Archive for the ‘S&S’ Category

100% Starling PROOF Entrance Hole?

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Going from Starling Resistant to Starling Proof

The Jury Is Out

Is it really possible? I saw the ad for this entrance hole in an issue of “Feathers and Friends” and I was immediately interested. An entrance hole that touts itself as 100% starling proof is a pretty amazing discovery…if true.

As you may know, the advent of the original Starling RESISTANT Entrance Hole (SREH) by the late Charles McEwen was revolutionary for purple martin landlords. The fact that purple martins could be protected from the destructive European Starlings was a huge development. Some purple martin house manufacturers went so far as to make these SREH standard equipment on their houses and countless martins are now, for the most part, safe from these pests.

Almost immediately after the SREH was placed into use, it seems that the search for the elusive, perfect and 100% Starling Proof entrance was on. Many landlords have been actively developing different entrance shapes trying to keep out the occasional smaller sized starlings. Some folks have even hypothesized that in using SREH, that we are in essence been breeding down the size of starlings. If that happens the purple martins will have no protection from these invasive birds that are choking out our native cavity nesting birds.

The immediate benefits of SREH still outweigh any other risks involved. (Risks such as wing entrapment can be serious and deadly- read about wing entrapment HERE. Consider that European starlings are even displacing red bellied woodpeckers in order to take over the nesting cavity. Countless woodpeckers are now being forced to excavate several cavities and nest later in the season in order to deflect the pressure of the starlings. Late clutches are usually not as productive. So not only are the secondary cavity nesters in peril but the primary excavators are also at risk. Habitat loss due to urban sprawl and deforestation, in time the starlings will impact  woodpecker populations. It would seem that would decrease the amount of natural nest cavities available to secondary cavity nesters such as flycatchers, screech owls and even wood ducks, just to name a few. Human supplied bird boxes or nest boxes will become even more vital in saving our native birds. Perhaps then more emphasis be placed on active control and even local eradication of European Starlings.

Back to the question of this “100% starling proof” entrance. We will have to wait for those of you that use it to let the rest of you know. I do not have a heavy starling area but I may very well get a few of these just out of curiosity. In appearance it is very similar to the Clubhouse entrance (or Conley #2) only more narrow. The Clubhouse entrance is the SREH on the current Troyer Horizontal gourds and was named after the Purple Martin “Clubhouse” forumites that developed it.

For purchasing information contact “Nature Unlimited” at (260)593-2624 ext 1. This is an Amish run country store so a voice mail should be left and they will call you back. Entrance plates are $1.95 each and are 4 -1/2 inches x 3 -1/4 inches. PLEASE let me know if they work for you.

The American Bird Conservation Association / Feathers and Friends can be contacted via phone at (260) 768-8095 x:5 Subscription rates are  $18 for 1 year. Tell them Susan from PurpleMartins-R-Us sent you!

ScareCrow Joe

Friday, August 28th, 2009

When I first saw this photo, it took me a moment to realize that it was not a real person. I guess my thought about scarecrows is the old fashioned Wizard of Oz type. Up in the middle of the field (or yard) with a stick up its backside with arms stretched out to the sides and crows laughing as they feast on corn.

But when it comes to purple martins, scarecrows are quite handy and when I looked at this one posted by Ray Gingerich, a fellow PMCA forumite, I said, “Now THAT’S a scarecrow!”

Ray describes his use of his scarecrow:

“As an experiment I put this fellow on duty all summer (24 hour duty and not one complaint from him). He didn’t have much affect on sparrows but seemed to have some affect on starlings and hawks. I had a few starlings this spring before placing Joe on duty but none afterwards, when I placed him near my barn and partially hidden from the sky I had a few low fly bys from hawks, if I placed him out in the open near the bird houses the hawks seemed to pass by at a greater distance. I kept moving him to different locations in my yard and repositioning his arms & legs.
Couldn’t get keep him awake though, wonder if the sparrows could tell.”

Maybe we should all give Scarecrow Joe a try!

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

Not that I am not grateful for the rain that South Florida so desperately needs. I really don’t want the rain to go away. Just give me enough time to take care of business on the 3 poles. South Florida has had torrential downpours in the last week or so as a result of a low pressure system that was actually threatening to turn into an early Tropical Depression. Hurricane season can’t wait to start, apparently.

The nest checks could wait no more. Last nest check of the numbered gourd rack had gourd # 10  smelling quite ripe and needing a change badly. The babies all fledged successfully in that nest but yesterday as I watched the birds coming in for the night, I noticed that no one wanted to enter that gourd. So I was finally able to do several nest changes in empty gourds that had already fledged on the numbered rack and also changed several nests with babies on the lettered rack. The smell was reminiscent of the monkey cages at the Bronx Zoo and General Tso’s Chicken from the neighborhood Chinese restaurant. I doubt I will ever be able to eat General Tso’s Chicken again. Thankfully my experience as a nurse and mom has prepared me well for the foulness of the situation…5 straight days of sideways falling rain, plus bird poop, plus “bug parts” was turning into a potent compost material. I am convinced that had I not changed the nests for some of the nestlings that some will have perished in short order. The nestlings in Gourd “D” were wet and dirty. They seemed grateful to be placed back in a dry clean nest. I noticed one of the nestlings had a small lump on its abdomen that reminded me of a cyst or a tumor. Hopefully it is benign but I will observe it. All but the telescopic pole was checked as thunder was rumbling again and a drizzle began to fall.

Last night I had the strangest dream. In the dream I heard the wolf whistle call of a starling. Then this morning when I went outside to check on the birds and check the trap, as I ALWAYS do. To my surprise I looked down at the trap and I see a bird in the trap. At first I thought it was a fledgling martin that let his curiosity get the better of him. When I looked closer I saw that it was not one but 2, yes TWO Starlings in “the little repeating nest-trap-that-could”. 

There are some half dozen starlings frequenting the yard and I decided to keep the younger of the two as a lure. Now to just work on my baited trap.

I was glad to be able to get some good up close photos of the European Starling and several came out quite well.

Nest Check Results for 5-23-09:

Fledged to date:    58

Total Eggs remaining:       28

Total Young remaining:       38  (+10 ? Unable to check telescopic pole)

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.

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/PurpleMartinArt.com

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/PurpleMartinArt.com

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/ PurpleMartins-R-Us.com

Hello again Jose

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

It had been some time  since I saw Jose. Last time we spoke he told me how talking about the martins had made him realize how much he missed them. As a landlord I can understand. A protectiveness and responsibility becomes part of your everyday life. He told me that he used to feel like he was a part of them, and when he left his home for the last time to go to the nursing home, he did not realize that he would never come back. “I guess I always thought that I would go home and go back to how it was. I never thought I would stay here so long.” I asked him if he thought his neighbors would ever see the birds return and put housing for them. “The last time I saw them houses they were a mess. Between me not taking care of that wood like I should and the storms…there wasn’t much left. My neighbors…they were not so much better off than me, you know? I don’t think people care too much for birds anymore. They care that they have a nice car and nice stuff. They talk big now saying we all use recycle this and that. But you know what I think? I think that recycling propaganda and green this, organic that…makes it all easy for people to not give a damn. They all think that they are doing their part but no one goes through the work. No one puts up the houses for the martins, leaves the old trees to rot and give the woodpeckers a place to live, fills the feeder with the good seed, kills those $&!^ Sparrows. They all want life wrapped in a pretty package with a pink bow.” We paused there and I felt a bit uncomfortable with his anger but I understood it. I finally said, “Hay, I don’t like them sparrows either!” He laughed and that seemed to release some tension. “I know, I know, you need to bring me a trap so I can put it our here for these ones here!” He said. I changed the subject and told him about the Red-Bellied woodpecker that has been occupying a wooden bird house on a pine tree next to my driveway. Earlier this year an Eastern Screech Owl had nested there. Now it appeared that the Woodpecker was taking a turn. He seemed happy to hear that news. “Ohhh good good.” He said happily. I finally remembered that I had brought him a small photo book of some of pictures I had taken this year and we flipped through it. I gave him a little background on all of the martins that I had photographed. The young momma with the bald neck, the ASY male with the bad attitude. The first pairs initial squabbles over which nest they would ultimately settle on. He seemed to enjoy it and it reminded him of individual birds that he would recognize in his own colony. I left it with him and said my good byes and realized that even the tiniest moments are a treasure. What Jose would not have done to be sitting on his chair in his own backyard with a sky full of Purple Martins swirling above him.

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Invasive Species-Not just for the Birds

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

I was partly amused at a story I saw on CNN this morning. Apparently the European Red squirrel is being seriously threatened by America’s larger more aggressive Grey squirrel. The red squirrels are trying to wage a comeback with the help of active conservationists who are trapping and euthanizing the American squirrels. I am sure at some point a rich American will probably spend millions of dollars to have trapped grey squirrels returned to the USA to be repatriated to their native soil.

 I have written about North America’s plight against European invaders such as Sparrows and Starlings. The fight is not for the faint of heart and I am sure that it may seem cruel to some. One thing must be kept in mind. In 50 years, if nothing was ever done to control Sparrows and Starlings here…or grey squirrels in England-our native species would be urban legends. Much like the Dodo bird whose extinction was sealed when cats and dogs (among a few) were introduced to the island of Mauritius. These animals decimated the native populations of Dodos and though they did not compete with the Dodo’s, they did directly cause their demise. So, even though the squirrels in Europe and the cavity nesters in the America’s are being pushed out by direct competition by direct relatives, those related species were introduced by us. Lets not tell our Grandchildren WE were directly responsible, by our INaction to the fall of any animal. Just as we would rise up against a neighborhood bully to protect the weaker kid on the block, let us protect the weak-as God would have us do.

Blog & Photos Copyrighted 2008: S.Halpin/ PurpleMartins-R-Us.com

A Disney trip

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Weekend before last we took our two boys to Disney World. Always a big hit with them, it usually results in years taken off my life. We went, as usual, to magic Kingdom. I found myself taking photos of Sparrows which simply covered the floor in some areas. Apparently they are in the midst of fledging young. The fledglings were easily in arms reach in some spots. I jokingly said to some friends at the “Purple Martin Clubhouse” that it took all myself control to not reach over and put them out of my misery.fledgling HOSPHosp fledgling

I think I will enter a few of the photos on my GALLERY site  ,as I got a few good shots that may help some of you with HOSP Identification. Like this photo of a female hosp shows the UN-streaked chest and light streak behind the eye.hosp female

The last time we went to Disney we saw the Purple Martin houses that they had at Epcot. Top class housing. At the time I asked a few Disney personnel that walked by if they had any info on who cared for them. Noone knew a thing. Purple Martins were flying about on a nasty rainy overcast day. Sparrows were abundant and perched in the entrances of several gourds. I could only hope that Disney was being responsible enough to manage the S&S. Well, it took awhile but I am pleased to report that the Epcot colony IS managed superbly by a gentleman named James Mejeur who also manages a colony at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I am not sure if he is a Disney volunteer or employee but I DO know that if the colony there can fledge martins with the abundance of S&S around, then their is no excuse for those that think they can not beat the pesky S&S. Mr. Mejeur cleans the HOSP nests out every two days and not a single one fledged a chick out of the colony.  Even better is Between the colonies at Epcot and Animal Kingdom, they fledged close to 500 chicks this year. Astounding and simply wonderful! I love Disney even more, now that I know this about them. My hats off to James and his wonderful work!