Posts Tagged ‘migration’

Gone to the Birds Festival at Shockoe Bottom, Virginia

Monday, August 8th, 2011

In another display of bird lovers coming out to witness the spectacle of a Purple Martin premigratory roost, Shockoe Bottom (by Richmond) in Virginia had their annual “Gone to the Birds” festival. Not the largest roost but still mighty impressive at an estimated 25,000, a cluster of Bradford pear trees served as the center piece for the 4th festival at the 17th Street Farmers’ Market in Shockoe Bottom. The celebration featured purple creations of all sorts, from purple snow cones to purple martinis for the grown ups. To read the article and see a video of the birds coming in to roost, click on the photo.

For more info on this yearly event you can go to the website at  www.GoneToTheBirds.org for their blog, news and more.

2011 Purple Martin Season is DONE!

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Every season seems to end the same for me, here in South Florida. The end of martin season coincides with the start of our rainy season. Each morning our colony would get a faithful dozen or so visitors that would sit on the housing and chatter at any remaining nests. Late in the morning they would leave to only to return again the next morning. But then when a few days of poor/rainy weather persists, they are gone. I wrote a post last year about how it is thought that birds are 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. I’ll repost it here:

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, my 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 need bad weather 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.

2011 Purple Martin Season UNDERWAY!

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

It is official! The first purple martins for the 2011 season have arrived. As usual, the West coast of Florida lays claim to the first purple martin “scout”.

On Jan 5, 2011, Dr. Steven K. Million of Lake Suzy (Lake Suzy is west of Arcadia and east of Port Charlotte and Northeast of Punta Gorda), Florida reported the first martin. Fort Myers (first to report purple martins last year) followed suit on 06 January at a colony affectionately named the Purple Martin Hotel At Gateway.

Of course, we ALL know that there are NO purple martin scouts. Even the PMCA agrees. What some folks call scouts are just older more experienced birds returning to their old colony sites to secure a nest spot. They simply stop at other sites along the way. Now in my opinion, (considering how gregarious purple martins are) when they arrive in such small numbers they are seeking out other martins to socialize with so maybe they are simply seeking out their own.

For our colony, I suspect the martins won’t arrive for a few more weeks. If you are like me then you still need to buy those replacement purple martin house doors, a few extra gourds, heck maybe a new purple martin system. So now is the time. We recommend making all repairs and most minor changes BEFORE your purple martins arrive.

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.

Teaching Kids About Migration

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

drsuessI recently found a really fun, interactive way for children to learn about migration. PBS kids has made an online game featuring Dr. Seuss and a flock of, you guessed it, PURPLE MARTINS! How cool is that?!? In Migration Adventure, kids learn all about how and why birds migrate. It’s a teaching tool masked in an online video game that is as safe as it comes. And we all know kids learn best when they don’t even realize they are being taught! Check it out and have your little one play. Also (on the theme of kids and learning) our website has a couple of great kids books. A purple martin book made specifically for children and a darling beginner reader book about a swallow that also teaches cooperation, friendship and about migration.

My Best Nest, a hardcover children’s picture book, is filled with vibrant and active illustrations that allow the reader to follow a mother Purple Martin swallow during her first day of nest building. A short natural history section with color photos is included for parents, grandparents and teachers. A bonus plus is this book is autographed by the author/illustrator Ree Dellinger. Truly a work of art, each page is beautiful and proceeds of this book go to benefit migratory birds and wildlife conservation efforts.

Follow the Swallow is a cool for early readers between 5 and 7 years old. Vivid illustrations and large text and also balloon inserts that kids find irresistible and exciting. Written by award winning author, Julia Donaldson, who has written books such as Spinderella, The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom.

Purple Martin Roost Rings on Radar

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Going to your local premigratory roosts are a great way to herald the end of summer. The spectacular swarms of purple martins, descending in on trees, weighing down their branches like a heavy burden as countless more rain down to jockey for a spot  for the night. It is an awe inspiring sight not easily forgotten.

What happens to all those birds in the morning though? Not many people hang around or get up early enough to watch the birds ascend to the sky come sunrise.  The National Weather Service and their Doppler Radars have documented this phenomenon for years since bird movements were discovered on radar back in the 1940′s. On the radar image here, you can see the red arrows pointing to these radar rings (also called doughnuts) formed by the mass of birds flying out and away from the roosting sites. According to the Purple Martin Conservation Association and their Project Martin Roost, more than 300 possible roosts occur in Eastern North America. The largest known roost, at Lake Murray in South Carolina has over 700,000 birds.

Kevin R. Russell and Sidney A. Gauthreaux, jr. did a wonderful study titled, Use of Weather Radar to Characterize Movements of Roosting Purple Martins, (back in 1998) that is an interesting read. You can also read what the National Weather Service has to say about it with their article titled Roosting Birds Detected on NWS Doppler Radar.

If you know of a roost consider visiting one before the martins are gone. You won’t regret it. If you can’t get to one you can always watch our video we took in 2009 of a local roost in Davie Florida here.

Purple Martins in North Carolina

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

An Winston-Salem Journalinteresting read, this article on the Winston-Salem Journal by Phil Dickinson and Ron Morris  (Bird’s Eye View Columnists) talks about purple martins in North Carolina and the spectacular migratory roost around the old U.S. 64 bridge over Croatan Sound between Manns Harbor and Manteo.

Check it out!

Published: August 7, 2010

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

Where Your Purple Martins Went

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

As the purple martin season for 2010 winds down in the Southern states and hope for wannabe landlord dwindles, I have heard some folks wondering where their purple martins went. Some established colonies have even reported the complete failure of their colonies to arrive at all. In this article by Cynthia Porter from the Winona Post she describes some landlords experience with colony loss. There was some speculation about “where the martins have gone” and I hope to add some clarity to that issue.

The article mentions specifically that the martins were, “stalled in April due to low pressure systems in the south. That delay seems to have upset normal migration patterns in which birds like purple martins send scout males first, followed later by females.”

I thought that I just had to clarify this statement that seems to speak to the age old (and false) myth that purple martins will send out “scouts” ahead of the rest of the colony. Purple martins experience a staggered molt in South America and  older birds will complete molting before younger birds do. The phenomenon known as “scouts” is actually just older more experienced birds rushing “home” to secure nesting prime nesting spots. Now that we have that straightened out…

As far as why YOUR purple martins never arrived; there is only really one reason.

The colony experienced losses of adult birds, nestlings and fledglings due to predation, weather extremes (cold or drought) greater than the rate of reproduction.

Here is how that can happen:

1. Prolonged Cold Spring Snaps

2.Extended Dry Weather / Drought

3. Predation

Let me go into detail on these:

In cold weather (temps of 40 degrees F or below) aerial insects are not available and starvation will occur within days. Record Low temps for record breaking extended periods of time, made foraging for food impossible for many purple martins. So birds that may have arrived early, didn’t survive this year. Purple Martin landlords often report of “early arrivers” braving intense spring cold snaps for days and even with poor weather forecast, martins will often times continue their journey Northward and remain at their colony site. Many landlords last year and this year reported huge losses of ASY (adult) purple martins from cold snaps such as these.

Droughts were widespread and severe in many areas in 2008 even more so in 2009. Reduced rain results in reduced amounts of aerial insects thus reducing available food supply. Large losses were reported last year of thousands of dead nestlings that starved to death. According to Louise Chambers of the Purple Martin Conservation Association, “.We don’t know if adults will return after total nesting failure” so even though “many landlords are reporting a very good season this year” it could be that those adults returned or their sites attracted new adults.

The most important factor and the one WE CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT, is predation. Most predation goes undiscovered. Without safety precautions, such as predator guards in place, raccoons and snakes can easily climb ANY martin pole and go from martin nest to martin house for an easy meal. A colony can be decimated within days. Once a gang of raccoons finds the tasty treats (your birds) at the top of your purple martin pole, it will climb every pole in the neighborhood. And believe me, I have seen it Raccoons DO eat birds! Last year at our local roost, I witnessed raccoons dining at their leisure on so many purple martins that their body parts littered the ground like confetti. You can read the post here: Davie Fla Roost.

One of the reasons why the Purple Martin Conservation Association recommends nest checks is to discover problems early. By discovering problems such as nest predation, you can monitor the health and growth of your colony. Many landlords that report complete colony abandonment have in fact been suffering chronic losses and/or predation. The ultimate failure of many colonies could have been avoided by careful observation and having predator protection installed.

So to conclude, if you don’t observe your martins and perform nest checks, your colony may have suffered losses of adults from cold weather, losses of nestlings due to dry weather and, if unprotected, losses from ground predators as well. Then that is why you had no martins return at all.

If you are interested in reading more about raccoons and the threat they pose, try this article titled, “Raccoons in our Midst”.

If you want to know what other threats there are to your colony check out this surprisingly long list, “Threats.”

©2010 PurpleMartinArt.com / S.Halpin