Archive for the ‘Wildbirds’ Category

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.

Purple Martin Roosts

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Purple Martin roosts come in many shapes and sizes. There is no clear cut factor that makes a site roost material. The fact that huge numbers of purple martins gather and sleep over night is the only common thread.

Roosts can form under bridges, in trees or reed beds. You can find them in big cities or small towns, in bustling areas or in the middle of nowhere. They are sometimes well lit to keep predators at bay but can also be in the most secluded of areas.

The Purple Martin Conservation Association’s Project MartinRoost is dedicated to documenting roost locations and preserving them. You can look up roosts that have been reported in your area by visiting their Project MartinRoost Page.

joelevinsroostalabamaI found this interesting picture , posted with permission of the photographer (Joe Levins of Wetumpka, Alabama) of a colony site is being used for a small martin roost. It started around the first of June and has increased in number each day since. According to the landlord, Joe, last year they also roosted there, but did not start until after the first of July.

Southern Patriot

Southern Patriot

If you live in South Carolina and with an extra $27 dollars to spare, you can take a 2 1/2 hour cruise on The Southern Patriot” (that’s a 65 foot cruise boat) which will take you out to historic Bomb Island, where hundreds of thousands of Purple Martins roost on the largest Purple Martin sanctuary in North America. During the cruise you will hear narration about the Purple Martins and about the historic significance of how this island was used for bombing practice by Jimmy Doolittle prior to his raid on Tokyo during WWII. Don’t worry if you get thirsty as light refreshments are  served. Interested? Call the Lake Murray Marina in Ballentine, SC at: 803-749-8594

If you want to learn more about purple martin roosts you can also visit:

Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society (Manns Harbor Purple Martin Roost)

Tulsa Audubon Society

Afternoon Storms and Brutal Heat

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

With the heat index in the 100′s the fierce thunderstorms are ALMOST welcome. I say almost because with each of these storms severe winds of upwards of 45 MPH that would last past sunset, have inflicted some damage.

The nest of mockingbirds right outside our garage was blown down and the 2 partially feathered nestlings had perished. The large Sabal Palms lost a few fronds and the seed pods that the mockingbirds had made their nest in was woefully inadequate for the punishing winds.

The purple martins hung on to their perches well into the night seemingly afraid to detach themselves. I suspect an attempt to find protection within their nests would have had them blown away at some point during the storm. Fortunately the storm died down and all seemed quite but the previous week had these storms coming in almost on a daily schedule.

The winds were no problem for the martin poles. So other than the mockingbird casualties, all is well. Unfortunately the same can not be said for the laptop which ran the colony cam, so no live web cam at the moment. A new laptop is on the want list…any one???

Screech Owl Update

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Several weeks ago I blogged about an Screech Owl Tragedy in my backyard.  On my 6 (or was it 60th) call to Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, almost a month after bringing it in, I finally got an update on the Eastern (red morph) Screech Owl that I brought them. The owl had a severe traumatic injury of its right wing and unfortunately it was euthanized shortly after I brought it in. I was told that the State (of Florida) “no longer allows amputations” of birds wings above a certain location.

I appreciate all the well wishes I have received and it is probably for the best as I knew that the  bird was beyond any hope of freedom ever again. It is good to know, however that the 2 babies are doing fine. Ellen, from Wildlife Resource Center of the Palm Beaches, has been returning my calls ever faithfully and tells me that the 2 are doing great, eating up a storm and are on track to be released in several week

Still No Vacancies

Monday, May 10th, 2010

SY birds are still looking for homes as I have noticed several birds tonight trying, in vane to be let into a gourd. One continues to sleep on the porch of the Sunset Inn martin house and a couple flew off into the dark. A SY female tried in vane to get into about 5 gourds which was not received well. Fighting and pecking and bickering ensued. The poor girl was determined and I am not sure where she ended up.

Though some SY males have succeeded in winning over a handful of gourds, all but 2 of my 31 gourds have eggs or babies.

I drive by several know locations of vacant purple martin housing and see no evidence of martins and know that just some minor tweaking of the location of the house is all that stands in the way of quite a few folks getting martins. After 2 seasons now of mailing fliers to neighborhood wannabe landlords, I have only heard back from a handful.

In the meantime, I continue to turn away purple martins into the night. I could put up another rack next year but I would much rather show a few how to turn their empty martin houses into active colonies.

Other bird news brings 2 fledgling Mockingbirds fluttering about the yard, a family of Common Grackles that I am not sure where they are nesting and a recently fledged Red Tailed hawk being shown the gourd racks this morning by its mother. Sadly a pair of Greater Crested Flycatchers is nowhere to be seen after they started nesting in the recently vacated Screech Owl box. I believe a Horned Owl returned to the box as I found a large Owl feather clinging to the front of the nest box the same day the Flycatchers disappeared. Now to fashion Owl guards for that nest box.

Screech Owl Tragedy

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

You may recall my occasional posts regarding a Screech Owl(s) that have called the Flicker nestbox next to my driveway home for several years now. Faithfully, every Spring, a pair of Screech Owls lays claim to the box and whether or not young have been raised there, I never really knew. I have found broken owl egg shells near the box and often see the owls exiting at dusk and just peeking out in the day. But recently the owls fate has become tragically known.

One morning this week, I was outside my garage and something on the ground on the concrete caught my eye. The adult Screech Owl was on the ground, not 10 feet away from me, looking at me with heavy eyes. The sunlight was obviously uncomfortable but the injury I saw made the glare of the sun on this nighttime raptor, insignificant.

Its right wing hung by a small thread of flesh, dried blood caked on itshurt owlfeathers and wing bones protruding grotesquely. I knew (s)he was in trouble and was beyond any hope of ever flying again. At best she would retain her life, but her gift of flight was gone forever. Glancing at the nest box I wondered about its contents.

My spouse got the ladder and climbed up and heard soft calls from inside and within the box were 2 of the cutest white powder puffs of baby owl, I have ever seen. There eyes squeezed shut, it was hard to make out heads or tails of the little fluffy balls.

We removed the babies for about 5 minutes while we made some repairs to the front of the nest box which will not make it through another year and while waiting for a call back from Busch Wildlife Sanctuary to determine what should be done. I looked them over and they seemed to have empty crops but otherwise unharmed.

The folks at Busch Wildlife told us to observe the nest box as the surviving owl would return during the day (which I thought was odd) and resume care of the nestlings. My fear being that the adult that was injured was close to the nestbox and was obviously caused by some predator. Either the hawk saw the male owl roosting in the tree by day and mangled it or a Horned Owl (common in my area) or Raccoon found the nest box during the night and attempted to pull out the female. In the ensuing struggle the little screech must have been able to tumble free and land in a large section of thick dense shrubs that surround that side of our house. I can imagine her laying in the bushes and making her way out to the concrete in the hours that followed.

A careful search of the trees close to the nest box uncovered no other owl roosting and as dusk approached, no other owls came to feed or care for the youngsters. Like the purple martins, after being attacked by such fearsome predators such as Raccoons or Horned Owls , the mate (if it survived) probably fled for its life and would unlikely return.

I watched from a vantage point that I would often sit to observe these little Screech Owls and no mate ever returned. My hopes for these 2 little owls fledging from our nest box diminished and I decided that a Wildlife Rehabilitator would be their fate.

4 days later, at Wildlife Resource Center of the Palm Beaches, I am told that the babies are doing well and eating up a storm. As for the adult Screech Owl, Busch Wildlife Sanctuary has YET to return my multiple calls.

Many thanks to Ellen from Wildlife Resource Center of the Palm Beaches. I think I have found a new Wildlife Rehabber!

Swallow-Tailed Kites Return!

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

After a long absence, the Swallow-Tailed Kites have FINALLY returned. It seems they are much delayed but purple martin are about the only birds I KNOW for sure when they will return.

I think the forked tail is why I enjoy watching these birds so much. Any bird with the name of “swallow” is a favorite. Though I have seen these birds snatch a dove nestling out of a nest. So don’t get too close!

Close Encounter of the Sandhill Kind

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

The area I live in is pretty rural and though my yard isn’t blessed with any wide variety of birds, I live within a short drive to several wetland conservation areas that are teaming with life. The houses that are closer to these areas get many visitors and some of those folks insist on feeding these glorious animals. I am not too crazy about it.

Baby Sandhill cranes are flightless for quite some time and the parents are not so bright. Every year there have been several chicks either hit by cars or mauled by dogs. My theory is let them stay wild and do not put food out for them.
Though this may sound odd coming from a person that puts up purple martin houses and gourds every year, I think that these Sandhill cranes do much better being afraid of us.

On this day 5 Sandhill cranes were just a few feet from the window of my car. I happened to have my camera and this is one of the shots I got. They were eating corn from a plate left out for them by well meaning humans. Remember, there are people that hunt Sandhill cranes. Why would we want them to trust us?

Even At The Roosts, Martin Season is OVER…

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Hello Autumn!

It really is amazing how fast the year is going. All over reports of migration have been well underway and the quiet lull before the winter “storms” are upon us.  A few weeks ago I saw a large group of about 15 or so NightHawks pass through. The gourd racks have been still and quiet for months now. I am waiting for the arrival of the neighborhood winter visitors with the usual boredom that ensues at this time of year. As fast as all my nesting birds have left it takes a while before the winter visitors arrive and the time in between draws out, agonizingly slow.

What a great year it was. Looking at the calender, I find it hard to believe we are now in Autumn. All the roosts are done and the painful purple martin season that many had can now be called just a bad memory. We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief as our losses could have always been worse and our successes are always a gift from God.

A very interesting find by Veronica G. a fellow PMCA forumite. At the Tulsa, Oklahoma roost she spotted a leucistic purple martin. Check out the fabulous photos taken by Omar Landeros. Talk about finding a needle in a hay stack!

These purple martins are absolutely stunning and though they are often times destined an early fate, sometimes they seem to adapt and be accepted.

Here is a link to a tragic story, back in 2007, of 2 albino purple martins that fledged at Mr. Steve Kroenke colony in Logansport, Louisiana.

Some landlords have had leucistic purple martins return year after year and I rejoice for them. I hope this beauty returns safe and sound to his or her home in the spring.

What is the difference between Albino and Leucistic? In short, an Albino lacks all pigment so that even the eyes appear pink, and beak and feet are “horn” colored. Leucistic birds have varying amounts of white feathers but still have the areas of “normal” pigmentation.

Will these leucistic birds have leucistic babies? Usually not. Being a recessive trait the offspring may inherit the recessive gene but not exhibit it. It will only show in the offspring if one of the parents is leucistic and the other parent carries the recessive gene for it.  Even then there is only a chance they will inherit the trait. Sometimes they only inherit the gene but appear normally colored. Cool, huh?

Many thanks to Veronica and Omar for the great pictures.

Audubon Leaps into the Cats Indoors Fray!

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

You see, it is NOT just me. In a recent Audubon magazine article, Ted Williams points out the flaws, misconceptions and outright lies of the Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) philosophy.

Read the full article HERE.

Many organizations such as the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) tread very softly on the issue of feral cats. Cat lovers are a strong and vocal group with deep ties to multiple “animal rights groups”. Organizations such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) support TNR programs. Some of these organizations are considered as fringe groups with some radical, even borderline terrorist aspects. Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)has come under fire recently for “caring about animals more than people.”

But none the less these groups are strong vocal advocates for “Cats rights” and have blocked many efforts by birders to protect native endangered birds from free roaming and feral cats.

I highly encourage you to read Mr.Williams Article and forward it to all you know. It is sobering information.

And I can’t stress CatBibs enough. If you love your cats and love birds too please consider placing one of these harmless catbibs on your pet to save countless lives.

You can read our previous post on the damage done by cats to our native wildlife HERE.