Posts Tagged ‘purplemartin’

SY Purple Martins in the mix!

Friday, March 20th, 2009

OK, March 20 and I FINALLY have seen SY Males at the colony here at Of course they are on the webcam and hopefully one of these SY’s will take up residence in the nestcam. The nestcam is on gourd #4 but the appearance of the camera was enough to spook the ASY pair out of that gourd. My bad. I should have waited till eggs appeared but I was eager and the pair went straight to the new gourd rack I put up-so no real harm done.

Back to the SY (sub adult or under 2 year old) Purple Martins. I had suspected quite a few SY females but I was hesitant to actually say there were SY’s here without seeing the unmistakable coloring of the SY male. Lets refresh!

Determining ages in Purple Martins

ASY Male

As we all know, only the ASY or After Second Year Purple Martin bears the all over steely blue coloration. It always makes me wonder exactly why they called them “Purple” in the first place. It drives me crazy as an artist. If I paint them blue people will say, “That ain’t no PurpleMartin-It’s BLUE!” But if I paint them purple others will say, “It aint no Purple Martin, cause they are blue!” So the insecure person in me wants to please. What can I say… ANYWAY!!! All other purple martins are frustratingly similar to the untrained eye. Don’t fret. I will give you some tips.

SY Male

Take the SY male, for example. He has survived only 1 migration and this is his first trip back to the colony since he was born. He has undergone 1 molt in Brazil and he returns with some of the purple/blue feathers but will not be considered a true adult until his second trip back. He has a mottled appearance and ranges from only a few purple/blue breast feathers to large blotches.  He is often confused with females which also have the brown/grey breast, belly and undertail coverts, or as the area is called the crissum. Remember that name, crissum, there will be a test.

ASY and SY Females

Ages in Purple Martin females is agonizing for me and without a good look at that undertail area or crissum, you can be hard-pressed to tell the difference in ages. The younger, SY, birds will tend to be a brown color above. The ASY females will have more of that steely blue color on the shoulders, top of the head and back. Underneath on the breast will be the brownish/grey. The color will sometimes make the feathers look like scales. Under the tail (below the vent) in the area called the crissum is the real difference.

First look at a ASY female:

Notice that scale look on her undertail coverts (crissum)? That is tell tale of an older female.

Now look at a SY female:

See how her crissum is almost devoid of all dark color? She looks a creamy white underneath. She will tend to be that brownish color over more of her body than the ASY females also.

So there you have it. In a nutshell age ID of Purple Martins.

Blog Contents & Photos Copyrighted 2009: 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/