Posts Tagged ‘starlings’

If I Can’t Beat Them…

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

I officially have given up on European Starling hunting. I instead, am putting up my old plastic martin house, under the eaves of the house and offering it up to the starlings, as a fine place to make a nest and raise young. Hopefully they will be done teaching their little demon spawn to forage and will be on the look out for more housing and I will comply. Am I nuts? No, but there is a method to my madness. Listen and I will tell you.

My pellet gun skills are not even worth the effort. At this point it seems useless to just “make noise” and chase them from the cross-hairs of my yard to the safety of the neighbors only a few feet away. Dozens of Starlings everyday come and feed off my lawn, which in reality is not that many considering starlings have been know to gather in flocks of thousands. But I digress.

No longer will I scare them away. Hopefully I will entice a pair to nest in the old house under the eaves. I will let them lay eggs and maybe even hatch them. At some point I will take over the raising of one of their young and make it a fine pet. Maybe even teach it to talk. I will teach it to say something quite clever, I am convinced. Maybe even take it with me when I do purple martin presentations. Since they are invasive pests they are not protected by law and I can do this. Then my new pet will be the decoy to call other starlings to my “starling motel”. The Starling Motel is owned and operated by the same infamous motel chain that owns the roach motel. Perhaps you have heard of them? Like the Roach Motel, the starling motel will also not allow check-outs.

Where is the Rain?

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

2 days of pregnant clouds and not a drop of water. The neighborhood ponds are drying up and the wetlands at some of the areas of Grassy Waters Preserve look more like scrub land than swamp. For hours the sky was black and thunder could be heard in the distance. The clouds swirled but not a drop fell here.

 It seems like there has been a bustle of morning hour activity at the purple martin housing ever since the babies have started fledging last week. I am not sure if some of the activity is from other area colonies or my own purple martins. They swoop in with zest and proceed to make themselves quite the nuisance. Peeking in compartments, being scolded fiercely by protective parents, vocal and joyful in both song and flight they are everything that is fun to watch about purple martins. Though a bit mischievous, I have witnessed no serious fighting.

The nestlings on the nestcamare big and ready to go at any time. They are busy flapping about in the gourd, stretching and preening their new flight feathers. Preparing themselves for a maiden flight. There is always at least one with its head looking out the front of the gourd and the others stuck inside looking about or napping. Today they are 26 days old and they are officially old enough to fledge at any moment. The mother comes to the opening and perches for some time often bringing no food, which signals that they are indeed ready. The parents will decrease feeding as fledging approaches. This technique serves 2 purposes. First, it decreases the attractiveness of the nest with its “room service” so that the babies will want to come out to feed. Secondly, to decrease their weight which can be more than an adults. Talk about baby fat! Try getting airborne with all that extra weight though.

 I am still postponing nestchecks on this rack due to the amount of babies ready to fledge and I have been unable to do a nestcheck on the other 2 units due to the thunder.

European Starling fledglings have come around, chaperoned by an adult. One was as close as a foot from the repeating S&S nestbox trap but never landed on the trap itself. Of course I was seriously disappointed and it reminded me that I must go back to Green Cay Nature Center to further observe the gourd rack there. My terrible luck with trapping this year along with the population explosion locally, has brought me to a new level of sadness for our native birds.

Annie Get Your Gun-and return it!!!

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Good LORD! My days of shooting targets with my faithful M16 rifle in the U.S.Army are long gone. Heavy emphasis on LONG. I have been driving myself insane looking at the growing flock of European Starlings that are feeding on my lawn every single day.

 Morning, afternoon and evening they come for a bite. I put out my trap, not a look. I took aim with my old pellet handgun-a joke. I even tried with a slingshot…that is just dangerous in my hands. I could not even get close. So after listening to some good advice given on the Purple Martin Clubhouse forum, I go against the advice and go cheap. Who needs a >$300.00 pellet gun anyway?  I purchased a Remington 77 Airmaster from Walmart. At $75.00, how could I go wrong? I excitedly got it ready, attaching the scope, ready all instructions, popping out the screen on the starlings favorite side of the house. Then I proceeded to work my untoned triceps to the point of complete muscle fatigue. The instructions read pump at LEAST 3 times to 10 times. SO I stuck with 6 pumps. Unfortunately after the first pump my arms were shaking like a bowl of Jell-O. After the 20th or so, pellet I decided that this is a gun for the young and I didn’t feel so young anymore. At least not after pumping that thing up. Wow, was I sore! My arms could not be lifted higher than my waist. It took all my strength to lift the box back in my car to take it back to Walmart for a refund. So back to square one.

Did I then go with my fellow landlords experienced and fine advice? Heck no! I am a woman and a wife. What does a man know anyway? (just kidding) But unfortunately, no I did not listen. Instead I went to the brand new Dicks and browsed their selection of pellet rifles. They had several cheap models that I thought were somewhat equivalent to the Remington…but this time I was going to move up to something better. Right? Spend a little more, get something better. That was my plan. Just how much more though…hmmm.

 This time I purchased a Crossman G1 Extreme. Good weight, felt “substantial”, mega big cool scope. Made the Remington scope look like a Timex next to a Rolex. OK, so off I go. I had a little quickness to my step, my arms were beginning to feel alive again. Straight home to the window.

I was impressed at the break barrel pump which meant only one pump. I like that! No more gym membership included with purchase. One pump and shoot. OK, take aim, breath, exhale, squeeze…KAPOW!!! Good grief! Are you joking me? Did I mistakenly buy a real gun? My first reaction was to run to the restroom. My second reaction was to check the ceiling for the pellet, my next reaction? Pack that thing up and RUN, not walk, back to that store. Laughing all the way and secretly glad that I was not home, just in case the police come driving by looking for someone shooting a gun.

Next plan? Start saving my quarters.

Random Thoughts and an Update

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

I was just outside letting my dog out for his last foray of the night. The air is perfectly comfortable and a perfect South Florida night. The neighborhood Chucks Will-widow is calling out in its haunting and beautiful call. My son who was up all night with a 103 fever seems back on the mend. All is right with the world. 

Friday I will be doing a nest check. Looking at my watch I see it IS Friday so this is not much of a heads up. Since several nests are due to hatch, I will probably do another check come Sunday. (Just for fun!) Sometime between 3pm and 5pm EST, the usual time.  Of course, you can watch me on the Birdcam and laugh at me, if you like.  Also, the nestcam has one egg hatched so far and 4 more eggs at any moment.

Their are several starlings that are regularly feeding in my yard every morning. I have made feeble attempts with my pellet gun, to no avail. My aim is ridiculously bad and every time I squeeze off a shot, I blush with shame. Both from my bad aim and the picture I make, out in the yard in my bathrobe, morning hair and a pellet gun. The neighbors at least have free entertainment. I even have put out my home made wire bait trap which I used last season as a holding cage for the starlings. It is even more poorly made than my repeating nest trap. The starlings have no interest however in the popcorn and cereal I have placed inside. I will persist though. Should I ever manage to catch something with the trap, my husband owes me a sushi dinner. Yesterday evening I saw a lone starling perched on the phone line stalking my colony. Fortunately I am using SREH (starling resistant entrance holes) so my birds are safe, for the most part.

On another bird note. The mocking bird fledgling is almost indistinguishable from its parents. It follows its parents in the yard. Silently doing their wing displays as they scurry from spot to spot on the lawn. I only see the one fledgling which speaks volumes on the survival rate of these brush nesting birds. The neighbors which have at least 2 cats are constantly on the prowl. My dog has chased them out of my yard and away from the purple martin poles on numerous occasions. I am not sure how I will address the issue come fledge time but if I have to chase cats, I will. Another reason to call me a crazy bird lady. All I need now is a little more gray hair.

Blog contents/photos © 2009 S.Halpin/

Green Cay Predator Guards are UP!

Monday, April 13th, 2009


I wanted to tell you about my recent visit to the Purple Martin colony at Green Cay Nature Center. The facility is immaculate (as usual) and the wildlife plentiful. Birds were in abundance. From a pair of Red-Tailed hawks, mottled ducks, common moorheads and red winged black birds and others that challenged my marginal bird ID skills. I was there to install the predator guardsthat Mr.Updike (a fellow Purple Martin Conservation Association forumite) from Delaware had so graciously donated to Green Cay. Donald Campbell, the manager of Green Cay, escorted me out to the purple martin houses. The martins, for not being as close to humans as the martins at my house, were just as docile. A flurry of feathers to get airborne and then curious swoops as if we had been doing nest checks all along. The Economy 12 gourd rack was the first to come down. Though it has a capacity for 12 gourds, as its name implies, the rack currently only has 8 Troyer horizontal gourds all with round openings. Out of the 8 gourds, 6 of them were occupied with either nestlings or eggs. Those 2 that were not occupied had complete nests. None had any evidence of mites.

Not all of the nests looked the same however. As I opened the access port to the first gourd, I saw feathers had been used in its construction. I was confused. Could a Tree Swallow have nested here? No, I saw Purple Martins perched on the rack before we approached it. If it was a Tree Swallow, it would have kept the martins away from the rack. Never even mind the fact that a Tree Swallow nesting in South Florida would be for the record books. I reached in, unable to see what was laying within.European starling nestlings

The first nestling I pulled out greeted me with a big yellow beak and downy fuzz on its head and back. My heart sank. I reached in and pulled out another, then another, then another until 5 writhing bodies gaped at me. It appeared as though (unfortunately) 3 of the nests were those of European Starlings. The oldest of the nestlings was bold and unfazed by my handling. It looked at me as if to dare me.  A half smile on that wretched yellow dagger of a beak.

When I talk to people about Purple Martins and the threat of non-native nest site competitors (like starlings or sparrows) many people will deny they have a problem…until there is a problem. And when it comes to sparrows and starlings, trust me, there is a problem. But it is a delicate issue Starling Nestlingand there is always the danger of offending sensibilities and beliefs. It’s a subject I tread carefully and this situation gives me a great opportunity to show some of you that still doubt, that sometimes even if there “ain’t nothing broke”, we should still fix it. The situation at Green Cay illustrates perfectly how problems arise. The old housing was unattractive to starlings. Thus, no starling problem. Small 6×6 compartments being the main complaint. By the way, those same 6×6 compartments are unattractive to purple martins also, But necessity being the mother of invention and the Purple Martins being a lot more hard pressed for available housing, will make do with what is available to them. Why else would studies show that in larger compartments that purple martins not only lay more eggs, but successfully fledge more young. This being the case, when the new Troyer horizontal gourds were introduced this year, the Starlings took a good long look.

Being nestled in intimate proximity to an urban setting, starlings in my area have an abundant supply of adequate housing. All they have to do is fly a few hundred feet to reach any number of prime starling nest areas. South Florida architecture is famous for its use of Spanish tiles that starlings nest in quite successfully. Dead palm trees are so soft they are hollowed out by woodpeckers in record time and provide great nesting spots for starlings. So when someone puts up housing in urban areas, even if you don’t see the starlings, it is just a matter of time. And just like any of you that have ever had a picnic know, the flies don’t bother you until the food comes out. But you know the flies are around.

Interestingly enough, in retrospect I wonder if the nests that were completed but unoccupied were empty because a starling already had attacked? Could a starling have already caused damage? Regardless, the colony is thriving and at least it is an easy fix. Thankfully, with the development of SREH, the starling threat can be neutralized.

The Sunset Inn house, with its SREH is safe from the start. Every compartment was filled with 5-6 eggs or nestlings. One compartment had a 1 day old nestling that was dead, but the 4 other 1 and 2 day old nest mates seemed to be doing fine. The nest was sparse and the nestlings in this nest were on the only patch of bare floor but I rearranged the nest so that a covering of leaves provided some warmth. All the other nests were beautifully constructed with huge mud dams and perfectly crafted nests using grasses and reeds. The purple martins are lucky to have such a beautiful setting to raise their young.

In closing I hope that for those that do not believe in the benefits of SREH that you reconsider and make the conversion in your colony’s. A few moments of work will rewards you with unending peace of mind. I also urge the more passive of landlords to spend more time getting to know your birds. As it is with many active purple martin landlords, we check our birds so frequently that their world opens up to us like a crystal ball. A story unfolds slowly but clearly of the challenges they face. With active management small problems can be fixed and large problems can be unearthed quickly. And knowing our birds so intimately gives us an appreciation for these birds that is hard to describe.

But I will keep trying!

Photos and Blog Contents © S.Halpin/

Much A-do About Starlings

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

The Purple Martin Conservation Associations online forum is a virtual treasure trove of material for me at times. I simply love the back and forth banter of many of the different forums that I am a member of. 

 Today Courtney asked what she should tell her neighbors who may ask about the repeating nest trap in the backyard. It is a fabulous question!

It is a hard pill for many to take- that the European Starlings and English House Sparrows that we catch are usually euthanized. People like things in a tidy, neat, hermetically sealed container. Like the chicken in the supermarket. I mean really, how many of us would become vegetarians if we had to kill a chicken ourselves? Well, I would ask my husband to do it but not everyone would go through the very real and gruesome task. What about beef and pork? I know that would definitely be off our menu-husband or not. SO why do people get so upset about S&S/sparrows and starlings? It is a difficult question.

You can take 2 approaches when the question comes up. You can be honest and make enemies (sometimes) or give a neat, tidy, hermetically sealed answer and walk away laughing every time. Worst case scenario is the neighbors will think you are a little weird.

So here are the

Top Ten things to say about what you do with the birds you trap:

10.You take them for a drive
9. Send them back to England as part of a repatriation project
8.Retire them in the country side
7.Send them to a bird convent
6.Give them away as pets to the underprivileged
5.Donate them to a foreign country as food (Hay we eat chickens, right?)
4.Release them back to the parking lot of Walmart
3.Release them back to the parking lot of McDonalds
2.Give them to a local magician for his disappearing bird trick

and the number one thing to say about what you do with the birds you trap
1. Donate them to NASA for the next shuttle launch

On a serious note. Todays nest check was postponed due to afternoon thunder storms. We look forward to a nest check tomorrow and the restarting of the nestcam in a nest with eggs!!!!

 (c) Blog contents copyright 2009 S.Halpin/

WebCam Woes!

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Oh gosh! If I never have to deal with this webcam debacle, I will die happy!! It may not be THAT bad, but dealing with this webcam has been a testament to God given patience and a few wine coolers. So most of you know about the webcam. How many of you know what a royal pain in the toukis it is?

I NOW have the webcam with another broadcasting site called . The actual site is at and as of now it is working…knock on wood. It seems that computers have a love hate relationship with routers. Routers are those little boxes that hook up your computer to high speed Internet connections and wireless connections in your house. They are a Godsend and a curse. First of all you want the router to protect your computer from pre-pubescent jerks trying to wreck havoc on your PC. The hackers now troll your neighborhood looking for wireless connections to hack into your computer. BUT to connect a webcam to another computer somewhere else, you have to tell your router that some things are OK. But I digress.

So camstreams is out (couldn’t get it to keep working) , Uviewit is out (too expensive!), Mogulus is out (could never get that one to work at all!) and we are now on I MUST apologize for the ads that pop up on the stream. I must assure you that I, or Do NOT get anything from those ads. It is a trade for the service provided by They let me stream for free…I put up with intrusive ads for skittles or whatever it is. So please forgive me for that.

NOW, about my Purple Martins. Who really cares about webcams! I am up to a dozen birds, or so I think. The Sunset Inn has drawn a few birds as residents. Which is interesting as last year the rack filled up completely withASY martins before the old plastic house got any traffic. It eventually got its fair share of SY’s. This year the new Aluminum house already has a lone ASY male on the far side AND a possible ASY PAIR on the near side. I added a 2×4 wire Owl protecting “cage” to the front of the house for added security. The Purple Martins are navigating the wire with no difficulty.

I took the pellet gun for some target practice and appear to be a terrible shot. A far cry from my marksman days in the US Army. Then again, if it was a BB rifle I am sure I would be a better shot. It is a pump up pellet handgun and my arms shake like jello after a few shots. I am consistently to the right of the target and no amount of site adjustments seems to alter that. Weird.

As per my previous post the birds are still staying close to home with birds around till noon and then back checking in after 3 or so. They are gearing up and I can’t wait to see them bringing in the pine needles!!!

Blog & Photos Copyrighted 2009: S.Halpin/

2009 – Here We Go!!!

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

As Purple Martin season draws near I find myself torn between preparing for my birds return on one hand and preparations for “everything else” on the other. My birds returned on January 29 last season and I have the sneaking suspicion that they will be earlier this year. It always seems odd that Purple Martins arrive so much earlier on the West coast of florida. Why would one little Lake (Okeechobee) hold up my birds for an additional month? I should be grateful for the extra time. Especially this year. My 4 year old son started going to pre-K only 3 months ago. And in that time we have all endured the flu twice. My 2 boys also have suffered through a sinus infection, an ear infection and a never ending runny nose. So running outside to gather pine needles is low on the to-do list. But it had better make its way to the top soon. Being sick has delayed the preparation of many things.

I am in the process of trying to gather information for a database of South Florida Purple Martin Colonies and have been placing flyers on mail boxes of homes that have martin housing up. On January 21st I will be going to the 2009 Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in Titusville for 4 days. I will be giving 2 presentations on Purple Martins along with tending to my exhibitor booth. I am planning on being at the Folke Peterson Wildlife Center on Jan10 for the “Call Of The Wild” event, again to give a presentation and run an exhibitors booth. Then add all the web site development stuff I have undertaken, I still need to buy the cement for the ground stake, and get my new CUENT gourd rack up. I had planned on increasing my capacity this year but I may have to be satisfied with a slight increase. Last year I had 12 gourds and 7 compartments in my house. I had about 85% occupancy.

This season I plan on slightly increasing gourds offered to 17 and 6 compartments in a new Sunset Inn house. I MAY be able to add a live webcam this year and somehow integrate this feature in my website .


One thing I DID get to do was put another coat of paint on the “little repeating nest trap that could”. The paint may be the only thing holding this trap together at this point. The wood is warped, but the lines on this house were never straight to start out with. My husband is still in shock that it actually works and it was proven again when last week I put the trap up. I had thought I heard a Starlings wolf whistle amongst a large flock of Grackles. Long story short the “little trap that could” did not catch the starling but the next morning I awoke to find another Eastern Screech Owl in the holding cage. Off you go little guy, go get some sleep.

Blog & Photos Copyrighted 2008: S.Halpin/

The War on Starlings: Fighting the Good Fight!

Friday, November 21st, 2008

 Sometimes I feel like I am preaching to the choir, when it comes to Non-native cavity nesting birds like Starlings and House Sparrows and the damage that they can inflict on a colony. I remind myself, however, that many people that come across my blog and read it, have no bias against S&S(Starlings & Sparrows). There is a vast expanse of people that are interested in birding but have yet to make the leap into being an active participant in conservation. When it comes to S&S there is not enough that I can say.

Which brings me to the day when it got personal. 5 years living in my semi-rural area, I had never seen a Starling. Did I think my colony was immune from the presence of Starlings? They were only 20 minutes away at the local “SuperMart” in town. No, I was not that naive. I was however still surprised the morning I went out to enjoy my morning coffee and heard that tell tale wolf whistle. My fears were confirmed when the lone Starling landed on the house. I of course, was in a panic. I knew what was to come. Mainly, more starlings. It is amazing to see how they operate. Truly an amazing bird, in many ways. Fortunately for the Starlings, as a species, they are in no way shape or form in any danger. Unfortunately, as individuals on my property, they must cease to exist.

I am very lucky. Being a stay at home mom I have all day access to my birds in case of a problem. The Martins start their day earlier than my children do, so I can observe them in peace. One thing I noticed is that the starlings would only investigate my housing early in the morning. While Starlings are in “investigation mode” after10:30 or so, they would not return. So I knew that my window of opportunity was narrow. Not being fully prepared for battle I knew I could not afford to let them gather any foothold. I had all the makings of a disaster, no traps and I am a horribly bad shot.

To make a long story short I captured 3 Starlings that morning and 3 more in the following week. I saw several more but by that time I had converted all my compartments to SREH and built a repeating nest box trap.

The philosophy that some subscribe to, that Purple Martins and S&S can coexists peacefully is impossible to believe once you witness the reaction of the Purple Martins. The Starlings move from compartment to compartment with impunity. The first Starling entered a 6×12 compartment with a round entrance. The ASY pair had built a beautiful nest and I am sure was within days of starting to lay eggs. The female was inside the compartment when the Starling entered. That female left and never returned. I was lucky. I had about 80% occupancy and no shortage of Purple Martins last year. Another pair (SY) ended up using that beautiful nest. Never the less, any lost opportunity to assist my beloved birds, I regret. And I can not help but think of all the landlords and wanna be landlords who lose Purple Martins due to even one visit from a Starling. At a time when most people are at work, the Starlings are doing damage by intimidation alone. Never mind the fact that they are merciless in their attacks on our native cavity nesting birds.

So my point is, there is no need for mercy with a bird that shows no mercy. Nature is hard and cruel. Our tolerance and acceptance of Starlings makes life that much harder and that much crueler for the Purple Martin and other native cavity nesters. Use SREH to protect from Starlings. Be proactive about protection from ALL predators at your site. If you can not bring yourself to harming a Starling or English House Sparrow, find a raptor rehabilitator in your area or someone who has snakes. Call your local zoo or another area landlord who has no such qualms. You can do it! Our Martins are counting on you.

Blog & Photos Copyrighted 2008: S.Halpin/

Love a Martin, Kill a Starling

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

I was on the PMCA forum and read a new landlords post about how he loved birds and did not want to have to kill sparrows and starlings. When talking to people that are new to Martins, I get alot of that same…disgust about having to “dispose” of a bird. Anyway,

This was my reply;

It’s hard for alot of people to really understand what being a purple martin landlord is all about.
You can love birds and the end result will be that you will love your (or someone elses) purple martins to death—-literally.
I can understand not wanting to kill starlings and sparrows…(Not how I feel) but I can understand it. The important thing is to not add to someone else’s problem. My point? Maybe having a purple martin house isn’t for you. Because instead of attracting purple martins, you will have a sparrow and starling factory.
I hate turning anyone off to being a landlord but at some point tough love is needed. and at some point you have to take a stand.
My motto is , Being a purple martin landlord is NOT a passive hobby, its an active endeavor.
I hope you can see past the “grislly” stuff and realize that just because something has feathers; doesn’t make it all cute and sweet. Life is tough for martins and bluebirds and woodpeckers and every other native bird that sparrows and starlings kill. My job as a landlord is to keep a promise that Native Americans made to purple martins. The promise was-if you trust me-I’ll take care of you. They trusted us to leave natural cavities and nest solely in our houses (and gourds) and I won’t let them down.
You can still love martins without putting up a martin house.
My 2 cents?…put up a small bird box for 1 pair of whatever, and enjoy. Sell the martin house on ebay.
best of luck, whatever you do.

Love a martin, kill a starling.

Blog Contents Copyrighted 2008: S.Halpin /