Archive for the ‘Fledgelings’ Category

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.

Purple Martin Orphans Take Flight

Friday, June 21st, 2013

At 26 days old and hitting about 47 grams, a trio of purple Martin orphans were released.
The hawk attacks have subsided and I even saw the much missed red shouldered hawk a few days ago. I hope that signals that the Cooper’s hawk has left the area. Enough damage was done this season by the Coopers who was hitting our colony upwards of 4-6 times a day. I was witnessing him taking ASY and fledglings alike from trees and directly from the housing.
Oh well…these 3 young martins got a full belly of live crickets and a dose of avian vitamins before taking to the air. I am proud to day they looked much better than when I found them on the ground after having jumped out of hunger & desperation. They were very much under weight and thankfully were able to recover. One nest mate who jumped 1 day after these 3 was unfortunately never able to gain enough weight and did not survive. Remember that taking a Martin fledgling to a wildlife rehabilitator should always be your first choice. If you need more info on what to do if you find a grounded purple, go to PurpleMartins-R-Us.com/Emergencies

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Perfect Storm

Monday, June 10th, 2013

Over a week of terrible weather due to the first named tropical system of hurricane season and a greedy Coopers Hawk has taken its toll on our colony. The hawk was coming several times a day. I witnessed him grabbing the sides of the houses and gourds and shaking them violently in order to try and flush out martins. He got 3 birds in one day that I witnessed. Of course, it could have been more than one Coopers…maybe a family of them for all I know. What I know for sure is that the large numbers of recently fledged martins are no longer being brought home at night and our numbers have plummeted drastically. There are about 4 nests being fed and night time is a much quieter affair. It is hard to say if the hawk has stopped coming by as often because there are less birds or there are less birds due to the hawk. I won’t take any credit in scaring the hawk off with our Scarecrow…but you never know.

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Purple Martin Nestling: Finding A Too Young To Fly Baby On The Ground

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Here is a question I received concerning a nestling found on the ground.

Q:

Dear PurpleMartins-R-Us:
I have some martins and a baby was pushed out by a SY male martin. I’m not sure which gourd the nestling came out of. I put him back into one of the gourds. Will he be ok if it is the wrong gourd?

A:

Simply put, as long as they are close in age it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Its always better to place in a nest of same or slightly younger nest mates, if same age is not possible. Never have the new member be the youngest, if you can help it.

But purple martin jumpers and what to do, is a complex questions and their are a lot of variables in order to answer this question properly. First of all, a Purple Martin Jumper (for those who do not know) are nestling martins that are too young to fly but somehow get pushed or jump out of their nest. They are referred to as Jumpers whether they jump or are pushed. The most important thing to remember is that if you do not discover why the baby was on the ground, it MAY happen again.In the above question it was a case of being pushed out, so the solution was simple. If they are pushed out by either another martins, then your chances of a repeat are greatly diminished! Be happy! But if the baby is truly jumping then the reasons needs to be addressed immediately to prevent another leap and to prevent the nestling from certain death. Purple martins will NOT feed babies on the ground.

We will look at the true jumper and what to do in an upcoming post.

Starlings and Fledgelings and Jumpers, OH MY!

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

So much news and I have really been negligent on the blog. My apologies but between helping customers of PurpleMartins-R-Us.com, 2 kids, a busy colony and a landscape project…I have been swamped!

Bad news is the BirdCam has turned out to be a huge disappointment this year. I invested more money and hired a “computer geek” who, in MY opinion, swindled me out of my money. I was very specific with what I wanted my streaming camera to be and instead ended up with what he felt was good enough. But enough said about that…

My landscaping project turned out pretty well. Nothing huge. Just redoing the front of the house which had become a snake haven. I moved 3 cubic yards of large egg rock (that’s about 3 tons worth) over the course of a week and achieved my goal of having the front be presentable. Many thanks to Lawrence over at http://www.butterfliesandwildlife.com/ who gave me some tips and ideas for the fountain. It is a disappearing fountain that recycles water as it flows down a stepped “mini river” of sorts. Though his is much more natural looking and longer, mine was created with basically stuff I already had laying around. A preformed pond liner, pond pump and hardware cloth. I only added the spitter from Lowes and the preformed stepped river portion was on CLEARANCE for $14! My husband admits it came out better than he thought it would. Of course, he is used to my projects…some of which turn out badly.
 


The purple martins are fledging all over the place. I think there are more youngsters flying about today than babies in nests. 2 skinny jumpers were found on the ground from a nest that I am sure the parents abandoned. Perhaps an Owl or Hawk got them. But I placed them in a low hanging gourd with youngsters in it. I could not lower the rack as so many nests were over 20 days old. For those that do not know, once nests are over 20 days old, babies can jump out during nest checks from fright. The PMCA recommends that you block off entrances to those nests that are over 2o days old…some say 22 days old by attaching a rag to a string then pulling out the rag once the housing is back up for a few minutes. Just wait 2 or 3 minutes for them to settle down and then pull the rag out. But since so most of my nest were over 20-24 days old, it just wasn’t possible. So I saw them begging and no one feeding them and watched helplessly until they jumped and gave them some Gatorade before sticking them in the new gourds. Remember, you can read about common purple martin emergencies and what to do at our store site PurpleMartins-R-Us.com.

Starlings took up residence in a flicker box located way to close to my house for the woodpeckers to be interested. But a pair of starlings did. Since no one else wanted the nest box, I let them nest and waited until they were incubating to catch them. I learned something very interesting about them. Once they decided to nest, I was hard pressed to see them both at the same time. They were very quiet, almost as if they knew that I was on to them. I did get a great pic of a starling nest. Very different from a martin nest. Of course, I could have pierced the eggs with a small sharp pin, addled (shook them VIGOROUSLY), or coated them with a thin coat of mineral oil, and let momma starling waste half a season.

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 www.georgiabasin.ca or www.saveourmartins.org.

Why Purple Martin Nestlings Jump

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Our last blog post touched on one of the reasons that purple martin nestlings jump prematurely out of their nests. Referred to as “jumpers” these youngsters are often doomed. The reason why I,  along with many other South Florida landlords, have seen a huge increase in jumpers this year over previous is our record breaking drought conditions. Dry weather means fewer bugs which means purple martins go hungry and nesting success plummets.

The main reasons that martin landlords encounter jumpers are: parasites, extreme heat and hunger. Drought, though not a specific reason, contributes to low food supply and hunger/malnourishment.

Parasites can torment young inside a nest. Though some have argued that nature should be allowed to take its course, the natural instinct of the Purple Martin (Progne subis, subspecies: subis) has been altered by man.  Before Native Americans created the tradition shift in martins, the nest sites of these birds were tree snags and they nested farther apart. You can read about some of the 1/4 tsp in nesthistory of martins at our parent site: PurpleMartins-R-Us.com. They were much like their West coast cousins, Progne subis, subspecies: hesperia and subspecies: arbicola. The shift not only affected were they nested (tree snags vs man made houses) but the way they nested, as it is believed they were not as colonial in their nesting. That is to say, they were spaced further apart and did not nest in such large groups. The groups of martins nesting in close proximity can create parasite population explosion. We counter this by periodic nest changes and/or the use of a small amount of Sevin. We have a great link to a video on how to do a nest change.

Extreme heat in a nest can  be challenging to combat but if not associated with drought or food shortages, are usually easy to remediate. By making sure all vents are open in nest compartments and gourds, air circulation can be increased which can help lower temps. Many artificial gourds have vents that can opened as an option. For example Troyer gourds have built in mini vent canopies that can be drilled open easily. We recommend drilling these open before the season but a cordless drill can open those up quickly. If those are too small or you want larger vents (more air circulation) than a 1/4 inch threaded PVC elbow (90 degrees) is perfect for the job. It can  be easily installed on any gourd or house for that matter to increase air flow. Just drill a hole large enough to thread the end in and caulk in place. Make sure it points down and, if you want, attach a small piece of screen to cover the opening to allow air in but keep wasps out. The picture shows a modified gourd with elbow in place at the highest point which will push out the hot air as it rises. Know that in Northern climates you may have to plug these vents inn the early spring in times of cold weather to keep your martins warm.

Other tricks folks employ:

Using a frozen gel pack placed in an empty compartment. A frozen bottle of water can be used also.

A secondary shade can also help. Placing a sunshade to keep the sun from beating down on the house surface can decrease temps.

-------photo by OakleyOriginals on Flickr

Even a misting system has been used by many with success. Just makes sure the water does not go into compartments which would lead to wet nests. Also the misters should only run intermittently in the hottest part of the day so that the water can dry off. The evaporation is what cools. Don’t let the misters run at night or continuously. Our Free Purple Martin House Plans page has instructions available on how to make a mister system for your martin houses.

Hunger is a difficult problem and the debate is heated on how much humans should intervene on this. Though supplemental feeding is often done in early spring cold snaps for returning adults, one should strongly weigh the consequences of feeding purple martin nestlings. Remember that if you have several nests that are doing poorly from lack of food, the parents are suffering also. If there is a long term problem, supplemental feeding is a very short term solution. Read our Emergencies page for first responder care of purple martins.

What other problems lead to Purple Martin nestling Jumpers? Let us know what you think.

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(c)2011 www.PurpleMartins-R-Us.com

Drought and Heat Takes a Heavy Toll

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Time after time, this season, I have received calls from landlords concerning dead purple martin nestlings. I myself have found several jumpers this season. Jumpers are nestlings that are far too young to fledge but jump out of their nests for whatever reason. Usually extreme heat, hunger or parasites are the culprits that lead a martin nestling to such a desperate act. I liken it to people trapped in a high rise that is ablaze. The victims jump to their death to escape the fire.

purple martin feederThis year South Florida is suffering from record drought conditions. In droughts flying bugs are significantly decreased leading to catastrophic food shortages. Nothing but rain can re-establish the equilibrium of the food chain. Since our weather is usually fair, our population of purple martins is not familiar with supplemental feedings. In some emergency situations like extreme cold, purple martins can be trained to accept food from an elevated tray or Bed & Breakfast type feeder. Unfortunately, when the weather is fair enough to fly and catch some bugs, the birds will just forage longer and farther from the nest. So training them to accept feedings is extremely difficult. To see a video of supplemental feeding of purple martins click here.

In the usual activity of a purple martin nest you will see some of the nestlings at the entrance waiting to be fed while others are sitting in the back of the nest resting. As the ones in front are continuously fed and get full they turn around and retreat to the back of the nest to sleep, digest and grow. The nestlings that were resting and digesting then get hungry again and come back to the front of the nest to take their place at the entrance to wait for a mouthful of bugs. The nestlings are in a continual carousel of being fed, keeping the parents busy feeding a nest full of an average of 5. But when the nestlings are not getting enough food then they all cluster at the front. So these “jumpers” can actually be accidentally pushed out by the jostling of the babies at the entrance for food.

Martin nestlings that jump due to starvation are usually doomed as the accompanying dehydration is far more deadly than the martin keelhunger. Since all purple martin nestlings water intake comes from the insects that the parents bring, in cases like this the jumpers are all very dehydrated. Not wanting to sound like a pessimist, there is not much that can be done. Feeding a dehydrated and malnourished nestling can cause it to just die faster. Looking at the jumper you can often see clues as to how well fed they are or are not. A pronounced keel (breast bone) shows lack of muscle development from chronic malnourishment. Dry, flaky skin is a sign of dehydration. A  wildlife rehabilitator would also look for signs such as skin turgor or “tenting” of the skin as a sign. Emergency injections under the skin would then be given BEFORE any feedings would be attempted. Water or other liquids can aspirate and kill birds quickly if given by mouth. This article on Hydration of Purple Martins can answer some questions and prevent more harm from being done while a rehabilitator is contacted. If their are other nestlings in the nest sometimes the weaker nestlings “jumping” can increase the survival rate of the nestlings left in the nest. If the jumpers can be hydrated then fed by a rehabilitator, they can often be reintroduced into the nest when the are approaching 21 days old before they fledge. Nest checks become increasingly important to know the age of the nestlings. As lowering housing may sometimes cause fledglings to prematurely fledge out of fright.

Though we provide housing for these wonderful birds, one can’t feel responsible for acts of nature such as drought. We help as best we can and give them a chance to survive. Next year they will return and hopefully with better weather conditions. We learn from our experiences and the next season will bring another chance at life.

Look out for our next entry on some of the other causes of “jumpers”.

(c) 2011 PurpleMartins-R-Us.com

Nest Checks On Hold

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

When do you stop doing nest checks? When the nestlings reach about 23 days old. Some folks say 20 days old, but that seems overly cautious to me. All nest checks are on hold as their are tons of nests ready to fledge any day now. The nests that have fledged (about 8 of them so far) are creating much excitement as they peek into compartments and try to steal food from smaller younger nestlings.

A hawk made a late pass right before dark tonight and I am not sure if he was successful or not. The entire colony flew up in masse and with such an uproar of alarm calls that I am sure some bird was taken. Those early morning and late evening attacks are often quite successful. I will have to stay out later tomorrow and see.

I am not sure when the low hanging gourds are due to fledge soon. It will be interesting to see how the youngsters take to the air without having the advantage of height to get them airborne.

How do Purple Martins Know the Party is Over?

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Tropical Storm Bonnie Passes with a Whimper But Scoots Martins Out

tropical-stormbonnie-7-23The last nest of 2 martin fledglings (which were a complete surprise) fledged the same day that Bonnie was supposed to dump rain all along the coast. Fortunately for some, the rain was more of a short drizzle but amazingly the purple martins seemed to know something was up.

Every morning our colony would get a faithful dozen or so visitors that would sit on the housing and chatter away. By about 11 AM they would leave only to return again the next morning. But the day after Bonnie not a purple feather was to be seen. Many speculate that birds, being so 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. Could it be coincidence?

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, the 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 needed a Tropical Storm 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.