1997). Facts on cats and wildlife: a conservation dilemma., USDA cooperative extension, University of Wisconsin. http://www.cnr.vt.edu/extension/fiw/wildlife/damage/Cats.pdf

TNR Reality Check

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

Texas Heat Explains Purple Martin Landlord Woes?

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Well, it’s official. According to the August 2011 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center, Texas had the hottest summer since they have been keeping records. And to compound the issue according to the website http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/national/, “analysis of Texas statewide tree-ring records dating back to 1550 indicates that the summer 2011 drought in Texas is matched by only one summer (1789) in the 429-year tree-ring record, indicating that the summer 2011 drought appears to be unusual even in the context of the multi-century tree-ring record.”

wikipedia 1930 DustBowl

All of the data that NOAA has accumulated seems to explain the record complaints of purple martin landlords, not only in Texas but in many States. Nestlings starving from drought, record heat causing nest fatalities and “jumpers”. Even Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina all experienced their warmest March-August recorded yet. Though Texas has not exceeded its record of the length of drought conditions, already the severity exceed those of the 1930′s “Dust Bowl”.

Unfortunately, nothing can be done about the weather, except perhaps, to wait it out.  Taking the few steps we recommend to help your martins can perhaps help you to feel less helpless but even those steps can only help so much. Things like making sure your martin houses are well ventilated, using purple martin houses that utilize larger nest compartments and perhaps installing a misting system, are the only things that can help. So until next year, pray for more accommodating weather.

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 CatGoods.com

Purple Martin Nest Material

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

So what do you use to put in those martin houses and gourds? Many of the available choices that some folks may use work great, some are a bad idea.

Good

Typically the most commonly used prenest material is Pine Straw. Pine straw is just pine needles. It may differ in length and color depending on what kind of pine tree the needles are from but usually pine needles from Longleaf pine, Slash pine or White pine.

Leaves can also be quite water repellent. It really depends on the leaf. Oak are good. Small and flat they are safe.

Corn Fodder which is dried cut up corn stalks

Bad

Grass clippings are a bad choice. First, the grass absorbs water. This in itself is bad enough but then it can mat down and become compacted to the point where water will not easily penetrate. Making your gourd a pool of death.

cedar shavings, though easy to find at any petstore and quite cheap, are not a good choice. They absorb water and stay wet. If you ever use shavings in a cage for a rabbit or hamster, you know! Though I have used it in a pinch, you should try to avoid it.


Depending on what is around you will notice the martins at your site bringing many things to use as nest material. Long ornamental grasses, reeds, hay, even nails have been found in nests. Yes, I recently saw a photo of a martin nest that had over 100 long metal construction nails in the nest. What have you found or used in purple martin nests???

The most important thing to remember is that American’s have been altering the nature of purple martins for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years. Since martins have lost the instinct to nest in a natural cavity, we have a responsibility to care for these birds as part of our heritage as American’s…whether Native American, North American or United States of ‘American’.

No More Room, Martin Houses are Full!

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
morning vocalization

morning vocalization

Naples has just reported the first SY (subadult) Purple Martin of the season on 2/19 so I predict that nesting will be beginning at anytime, here in Florida.Keep playing that purple martin dawnsong and be ready for more birds, all wannabe landlords. Don’t give up!

The last few nights I have seen birds get turned away as night falls. I can almost swear (if I was the swearing type) that more than 2 birds are going into the same gourds. It seems several pairs are co-habitating at any given time. I have witnessed at least 4 birds enter a gourd last night and tonight, and unless these odd birds out are kicked out of the gourds after I go in, they must have stayed the night. I can assume it is not all to friendly in the gourd as I can see the gourd shaking a bit for a few minutes. I am torn as I consider putting up more housing, but then I remind myself that as many gourds or martin houses I put up, the birds would fill them. And do I really want a super colony? Well, actually that would be cool but between kids and tball and piano lessons and all the other “stuff” I would not be able to do them justice. Basically I wouldn’t be able to watch out for my birds the way I want. So until my kids are a bit older and can help with some of the purple martin things, the colony can stay as it is…well, maybe a few more gourds!

I will have to rededicate myself to trying to recruit others into this hobby that I love so much. I have considered having an “open yard” and invite locals to see my colony but the logistics has me confused. Do I do it now early in the season or wait till babies are being fed, do it in the morning or wait till dusk and watch them gather in their big flock before zooming in for the night? Would I rent a Porto-let or open my house to strangers? hmmmm

Tree Swallows Galore

Monday, December 6th, 2010

With my backyard being a veritable desert of bird life lately, I was surprised to see hundreds if not thousand of tree swallows streaking westward at about 2:30 this afternoon. With their stark white bellies flashing they darted about all going towards the same common destination. I am not sure where but they were not pausing to eat. The shot straight and true.
With the holidays almost here I know that soon our purple martins will be starting their journey home. Shortly after New years, they always seem to show up on Florida’s west coast then within a few weeks they come home to me. It is really not that far away. Fall has been pretty boring with even my migratory visitors not staying for long. My Eastern Phoebe was only around a day or two. A pair of Sandhill Cranes frequently tempt fate by walking way too close to the road. Hopefully winter will treat the martins kindly.
For now the tree swallows will just have to do.

Purple Martins: Wild bird or Pet?

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Sharon Stiteler from www.BirdChick.com has done a great job bringing birding to masses of people. I mean let’s face it, she is the Oprah Winfrey of Bird Bloggers. Her claim that she is  showing the world that “you can be a birder without being a geek” is very true. Recently she posted a blog post about my favorite bird (and yours) Purple Martins on www.BirdChick.com.

Usually I enjoy her writing immensely, but while reading this one I found myself at first feeling defensive of my hobby but then quite protective of my “pets”.

I responded to her blog post,

The only part I don’t agree with is about how European settlers began this birds dependence on humans. It has been documented that Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians would hang up dried gourds for these birds and according to the Purple Martin Conservation Association, the purple martin has undergone in the last several hundred years, a tradition shift where they no longer recognize natural tree snags as nest sites. Are they pets? I understand you argument there, but as a purple martin landlord I take pride in keeping this bird safely off the endangered species list, which according to the PMCA, would probably be the case had humans not taken to putting up housing.

Us landlords are familiar with the story of the history of Purple Martins. For those that don’t know the history of purple martins a great article is at the PMCA website.

Though Sharon sees our meddling in the affairs of purple martins as interfering with natural selection, I see it as a continuing of a symbiotic relationship with these birds that gave up their natural ways to help us. Though we don’t need them to warn us of vultures or birds of prey that are trying to eat Buffalo meat hung up to dry, or to chase crows from crop fields or even as natural flying insect control anymore; I find it comforting to know that I am fulfilling the promise made by those Native Americans so many years ago. That though we, as the human race, may have outlived the usefulness of Purple Martins in a practical sense, that we will stand by what we began.

Maybe Ms. Stiteler will reconsider her stance?