Posts Tagged ‘predators’

Snake Netting Making an Early Save!

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Snake netting is one of the cheapest, easiest, and most effective way to protect your purple Martin colony from the very real danger of snakes. Though it is early in the season, and the birds have just started nest building, a snake has already been caught in our snake netting.
Snake netting is really a product called bird netting. Available in the garden section of any home improvement store. Learn more by reading the following from a blog entry of ours from 2011.

How to Make Snake Netting to Protect Your Martins
Bluebird trails, Tree swallow boxes and purple martin landlords can all benefit from using snake netting (actually bird netting) on your poles. Snakes can climb up any pole and can even thwart many predator guards. Since no predator guard is 100% fool proof, this quick and easy tip can further decrease the chances of one of these critters from slinking their way up your martin pole.

Bird netting can be found at just about any garden center, home improvement center and is used to keep birds from eating the fruit and veggies in your garden. It can be found in either rolls or flat packaging, and comes in several sizes. We recommend using 2 sizes to protect against larger and smaller snakes. 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch.

The exact way to attach the netting to your poles is unimportant. The netting needs to be held out and away from the pole to both prevent ground predators from using the net to circumvent any other predator guards in place (such as a stovepipe type) and to make the snake go through the net rather than up and around it. Thus the exact way to layer the netting is a debatable issue. Many different techniques have been used successfully. The main idea is for it to be above your predator guard to serve as a last “hail Mary” of protection. The netting should be full and hang loosely. Think of a big fluffy skirt under your housing.

Season Having Ominous Start

Monday, February 24th, 2014

I hope this is simply a case of what my husband refers to as my “Glass Half Empty” tendencies BUT yesterdays joy about seeing the martins bringing in nest materiel has been dampened. While sitting at my desk a loud bang at the window got my up to investigate. Having heard bird strikes before, I looked down low outside the window. There, with wings sprawled open was a gorgeous ASY female with her eyes open. I ran out just in time to scare off a pair of hawks from withing feet of the martin. I suspect a young (fledgling) hawk was being instructed in his hunting technique and the martin hit the window in a desperate attempt to flee. After scaring them off, with the martin colony in hot pursuit, I turned to the female. She got up and flew (a tad bit unsteadily) off. I wish I could have caught her, to give her an hour of quiet and safe recovery. She obviously wanted none of my coddling.

Last year the end of our season was plagued by Coopers hawk attacks. Often 2,3, or 4 times a day, we saw Coopers hanging out in the trees at the edges of our property, hanging off gourds trying to flush out birds and nestlings, fly by attacks, and flying off with both adults and fledgling birds. I told myself that this season I would erect some sort of hardware cloth cage to protect the housing…but alas…that didn’t happen.

Though this photo shows what I wanted to do, my gourd racks have much smaller and lightweight brackets that would not support the weight of the wire.  Hmmm, it’s making me think!


(C)  2014 S.Halpin

Another Reason for Cats Indoors

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

I know I get a little “Soap Box-ish” when it comes to the American Bird Conservancy’s Cats Indoors campaign. This video is one of the reasons why. As a bird AND cat lover, I feel that I am 100% qualified to endorse ABC’s and the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (to name a couple) stand on domesticated cats being allowed to roam free. Check out this 32 second video to see why.

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/

A Gift to the Purple Martins of Green Cay

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Purple Martins are the most intriguing of birds. I often say that they are the most common of unknown birds. What do I mean by that? Well, by that I mean that most people I meet have NO idea what a Purple Martin is. But yet my backyard is full of 30 or so Purple Martins as i speak. How can this be? How can a bird that is so numerous be so illusive to the common man? Unless a person has a neighbor with a Purple Martin house up or grew up around someone that had a purple martin house up, they just would never get the chance to see a purple martin. That is unless they go to a place such as Green Cay Nature Center and see first hand the spectacle of dozens of birds flying in and out of a Martin condo”. Many of these people go on to find out about how they can attract purple martins to nest in their own backyards. Centers such as these provide a great service to these birds. These preserves can educate and show how a natural habitat helps us all. How preserving our environment can leave a lasting legacy to our children but other than the knowledge they impart and the pictures that are taken, the center remains where it is and the people go home. Purple Martins at these centers, on the other hand, give some visitors a chance to recreate a portion of the natural environment in their own backyard. A piece of conservationism that lives on season after season bringing song and exposure to a American tradition that has endured since our arrival to this continent.

Green Cay Nature Center

Green Cay Nature Center

Today a gift of safety and security was given to the Purple Martins of Green Cay Nature Center. Through a kind and generous donation by Carl Updike of Rehaboth Beach, Delaware, the 3 Purple Martin houses and the 1 gourd rack will all now be protected by Aluminum Predator Pole Guards. Pole Guards are the front line defense against snakes, raccoons and other ground predators that CAN easily climb any pole. Though many people leave their poles unprotected and are lucky to escape any problems, the devastation that 1 snake can cause can mean the loss of a colony.

In a setting such as Green Cay where snakes and raccoons are welcome sights and common place, having purple martin predator guards can make a huge impact. Not only for the safety of the birds but as a simple educational tool that many people can see these devices in place and in use and come to understand the nessecity of predator protection in their own backyards.

Mr.Updike, the Purple Martins, Green Cay Nature Center and I thank you.

Green Cay Nature Center, congratulations on having a fan like Mr.Updike.


Blog Contents and Photos © 2009

Owl Protection

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

A whopping 3 Martins on the wires for less than 5 minutes. That was it.

I have been thinking a lot about Owl Protection for next year. I have several options…and so do you.

I strongly encourage all those that do not have predator protection in place to give it some thought. The work that Purple Martin Landlords go through to attract these birds is significant. The damage an Owl can do over the course of a few nights is devastating. With a few simple deterrents you can save the lives of many martins.

Its amazing the animals around us that we are not aware of. We look out our windows or get out of our cars and we have no idea the eyes that are watching us. I did not think there were that many Owls out here where I live until I spoke to a nice man at the local grocery store. He proceeded to tell me of the 4 nest boxes he had on his property…about 2.5 miles from me, that fledged baby Horned Owls every year. I was amazed since I figured that since I had never heard “hooting” that there were no Owls. WRONG! I have read many a posts from landlords who lost their entire colony to some predator or the other. Purple Martins just don’t pick up and leave. Something drives them away. Be it snakes, raccoons or Owls (to name a few) There are creatures rooming around in the dark scouring the neighborhood for an opportunity. And trust me, being 15 feet in the air is not protection.

Here is a short list of things you can do to protect your colony from Owls. (Many Thanks to the PMCA, Purple Martin Research Group and the Purple Martin Clubhouse)

1. ENLARGE THOSE COMPARTMENTS! 6×6 is so 20th century and so unsafe. 6×12 is the way to go. A simple feat to enlarge existing compartments. Some housing systems (Like Quad Pods) use a baffle to deter Owls. That is simply a plastic barrier, withing the compartment that prevents the owl from seeing past it and into the compartment itself.

2. USE TUNNELS! The tunnel can work like a baffle in some respects, preventing the owl from seeing all the way in the compartment. Mainly the tunnel makes it difficult for an Owl to reach in and pull out birds with his talons. An Owl can reach all the way in a 6×6 compartment and pick off every last bird. With a tunnel, the birds have some measure of safety.

3. WHITE NOISE! Do you have a pool? Is the pump near the martin housing? If so that is a perfect way to mask the noise of the birds “talking” at night. And YES, they do talk. And yes, an Owl flies around listening for just such sounds. Other ways to make white noise are fountain pumps or waterfalls. Even a sound machine sold at your local Wal-Mart or Target can be used to make white noise. Cost is under $15. Or how about a cheap radio set in between stations. (As long as your neighborhood is safe enough that it won’t get stolen) Usually if the radio is playing static, no one will really mess with it. (who wants an apparent broken radio!)

4. WIRE ME UP! 3″ x 4″ hardware cloth or ‘chicken’ wire can make a great owl guard. Wrapped around the housing, the martins will quickly learn to navigate the wire and have a safe escape if an Owl comes calling. You can also purchase Owl Guards that are made specifically for your housing that wraps around it-serving the same purpose.

5. LIGHTS ! Many have found that flood lights, either on all night or motion activated can somewhat deter Owls. Apparently the lights can spoil an Owls stealth approach. My philosophy is-every little bit helps.

There are a few other things that you can do to help. Make your gourds as “swing-free” as possible. (Thank you Mr.Pampell!) Look into a product called Niteguard. It is an artificial “eye”, a blinking light that simulates the eyes of an owl on the top of the housing. Owls stay away from other Owls. So if the Owl thinks there is one parked on top of your Martin house, he will keep going. (Thanks Lisa) Though some say this does NOT work, others say it does. You decide. I would not trust it exclusively to protect from owls.

So those are my tips on Owl Predation Prevention. And you all know how much an ounce of prevention is worth!

I have been working hard on the website. New Purple Martin Polymer jewelry has been added as well as some beautiful Swallow apparel. Check it out

Talk to you soon.