Archive for the ‘Wildbirds’ Category

Starlings Breaching SREH

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

Most people know that Starling RESISTANT Entrance Holes (SREH) do NOT mean starling PROOF. Though uncommon, starlings have been known to occasionally breech SREH. Once a starling breeches an entrance, it is even more important to dispatch the invasive bird. The fear by most is that smaller starlings that can enter a SREH could possibly breed and create more smaller starlings, and over the course of some years with the help of natural selection, the benefits of SREH would be made obsolete. This would be as tragic and possibly as devestating for the modern day martin as bringing in these pest birds to North America in the first place.

Of course, some SREH are more restrictive that others and most breeches have been reported with the less restrictive entrances like a simple crescent or a Conley II entrance. The more restrictive, the less likely a starling can get past it. So a more restrictive SREH like an Excluder entrance would be much safer.

One well known fix for the problem of starlings getting in through a SREH, is raising the floor (or lowering the entrance) as many houses use SREH that are placed much to far up. The bottom of a Staring Resistant Entrance Hole should be flush or as close to flush as possible. The lower to the porch, the better.

photo copyright Bradley O'Toole

Sometimes, the entrances are placed low enough, it’s just that the starlings are smaller than usual. Take the very popular Troyer Gourds. People love them. They are our best selling gourd…deep, strong, lightweight, pretty awesome really. The entrances are as low as they can go. You can modify the gourd and swap out the entrance for a more restrictive opening, trap the offending bird, or you can try this fix reported by Bradley O. on FB. We would LOVE to hear if this works or not from others who are having a problem with starling breeches in their Troyer tunneled gourds. By looking at his picture, you can see that all he did was clip 2 small binder clips on either side of the Troyer Tunnel.

Bradley states, “The clips are 1-1/2 inches “wide” (when in the position in the pic). We have done this for a few years now with no issues with martins rejecting or being injured by them. Very rarely, they push the clip open. And yes, Susan…, please spread the word! Once the starlings check out the gourds, they seem to be discouraged and we don’t see many on the gourd rack.”

Copyright Bradley O'Toole

We hope you all try it and let us know if it works!

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

Another Reason for Cats Indoors

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

I know I get a little “Soap Box-ish” when it comes to the American Bird Conservancy’s Cats Indoors campaign. This video is one of the reasons why. As a bird AND cat lover, I feel that I am 100% qualified to endorse ABC’s and the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (to name a couple) stand on domesticated cats being allowed to roam free. Check out this 32 second video to see why.

How Australia Deals With Invasive Birds!

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Wow, there is no denying it. Approve or disapprove, Melbourne Australia has a “No-Holds Barred”  approach to dealing with invasive/pest birds. This Pigeon Dummy Egg Nest works by encouraging the birds to lay eggs in the structure. Then at night, when the pigeons are asleep a worker access the nests to replace fertilized eggs with dummy eggs. The real eggs are promptly made into omelets.

It is reported that there is a similar program in New York City, but I wasn’t able to find a pic of that one.

In purple martin news, as of Dec 30, 2013, purple martins have arrived in Florida!

Mockingbirds Make Five

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

As I was walking around the far end of our property, I happened across a small neat nest in a Cocoplum bush. The bush has grown quite tall and wild and is home to an occasional rabbit or two. The mockingbirds either didn’t notice me wander so close to their nest or they didn’t care. I have had mockers nest right outside our. Front door and it seems they have come to know me. They pretty much ignore me and go about their business knowing I will do them no harm. It’s a wonderful feeling to be trusted in that way by a wild animal. The nest only has 2 eggs so I am sure it is not a complete clutch. Perhaps in a couple of days I will see her starting to incubate.
These mockers are now the fifth species of bird to nest this year in our yard. First was our Screech Owls, then our Purple Martins returned (of course), then a Red-Bellied Woodpecker took up residence right outside our window, then a pair of Greater Crested Flycatchers took up house in the (now vacant) Screech Owl box.
Our yard has become quite the haven of late for all sorts of wildlife. The vanishing waterfall is a favorite of the mockers, doves and a multitude of Common Grackles for a drink and bathing. The sunflower feeder feeds the woodpeckers, cardinals, bluejays, grackles and occasional Red-Winged Blackbirds.

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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 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

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 BirdingIsFun.com 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 CatGoods.com

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.