Archive for the ‘Nest check’ Category

Sub-Adult Purple Martin Mayhem

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Last year I wrote a blog post called SY Males-The Enemy Within. It dealt with some of the facts and dangers that Purple Martins face from their own kind. SY or subadult male purple martins, arrive later than the ASY martins. They return home having survived the migration only to find all nest compartments full or guarded by protective ASY males. Eggs and nestlings run the risk of being destroyed or killed by the younger SY males. These males are so eager to breed that they will kill their own kind to force the females to start a new family.

Today I found the first casualty and my nest check results show that several nests have been affected by these SY males. The first tip off is a compartment previously claimed by a ASY pair is now protected by a SY male. Eggs or nestlings on the ground are dead give aways of course and the bickering and fighting can get intense. Though unless witnessed, you may never really know what was the cause of eggs or nestlings that mysteriously disappear, in the absence of sparrows and starlings, one can assume that SY’s play a part.

Can something be done about this? Well, many people wait until the SY males arrival to open up some of their housing. Others put up temporary type housing to alleviate some of the nest site competition like the Trendsetter Create-A-Rack Arms that  can be added on to your telescopic pole to make an affordable and easy spot to hang a few extra gourds in a pinch. Still others may yell and shoo those pesky SY males away.

In the grand scheme I suppose I tolerate this behavior in my colony as the ugly harsh reality of survival. If a ASY male is off guard and not protecting his mate and nest, his gene pool suffers. Those males that are dutiful in their jobs as protectors can drive away would be dangers and their off spring survives. It is a hard thing to witness and if I witness the tossing of a nestling I will intervene and return it to its nest. Is that what National Geographic would do if they were filming a documentary? No, they would probably film it happening and talk about the harsh reality of nature and watch death come slowly. Is that interfering with nature? Or is it our nature to interfere?

Nest Check Results:

Total Eggs: 34

Total Young: 124

Found Dead: 1

Pairs: 36

©S.Halpin/PurpleMartinArt.com 2010

Better Late Than Never – First Nestcheck 2010

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

I am embarrassed to admit how late I am doing my first nest check. It is just a shame. I will use this experience to prove that you can still have a life and be a purple martin landlord. Since many that are not stricken with this purple fever seem to think that those of us who are…are quite insane.

On Saturday April the 17th, I checked 35 compartments out of 37 and have a grand total of…(drum roll) 153 eggs! Most nests had 6 eggs with some having 5 or less and  a couple having 7 eggs. I worked fast as many are already incubating so I have NO idea when some of these will be hatching. I know, that is bad.

It is always a good idea to check on nests around hatch time to check for capped eggs. A capped egg is when the partial shell from a hatched chick falls over top of an unhatched egg and traps the chick inside. Entombed within 2 shells the baby is unable to peck its way out and dies. By doing nest checks around hatch time, empty shell pieces can be removed and capped eggs discovered in time to save the little life inside.

Aluminum Purple Martin Bird Houses: Product Review

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Sunset Inn vs The Safe Haven vs WatersEdge Suites

Sunset Inn

When you decide that an Aluminum Purple Martin Bird House is what you want and your wallet is the deciding factor, the Sunset Inn is hard to beat. Clean lines, large compartments and insulated roof make this house a great place for purple martins to raise a family.

Though the quality craftsmanship is apparent, you would not think this house is made by the Amish. I suppose, due to my own ignorance, I always thought of the Amish as wood workers not so much Aluminum manufacturers. Made by the Amish it is and the attention to detail is outstanding.

Am I partial to the Sunset Inn? Of course! I own one. But aside from my partiality, the Sunset Inn is a great little house for the money.

Similar in design to the WatersEdge Suites houses ( by Coates) and the Safe Haven by Creative Universe Enterprises the Sunset Inn also features the larger sized compartments that most other aluminum houses lack. Most aluminum houses have tiny 6×6 inch compartments that are way to small for a 7 1/2 to 8 inch bird. Even the Purple Martin Conservation Association recommends the larger sizes even though most manufacturers have yet to adopt it as a standard. Most aluminum houses out there require making changes to and cutting aluminum to modify those tiny compartments. If you want a house designed for safety and increased survival rates “out of the box”, I suggest looking seriously at the Sunset Inn, Safe Haven or Watersedge Suites houses.

The Sunset Inn can be purchased as a stand alone house to be mounted on a mounting plate on a pole or bought as a complete system which includes a pulley system to raise and lower the house. Though the 2 options look similar they are actually 2 different houses. Let me explain.

The Sunset Inn System is wider from front to back to allow a central pole to come through the center portion of the house to the pulley assembly at the top of the pole. The stand alone Sunset Inn house is built without this space and the center wall is shared by the compartments on the front and back of the house. Depending on your budget and how you want to raise and lower the house you choose one option over the other.

The Good:

Their are several features that I really like about this little house.

  1. The 2 ventilation holes in the compartments are easily opened and a great size. In the hot Florida climate I keep both of these open and the cross ventilation helps with the heat.
  2. The fronts of each compartment have a gap at the top to allow great ventilation. This has its drawbacks also though. (see The Bad)
  3. The porch has a strong aluminum bar on either side to give stability to the house but is also great to attach hardware cloth for added protection.
  4. Light weight the stand alone house weighs less than some plastic houses out there. This makes it super easy to raise and lower the house on your telescopic pole.
  5. A great price for an aluminum house it makes a good alternative for the budget conscience who would rather not go with a plastic house.

The Bad:

Nothing is perfect in life and there are a few minor issues that we have come across. Though not deal breakers, you should be aware of these.

  1. The same great ventilation on the fronts of the compartments can allow driving rains to enter. This makes using the elevated subfloors an absolute must.
  2. The same great support rods that add stability to the house may also get in the way when removing nest trays, if you use them. FYI: The door panels must be slid to the side to remove.
  3. Though not nearly as bad as the Watersedge Suites Aluminum houses, the Starling Resistant Entrance Holes (SREH) are a tad higher than they should be. This can allow the occasional small starling to breech the entrance and enter the compartment.

Though this house is great out of the box, there are some easy DIY modifications that I would suggest, to make it even better.

  • Adding 2″x4″hardware cloth is something I recommend for almost all houses. It adds a measure of safety for the martins exiting the house during an Owl raid. Owls are known to flush out the martins and catch them as they flee their housing.
  • Use the subfloors or create your own with very fine 1/8 inch hardware cloth is paramount to allow the nests to dry out quicker.
  • Add perches. That also goes for every house.

(above) WatersEdge

Product Comparison:

The Sunset Inn was compared to the only other similar houses on the market. The WatersEdge Suite and the Safe Haven. The WatersEdge Suites are manufactured by the company formerly known as Coates. Their aluminum houses are readily available on many internet sites and are mass produced. The Safe Haven is produced by hand in limited quantity by a Creative Universe Enterprises who also manufacturers a well respected line of gourd racks.

Price/Affordability: Though the price of the WatersEdge is slightly lower, there are several differences that make the Sunset Inn a superior house for the extra $25 or so dollars. The Safe Haven is far more expensive but has features that are superior to both the WatersEdge Suites and the Sunset Inn.

Ventilation: The WatersEdge Suite does not have the adjustable ventilation holes that the Sunset Inn has nor does it have any insulation that both the Safe Haven and the Sunset Inn have. The Safe Haven has rain canopies on the exterior ventilation holes that make it virtually impossible for driving rains to enter and thicker foam insulation in the attic.  The Sunset Inn has those great adjustable interior vent holes that are a great feature and some attic insulation.

Water Intrusion: The Safe Haven, with its nest trays and rain guards make it extremely dry inside. The Sunset Inn and WatersEdge do have some water intrusion issues that make subfloors mandatory. Standard with the WatersEdge they are offered as an option with the Sunset Inn, which makes it an additional expense.

Ease of Nest Checks: The Safe Haven again surpasses in the ease of nest checks with its optional nest trays that slide out completely and easily and doors that hinge downward. The Sunset Inn, due to the aluminum stability rods on the corners of the unit, make for some awkward moments in removing nest trays but the open inner area lets all the nestlings have plenty of room and the doors remove completely for great visibility. The WatersEdge with its inner entrance hole is in essence 2 compartments so no nest trays are commercially available. The WatersEdge further falls behind with its hinged doors that flip up which makes it further difficult to see in the nest when the door is lifted open.

SREH: The WatersEdge fails miserably with its only option of crescent SREH that are located much higher than is recommended to prevent starlings from breaching the entrance holes. SREH should be as flush as possible to the bottom for maximum effectiveness. The Safe Haven easily out performs its competitors with its interchangeable entrance plates so that entrances can be changed in seconds and its traction grip that has a near flush access to the crescent openings. The Sunset Inn can be ordered with either crescent SREH or round openings.

Design: The Safe Haven has tons of thought in its near flawless design and implementation. The Sunset Inn is far superior in details to the WatersEdge that comes in last, even though the WatersEdge can be purchased as a 4  or 8 compartment house.

Quality/Durability: The Safe Haven is new to the purple martin market but seems like it is top notch in quality and durability. The Sunset Inn has a proven record and feels sturdy and strong for its small size. The WatersEdge feels slightly flimsy and easily comes in third.

(above) Safe Haven


Raising/Lowering:
Though all 3 come as stand alone houses, only the Sunset Inn is available as a Pulley System with its own pole and pulley system. For the beginner who wants a modern house that is easy to lift, it is hard to find fault with this great little house. The WatersEdge is only meant for a telescopic pole though all 3 can be mounted onto a multipurpose pole if easy lifting is desired.

Over all, the Safe Haven is the winner if you have the financial resources and a multipurpose pole. A serious purple martin landlord such as myself views this house as the “creme de la creme” of martin houses. If money is a concern the Sunset Inn is a perfect choice for either mounting on a telescopic or multipurpose pole or if you are going to purchase this house as a system. The Sunset Inn System can accommodate 4 gourds underneath with the optional gourd brackets but still go up easy with its pulley. The WatersEdge comes across as a mass produced purple martin house. As with many things, mass production profit margins often win out over small details that make all the difference.

Coming Soon in Product Review- Economy Purple Martin Gourd Rack

Plastic Purple Martin Houses

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Do plastic houses work? Sure and many purple martins raise families in plastic houses. For me, my first purple martin house (a plastic house) was an inexpensive way to discover that I really wanted to get into these birds and in short order I switched over to a gourd rack with a pulley system and an Aluminum martin house. (That I LOVE) I have not looked back yet.

As a purple martin landlord myself, do I recommend plastic martin houses? Usually not.

Many people shopping for a purple martin house turn towards plastic martin houses for 1 of 2 reasons. Reason #1 is Cost. Reason #2 is fear of internet shopping. Let me explain.

Reason #1 COST!

I realize that purple martin houses can seem expensive to the purple martin newbie. If your main concern is the cost of purple martin houses, take a few things into consideration. A basic wooden Bluebird nestbox at Walmart costs almost $30.00. It will only house one pair of Bluebirds. As you know, purple martins are colonial nesters and nest in the company of other purple martins. The price of a 6 room Sunset Inn Aluminum House costs $150.00. That comes out to $25.00 a compartment. Now I know the price of the pole is separate…as it would also be with a bluebird nestbox, but my point is, the cost pretty much equals out. Especially when you consider the extra added fun 5 more pairs of birds could ultimately provide. Now I know that a plastic bird house is a LOT cheaper. Heck the price for a COMPLETE plastic house set up with a pole is $145 at PurpleMartins-R-Us. That comes to about $12.00 per compartment, at first glance. BUT you have to factor in that those compartments need to be enlarged. SO now we are back down to 6 compartments. So that’s about $24.00 per compartment. AND factor in that the quality, longevity  and other issues and that deal doesn’t seem like such a deal anymore.

Reason #2 Internet shopping fear

Trust me, I know how it is. You may be interested in getting into the hobby. But you want to touch the martin house you are going to buy. You want to hold the package and read what it says. You want to be able to look someone in the eye as you hand over your dough. I know, I know. That is the drawback of internet buying. Go into your local Lowe’s or Home Depot and all you will find are those plastic purple martin houses. Many of the high quality wood and aluminum purple martin bird houses available on the internet are NOT available in stores. The superstores buy thousands of product at a time. Higher quality martin houses are built by hand. Many of these houses are built by Amish companies and you couldn’t find them in a brick and mortar  store if you tried.

So when it comes to cost the old adage of getting “what you paid for” applies. Trust me, if the manufacturers of the plastic houses had a $200 product, they would charge it and if the wood and aluminum houses were not worth the money they cost, the people that make them would be out of a job.

I don’t want folks to think I don’t make a habit of recommending plastic houses because I don’t sell many of them. I do sell martin houses on my website, PurpleMartins-R-Us.com but I usually recommend a higher quality house or gourds.  For the most part, I try to stay away from the “plastic house” controversy. And believe me there is a huge controversy.

When I read this post by Carole on her blog mtpleasant.homeschooljournal.net. I thought I would recommend her blog post as a read so that you can see other folks experiences with plastic martin houses. There are a few posts about the author’s purple martins and her changing from a plastic purple martin house to a wooden purple martin house. Reading her experiences will give you input on some of the drawbacks of plastic houses. If you are on the fence about what kind of purple martin house to get, just keep it in mind.

PurpleMartins-R-Us.com is owned and operated by active purple martin landlords. We are a specialty store that knows what works with purple martins because we host them every year. As always we are always here to help you with any questions that you may have about martins.

purple martin super store

One Martin at Rehab Passes On

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Sad news to report as one of the two purple martins from the late nest that was abandoned has died. For those of you that did not read in past posts, there was a very late nest of 5 nestlings were pretty malnourished having become victims of  Diminished Parental Care.  You can read the blog entry HERE.

But in short, 3 of the 5 were taken to the rehabbers for emergency hydration. I left the two stronger, larger nestlings in the nest so that the parents would stay bonded to the site. I would lower the housing and offer food and fluids to the weaker and thinner of the 5 at several points during the days. When the first 4 fledged and only the smallest runt remained, still not being fed by the parents, I made the decision to take him to the rehabber. That same morning I was packing up to drive to Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, I found another of the smaller and weaker which had technically fledged, on the ground next to my pool, too weak to fly.

As of today, from what I am told, the stronger of the two which survived is in an outdoor songbird flight enclosure. This fledgling was eager to eat in the time that I cared for them, unlike the nestling that ultimately died. I am not sure yet, if this purple martin is feeding off a platform or still needs to be fed. I hope to visit Busch Wildlife Sanctuary this weekend to see how he (she?) is doing.

The Numbers Are In!

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Final 2009 Purple Martin Season Tally

With a whole lot of drama and excitement, the 2009 Purple Martin season is officially over in South Florida. Even the roosts have faded away to a distant memory and the gourd racks and houses all sit quiet and empty with only curious paper wasps showing interests in nest building. Our goal here was to make it to the 100 fledge mark and that goal WAS reached. So with pride in my efforts and much thanks to God, here are the totals.

Total Pairs: 33

Total Eggs Laid: 163

Total Eggs Hatched: 140

Total Young Fledged: 130

Egg to Hatch percentage: 86%

Egg to Fledge percentage: 80%


Most of my colony is comprised of Troyer Horizontal Gourds with an occupancy rate of 96%. I only had 1 natural gourd with a round opening. All other entrances were SREH. The SREH (starling resistant entrance holes) were mostly Clubhouse entrances (Conley 2) with some Modified Excluders thrown in for good measure.
My other housing option is a Sunset Inn Aluminum Purple Martin Houses (also with SREH) which was only about 50% occupied.
1 case of wing entrapment (no casualties)
1 entire nest lost due to a case of snake predation

I left a couple of messages trying to get a status on the 2 purple martins that were “abandoned” and I did not get a call back. I will keep you updated as soon as I here what the plan is for these 2 poor guys.

Three More Fly the Coop

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Three more nestlings became fledglings. It was the most painful thing to watch. Once again no parent in sight. I ran outside this morning and one of the larger nestlings had made it to the top of the gourd. It begged pathetically at every bird that flew by. I knew that if a Hawk, or one of the many Swallow-Tailed Kites saw him, he would be picked off. Luckily for me, I did not witness that. What I did witness was the begging that went on for about an hour. Sitting in the sun as the flock of purple martins would spook and fly up in a panic at the slightest disturbance and then settle back on the racks looking in and out of all the compartments. The showed great interest in the nestlings but no adult took pity and brought a morsel.

The Nestling that was sitting outside was visibly thinner than it should be. But the thinnest stayed in the gourd. Finally with a sudden burst the nestling took to the air and made a wide circle and easily gained altitude. It made an ungraceful landing in the Slash Pine and all the martins followed enthusiastically. Many of them also perched in the tree chirping and calling to the new fledgling. It was trying to keep a hold of the pine needles it was holding on to and at this point I went inside. I checked the nestcam and there still was the runt, chirping away.

I know that in theory that this fledgling had successfully fledged. My numbers get the benefit of another “plus” but in my heart, I don’t feel this nest will do well. Behind the eight ball there is a lot of catching up that needs to be done and I wonder if they will have the time to do it. Learning to fly is the easy part. Being in condition to fly to South America is another. I estimate that the number of visitors that I have seen will again drop withing the week. I would be surprised to see more than the occasional purple martin come by August.

I went ahead and went out with my boys and we did not return until the afternoon. Looking out I saw nothing. I looked with my binoculars, I saw nothing. I checked the nestcam and there was the runt. All alone. I still had some of the crickets and knowing how he was yesterday when I checked them I went ahead and lowered the rack. I again carefully slipped a mesh bag over the entrance so that he would not flush out. I took him out and my hopes for him fledging are nearly zero. Even skinnier than before his keel bone is protruding more than ever. I feel at this point that he is so malnourished that he wouldn’t have the muscle tone to even be able to fly. I gave him some Gatorade and am keeping him outside in a 5 gallon bucket hanging up an a peg. No snake or coon will reach him and if he wishes to fly out he can. But as I suspected, he has not attempted to do so yet. So Gatorade was given till dark and I will start again early in the AM.

My prayers are for his peace and mine.

One Missing of Last Nest of Five

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

My husband was outside hollering at me as I lowered the gourd rack. Thunder was cracking and the sky was way to volatile to be messing with the purple martins. But I had just gotten home with a few dozen crickets and the Nestcam was not very reassuring. It seemed like something was not quite right.

For those of you unaware of the current drama. The last nest of the season and the 5 nestlings within (now at 26 days old) have been suffering from diminished parental care. The ASY male curiously has been around on and off during the day but with no meal to offer the nestlings. The SY female also has been circling and feeding high above watchful but also not feeding the young. Last Saturday I took the skinniest of the lot (including a runt) to the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary. A few feedings and bolus of fluids given later, they were perky and I put them back in the nest. Today I could not watch anymore. So down the rack came.

I had left the rack only halfway down and placed a net bag over the opening so that no birds could fly out while I lowered. When I opened the Troyer gourd only 4 nestlings were inside. In a mad rush I fed the 2 skinniest but am unsure if the runt had caught up or if one of the older more vigorous siblings fledged at some point today.

Back to my husband hollering at me, “Do you want to get struck by lightening?” Came in between thunder  claps. My hair wet as a slow drizzle had begun to fall. In a rush I raised the rack back up and after putting everything away I pulled the sock on a string that held the nestlings within. They stayed put and mom and dad circled.

The thin keel bone of the skinniest nestling is disturbing to me and I should have kept him out and fed him over the course of the remainder of the day and tomorrow.

Last Nest and their Diminished Care

Monday, July 13th, 2009

The last nest is in the zone where nest checks are not advised. Fearing that I can flush out the 2 stronger birds and decrease their chances of survival, I have stopped supplemental feeding of the runt. I have seen the mother flying overhead and calling out but not actively feeding. Within the last week I have noticed a decrease from over a hundred birds flying about in the morning to none. Only about a dozen or so will stop by for several minutes at different parts of the morning. The season is ending quickly and the SY female is in a hurry to leave. Whether or not her instinct to stay and care for her young wins out over the instinct to join the flock and migrate, I am not sure. I hope the 2 larger and more robust nestlings make it but I doubt the runt can catch up now. This situation is a textbook example of something described as diminished parental care in some late nesting purple martins by a fellow PMCA forumite and purple martin landlord Mr. Steve Kroenke. You may have read this article on the forum but for my non-PMCA readers this is an issue that is fascinating if not tragic. With Mr. Kroenke’s permission I am posting his article here.


Diminishing Parental Care In Some Late Nesting Martins

Purple martins are a highly colonial and migratory species. They spend a good portion of their lives on the go, as they travel with other martins between their wintering grounds in South America and their nesting sites throughout the United States and Canada. So, the instinctive drive to migrate with the flock is deeply engrained in a martin’s genes and behavior. This drive is highly prevalent toward the end of the nesting season when nearly all martins have finished breeding and are forming pre-migratory flocks in preparation for the flight south. The urge to assemble and migrate south seems to dominate the purple martin species after the young have fledged and are independent. Martins have a long journey ahead of them and they must also finish molting all their feathers while on their wintering grounds. Migration instinct is extraordinarily strong in purple martins.

Competition Between Instinctive Drives In Late Nesting Purple Martins
This highly developed migratory drive will sometimes compete with a martin’s instinct to stay with its young, particularly when nearly all martins in the area have finished breeding and are heading south. Late nesting martins may be torn between the urge to migrate with the flock and the urge to continue staying behind and feeding their babies. When there is only one pair of nesting martins left at a colony, the conflict between the drives may be particularly strong. These are often, but not always, sub adult martins (SY) that have colonized a new site or are nesting at an older, established colony. When martins initiate such late nesting behavior, any young produced may be nest bound until late July into September depending on the geographical location of the colony. By this time, many martins are forming pre-migratory roosts or heading south. This may exert migratory pressures on these late nesting parent martins as they try to feed their young while suppressing their desire to fly with the flock and head south.
Late Nesting Martin Feeding Behavior/Parental Care
Most martins that are nesting during the “normal” breeding period for their area begin feeding their young at dawn, often while there are dim lighting conditions. They continue to feed their babies throughout the day, with occasional “slow down periods”, and persist until the evening. I have observed martins start feeding their babies just after 6:00 am and stop between 8:30 and 9:00 pm.
For very late nesting pairs, particularly those where all the other martins have finished breeding in the colony, you may observe significant variations from the “norm” relative to feeding young. Late nesting martins may vary considerably in their frequency and daily time frames of feedings to their young. If these late nesters are not roosting with their young, then the parents may arrive later in the mornings to begin feedings. I have observed some of these parents arrive at 8:00 am or later to begin feeding their young though most returned earlier. During the day, their feedings may be sporadic at times with the parents leaving the area during the late afternoon. Sometimes both parents will be gone when there are still several hours of daylight left to feed the young. I have observed some of these late nesting adults leave the area by 6:00 pm or even earlier. Both the beginning and ending feeding times for late nesting martins are greatly impacted by the age of the young and roosting behavior of the parents. If one or both of the parents are roosting with their babies, then you may see a more “normal” feeding schedule, starting early and ending before dark. However, even these roosting parents may start feeding their young later than normal.
When parent martins arrive late at the nest in the mornings and leave early in the afternoons, this behavior may relate to the distance they must fly to reach the closest pre-migratory roost site. If neither of the parents is roosting with the young, the adults are probably spending the night at the nearest pre-migratory roost. If it is late in the season and most martins are gone from the area, then there may be no nearby roosts, so the parent martins may be flying many miles to reach the closest one. This could result in several hours of flight time for the parent martins in the mornings to arrive at the nest and in the afternoons to reach the communal roost.

Also, late nesting martins must face much higher daytime temperatures and this factor can impact the number of feedings to the young. During extremely high temperatures in the upper 90s for example, insects, such as dragonflies, may not be flying in large numbers, thereby reducing the prey base for the parent martins. The young martins may become heat stressed and not be as responsive to the food stimulus.

And, just prior to fledging their young, parent martins will start reducing the daily feedings to prepare their babies’ transition from nestlings to fledglings. Hungry young are more prone to fledging than well fed ones, particularly when the parents tempt them with a dragonfly. So, it is normal to see fewer feedings during the last week prior to the young making their maiden flight.

There May Be Significant Differences In Feeding Behavior Between Male and Female Martins

From my observations of these very late nesting pairs, you may see significant gender differences between male and female martins in feeding their young. The female martin is clearly more attentive to the young and spends more time with her babies than her mate. This is largely a function of the specific gender roles in purple martin family life. The mother martin broods her young during their early lives and she usually roosts at night with the babies for much longer than the male. Some males may quit roosting with their families after the young are older and nearing fledging. For late nesting pairs, the males may quit roosting with their families soon after the young have hatched.

Late nesting male martins may show reduced parental care to their young by feeding them fewer times than normal and then leaving earlier in the day. This may become more pronounced after the young are about two weeks old and it is later in the breeding season. These males may arrive at the nest site later in the mornings and feed the young a few times. Then they may disappear for long periods and show up again later with an occasional food item. Generally, their feedings to the young may be lower than the females. Other males may function mainly as guardians to the nest and chase away other males, particularly SYs that try to enter the cavity. These males may stay around the nest site in the mornings and bring in an occasional dragonfly. Then they gradually disappear in the afternoons and will not return until the next day. Some males may eventually abandon their families after the young are older or just after fledging. I had several cases where the males finally just quit coming around and the female went solo to finish raising the young.

Female martins are extremely attentive to their young and closely bonded to them. Nurturing the young is a key gender role of the female martin. Females usually feed late hatching young reliably and provide good parental care. I never had a case where a female abandoned her late hatching young though some of these females may not feed their young as often as normally. Also, these females roosted with their babies almost up until fledging and some through that time. However, I did observe several situations where non-roosting females with older young would arrive late in the morning to start feeding their babies and then departed relatively early in the afternoon. In these cases, the females may have been flying many miles to reach a communal pre-migratory roost. Again, the females are usually much more bonded to their young than the males and provide better parental care in late nesting situations.

Differences Between Late Nesting ASY Pairs And SYs

Generally speaking late nesting ASY pairs, both male and female, are more attentive to their young and provide more reliable parental care. These martins have most likely successfully raised young in the past and this experience no doubt helps them. Late nesting ASY males are probably more prone to feed their babies at higher rates than the SYs. The SYs, particularly the males, are raising young for the first time and embarking on this most important and potentially stressful adventure late in nesting season does create a challenging situation. However, I have seen both late nesting ASY and SY males significantly reduce their feedings to their nest bound young and even on occasion abandon their family prior to the babies fledging.

Late Nesting Fledglings

When late nesting youngsters fledge, I have observed cases where the parents or female parent brought their young back to roost in their natal nest for several nights and in other situations where they all disappeared. However, I did have several cases where the females brought their young back for longer than a week. It is possible that these youngsters may have greater difficulties in surviving to independence since the parents are under pressure to migrate with the flock. This may result in reduced parental care after fledging. However, martin youngsters grow up fast and learn to hunt flying insects quickly. So, that is a good behavioral adaptation to possibly help martins overcome problems with fledging later in the nesting season.

Summary

Purple martins are highly migratory birds and are nomadic for a good portion of their lives. This powerfully developed drive to “go with the flock” at the end of the nesting season may sometimes conflict with an equally strong drive to feed late hatching young. This “battle of the instincts” may result in some parent martins, particularly the males, reducing their feedings to nest bound young or in rare cases abandoning their families. Most females tend to be more closely bonded to their young and often maintain a good level of parental care in late nesting situations. These females continue to feed their babies reliably, roost with them until fledging, and may bring them back to sleep in the evenings for several nights or longer.

by Steve Kroenke

 

 

 

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 / PurpleMartinArt.com