Archive for April, 2010

Purple Martins: Wild bird or Pet?

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Sharon Stiteler from has done a great job bringing birding to masses of people. I mean let’s face it, she is the Oprah Winfrey of Bird Bloggers. Her claim that she is  showing the world that “you can be a birder without being a geek” is very true. Recently she posted a blog post about my favorite bird (and yours) Purple Martins on

Usually I enjoy her writing immensely, but while reading this one I found myself at first feeling defensive of my hobby but then quite protective of my “pets”.

I responded to her blog post,

The only part I don’t agree with is about how European settlers began this birds dependence on humans. It has been documented that Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians would hang up dried gourds for these birds and according to the Purple Martin Conservation Association, the purple martin has undergone in the last several hundred years, a tradition shift where they no longer recognize natural tree snags as nest sites. Are they pets? I understand you argument there, but as a purple martin landlord I take pride in keeping this bird safely off the endangered species list, which according to the PMCA, would probably be the case had humans not taken to putting up housing.

Us landlords are familiar with the story of the history of Purple Martins. For those that don’t know the history of purple martins a great article is at the PMCA website.

Though Sharon sees our meddling in the affairs of purple martins as interfering with natural selection, I see it as a continuing of a symbiotic relationship with these birds that gave up their natural ways to help us. Though we don’t need them to warn us of vultures or birds of prey that are trying to eat Buffalo meat hung up to dry, or to chase crows from crop fields or even as natural flying insect control anymore; I find it comforting to know that I am fulfilling the promise made by those Native Americans so many years ago. That though we, as the human race, may have outlived the usefulness of Purple Martins in a practical sense, that we will stand by what we began.

Maybe Ms. Stiteler will reconsider her stance?

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!

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.

It Takes All Types

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

I suppose, talking to avid purple martin lovers all day, I tend to forget that some folks hate birds. I am sure these are the same people that move next to a garbage dump and then complain about the smell. But it is what people do with that hatred that has me laughing today.

I received a call a couple of days ago, from what I assumed was a customer. The lady proceeded to tell me that it was not she but a neighbor that has “many” purple martins. She was calling from North Carolina (I am in Florida) to complain about her neighbors birds and how their chirping is keeping her and her husband up all night. I was confused…did she want to join in the purple martin madness and join her neighbor in hosting martins? I mean, geez, what would you be calling a retailer to complain (long distance) about something that you should walk next door to talk about? I liken it to me calling up Walmart to complain about my neighbors affinity for “Made in China” clothing. Are you kidding?

Well, I patiently and gently explained how the birds, having just returned and in overdrive breeding mode are very happy to be home and the males are so eager that they are often heard singing in their nests to their mates. I assured her that if they were the same as my birds, all would be quite within a week or two when eggs start getting laid. As the males move from Casanova mode to daddy mode, they will quiet down.

The lady expressed, “Yeah, I remember last year they did this too.”

I thought, “Glad you didn’t call me last year.”

Gray and Rainy Day in FLA

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

The clouds never seemed to part at all today and lower temps brought the martins to their perches while a fine drizzle came down intermittently. Puffed up and staring out at each other the martins and I were not much for vocalizing as we usually are.

I have been kept quite busy with my finches (indoor in cages…NOT wild). Tomorrow I hope to get the first nest check in as I have seen many birds bringing leaves and tree bark into their nests over the last few weeks. I put plenty of pine needles in the nests which makes me wonder why I have not seen the usual stealing of nest material as in years past. Nor have I seen them bringing in more pine needles…just leaves.

In any case tomorrow I will do a nest check and find out. I am laying bets that I will find several nests with eggs.

Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

watermarkedeasterFrom all of us at and

Have a wonderful Easter.