"I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free." ~Wendell Berry

Monday, March 31, 2014

Die Fescue, Die!

Well, we were almost there yesterday.  The rains last week had managed to make my field too wet to burn over the weekend.  By yesterday, the winds and dry air had dried the field almost enough to burn.  We thought we'd be able to burn this evening, but rain once again inconveniently struck and doused my hopes of getting it finally done.  So now, we wait for more wind and dry air to help dry out the field again.

A friend and her husband recently did a prescribed burn on their small farm here in Missouri.  After seeing her pictures, I wish I could have been there!  After killing the fescue, spotted knapweed and other invasives, the next step was to burn off all the dead matter, so that natives were free to grow unhindered.  The only way for the natives to flourish is to kill the invasives and burn them off, to allow the sun to touch the seeds and let Mother Nature spring forth!

Fire, fire, fire!  Beautiful flames scarify the seeds and rid the earth of detritus, exposing untold amounts of beauty, yet to come.  Note the drip-torch in the picture.  I so want one of these!
They disced some nice fire breaks around the areas they wanted to burn to ensure containment, then waited for the right conditions for burning.  Then waited some more. 
As Mr. Freeze frequently points out, finding the right time to burn a field here in Missouri is very tricky.  I tease him relentlessly when I'm wanting to go "burn something", because I'm a very impatient, back-seat driver.  Are we there yet?  But his abundance of caution does keep me out of trouble; chomping at the bit, but out of trouble.
The wind, humidity, ground moisture and all other conditions really must be as close to possible to perfect, or you could end up being named on the Police Report page of the local newspaper.  The wind is pretty unpredictable here.  You can start out in the morning with dead calm and by noon have the wind coming in from the north, changing over to any variety of directions on the compass and you could end up chasing a fire into the next county, or worse.  We had started a back-burn in one of our fields last year and when the wind suddenly shifted from the southwest to dead-on from the north, we suddenly had a head-fire and it jumped 10 feet across our fire break.  After much running, stomping, spraying with water, we decided to quit and live to fight another day.  
One of our brave fire-setters, diligently watching the destruction.  Note the water pack on the back, strategically placed so it won't get in the way if he has to break into a run to stop the fire.
Someday soon, I'll have some pictures of my own fire to post.  For now, these wonderful pictures were shared by my friend who shares my love of fire and nature; two perfect partners in crime conspiring to create beauty in our world.

The smoldering remains.  I hope Gail shares some pictures of what arises out of the ashes!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Purple Martin Numbers are Increasing in Southern Missouri

What a gloomy, gloomy day!
As I drove into my driveway at 5:30 PM Monday night , I noticed a flock of birds circling my site.  As I came closer, I noticed they were all purple martins.  I jumped out of the car to verify and to my delight, I was greeted with purple martin chatter as they started to dive down into the housing.

Over the next 10 minutes, I counted them as they dropped like rain and dove straight into housing compartments, their feet barely touching the porches.  I managed to count 35 martins, but I'm sure there were more.  Some of them - whether on purpose or accidentally - went into already-occupied housing and from there, hilarity ensued.  Invading, third-wheel females are treated no kinder than the extra males that accidentally enter a gourd where a paired couple has established residence for the year.  The growling inside a gourd indicated that a bird was about to be ejected and as the skies darkened, I carefully watched the shaking, swinging gourds to make sure a wing didn't get sideways in the entrance causing me to have to quickly lower the racks and help them free themselves before nightfall.
Some of the older residents of my colony will occupy the house first.

I observed 2 females and 3 males being thrown out on their ear and while their pride was wounded, physically they were okay and they eventually found an empty gourd where they could rest and stay warm. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday, some of the martins made their way to my "feeding tray" (which is really a piece of 1x10 lumber laid across the end of my deck rails) indicating that they wanted some food.  I put out crickets, but after taking only a few, they flew off.  That was very good news as it indicated to me that they were getting some food, even though the weather has not been that great.

My martins have learned that during cold, rainy weather when bugs won't be flying, they can count on the crazy Bird Lady of Licking to provide them with scrambled eggs and crickets.

Wednesday afternoon I stuffed 16 more gourds with Eastern White Pine needles and put them out on the racks.  I like to keep the number of cavities to a minimum at this point in migration, just in case the weather turns lethal and I need to put hand warmers in the cavities where birds are staying, but after seeing the additional birds arriving Monday night, I thought I should get more out on the racks.

As I lowered the East rack, I heard the familiar growling and saw a gourd shaking.  Since no one flew out when I lowered the rack, I carefully shielded the exit hole as I walked in front of that gourd and opened the lid.  There were 2 females, both in a defensive position, but neither was willing to budge from the gourd.  I had to wonder how terrific the male was that could cause these 2 ladies to become so embroiled in a brawl that they wouldn't voluntarily leave the gourd.  I carefully removed each one from the gourd and after doing a once-over to check for injuries and bands (there were none), I released them both.  One of the females was definitely older than the other, as indicated by how dark her coverts were.  She wasn't about to easily surrender her territory to the younger, pretty girl that was making moves on her man.

Last night, as I ate dinner I wandered over to the window and watched the martins returning.  By 6:40 PM, the resident female in the same gourd where I had released them earlier, had the younger female on her back with her right wing sticking out of the gourd.  Seriously, this male must be a prince or something as these 2 females were just not giving up their claim to that gourd!  I knew the younger girl wouldn't be able to pull her wing back in and extricate herself before nightfall so, I rushed out to help her.  A martin stuck in an entrance of a cavity can become owl-food or freeze to death during the night, so there was no doubt in my mind that I would have to run the risk of flushing the whole colony from their cavities that late in the evening so I could release this very determined, yet defeated little lady. 

After releasing the 2 females again, I was able to count all the martins as they returned to their nests.  I was able to confirm there are now 41 martins here as of last night.  With very warm weather predicted for this weekend, there will probably be many more arrivals as they start to push northward.  I'll be in my driveway with bags of pine needles and fill the remaining 33 gourds on Saturday and Sunday.  Anyone want to stop by and help? 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Protecting Your Purple Martins from Owl and Hawk Attacks

Every year many purple martin colonies have to deal with the inevitable hawk and owl attacks and the losses of their martins.  Hawks and owls are both protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act therefore, only passive measures can be used to protect your colony.  Shooting, harassing or any activities that cause harm to these species is illegal.  

As colonies grow, so does the noise level as the martins sit out in the warm sun and socialize - loudly - with each other.  The pandemonium of 150 chattering birds competing for mates will inevitably draw the attention of any airborne predators in the area.  Placing your colony in the most wide-open area with trees at least 40 feet away, will help your martins escape most attacks.  However, the further the trees are from your colony, the better their chances of reaching safety quickly.

Dealing with Hawk Attacks
During the early spring, my colony is frequently attacked by a very fast, hypersonic Sharp-shinned hawk.  Many people find it difficult to distinguish between a Sharpie and a Cooper's hawk, but once you have observed both of them in your backyard, you will be able to quickly tell the difference between the two.  When my local Cooper's hawk arrives, she will claim the territory for herself and the Sharpie will leave.  That will present its own set of problems, but at least the Cooper's hawk is only capable of supersonic speed.  One year, the Sharpie attacks were happening so frequently that I decided I better come up with a solution before she inflicted too much damage on my colony.  

While watching my birds at the feeder one day, I noticed all the birds suddenly flush into the nearby brush piles and shrubs for cover.  I held my breath as my Sharpie executed a blistering attack, but still came up empty-clawed and landed on the branch of my dead cedar tree to regain her composure.
Sharp shinned hawk - December, 2012

Overcome with joy that she had missed breakfast, I opened the window, blew her a big raspberry and snapped her photo as she gave me the evil stink-eye.  As I watched her perching there, I realized that all the attacks on my colony had come from the tree lines on three sides of my property.  Even though the trees are over 150 feet away on all sides, she was still trying every trick she knew to grab a martin, coming in very low then suddenly popping up or under a tree to attack the colony.

Since the birds at my feeders tend to be much more watchful for predators than my noisy martins who sometimes get rather caught up in their social gatherings, I decided to setup bird feeders on the north, west and east sides of my property, right in the hawks' attack paths, between the tree lines and my martin housing.  The idea of this strategy was that the birds at the feeders would attract the attention of the hawk as he/she came through and would be distracted just long enough for the martins to hear the alarm and escape. 

As doves are purported to be a Cooper Hawk's favorite meal, I also attached dove decoys to the tops of each feeder and added shrubbery and brush piles nearby so the birds at my decoy feeders had plenty of cover to dive into, if a hawk attacked.  My plan worked.  The Sharpie and the Cooper's were both attracted to the activities at the feeders as they executed their attacks and since my dove decoys couldn't fly, they were attacked relentlessly. 
One of my dove decoys stationed on top of a bird feeder.  This feeder is 100' to the west of my racks and the tree line is 125' more feet to the west of it.  Nope, nothing fancy here - just a piece of wood, some electrical tape and a hapless dove decoy bracing himself for the next attack.
As an added bonus, the alarm calls of the birds at the feeders caused my martins to launch themselves into the air - a much safer place for them to be during an attack.

For added protection, I also added 14 purple martin decoys to the perches around my colony and I move them around to different positions when I conduct nest checks.  These decoys and the strategically placed feeders have helped immensely with protecting my colony.

Dealing with Owl Attacks

Owls are another challenge that Purple Martin Landlords frequently have to deal with.  Owls find martin colonies by hearing the martins vocalizing and making other noises at night in their nests. Owl guards must be placed on houses and gourds to keep owls from spooking martins from their nests or from actually reaching inside and grabbing a martin.  A Great Horned Owl (GHO) can have an 8-12 inch reach and quickly devastate your colony in a matter of 2-3 nights.  As a first line of defense, landlords can add tunnels to the entrances of each nest.  Larger cavities and/or extending the entrances will also help protect your martins from other aerial predators such as accipiter hawks, falcons, crows and even Blue Jays.  Check out this article on how to modify your housing if you are experiencing owl attacks on your colony.
You can also add hardware cloth cages to any housing or gourd racks.  Ideas and pictures are described in these linked posts / articles:
And more pictures and ideas from the PMCA Forum:

After losing 20+ birds to owl predation in 2012, Jerry, one of my landlord friends here in Missouri, got very creative and came up with his own homemade ideas and has offered to share his pictures and the descriptions of his materials in his creations below.

In 2012, Jerry Heitman in Troy, MO lost 20+ birds due to owls. In 2013 he estimated that he only lost 1 bird, after installing the owl guards pictured here.
These guards are made of # 9 fence wire and a 3" piece if 1/2" electrical conduit smashed around the wire.
Jerry's site with the owl guards installed

Everyone's colony will eventually experience a hawk, owl, snake, raccoon or other type of predator attack.  The best line of defense is to ensure that you've given your martins the best chance of survival and the ability to evade these predators.  A hungry hawk or owl can wreak havoc on your colony, so it is best to be prepared in advance and establish a safe nesting site for our friends.

Answers to the Trivia Questions asked here:

1.     c

2.     b – According to the PMCA site, the average age for martins is 2-5 years, with some living 6-7 years; the oldest martin on record lived to be 13 years and 10 months.

3.     a – In 2008, researchers, working in collaboration with the PMCA, equipped 20 purple martins with geolocators (tracking devices, small and light enough for songbirds to carry).  They mapped their round trip journey from Pennsylvania to the Amazon basin and back – a trip of about 9,300 miles.  The birds' travel speeds astounded them. All flew two to six times faster during their spring return journey than in fall. One female purple martin dashed back north in 13 days at a speed of about 358 miles a day, shattering previous estimates for songbirds of 93 miles a day.

4.     d

5.     a, c, d – It is an old wives’ tale that opening a birds’ nest and inspecting the young or eggs will cause the adult parents to abandon the nest.  In fact, conducting weekly nest checks of your birds’ nests will help you correct problems that may save many fledglings who otherwise might not have survived.

      As the English house sparrow is a ferocious nest site competitor, allowing it to nest in your housing will either prevent martins from establishing a colony at your site, or will cause them to eventually abandon.  Any devastating attacks on your colony such as a raccoon or snake attack can also lead to abandonment of your site.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Purple Martins Return to Licking - 2014 Season Has Begun

On Monday, March 10th at 6:40 PM, my first purple martin arrived.  He was outside screeching on the perch and I abandoned my dinner so that I could properly welcome him home.  He took to the skies and announced his arrival across the valley.  He circled and circled, telling me all about his journey and trying to find his friends.  Within a few minutes he had established that this was his home and he found and harassed an American Kestrel until it left his newly claimed territory.

Mr. C287 - can't sit still for long!

I couldn't tell for sure at first, as I had left my binoculars inside, but I noticed that his legs looked bulkier than normal.  After grabbing my binoculars, I confirmed that Mr. C287 had returned home!  This guy was banded by MRBO as an adult when he was captured in a gourd on 6/10/2012 with 3 other adult martins.  It was absolutely the highlight of our day to pull an ASY male and female and a SY male and female out of the same gourd with 5 perfect eggs that were completely unharmed.

This gourd has been claimed.
He was re-sighted at my colony last year on 4/15/2013.  And now he's back!  And making lots & lots of noise.

My 2014 season has begun and he has already drawn another 3 martins to my site.  As of 2:30 PM today, there are 4 here.  I hope you all have some housing out as the strong southerly winds and warmer weather is quickly bringing them in!

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Hidden Beauty and Wonder of a Seed

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there and I am prepared to expect wonders.”
― Henry David Thoreau

For the last 5 years, I've been working on establishing native wildflowers on our land.  After getting a small patch of soil prepared & planted near the house, I had to wait patiently for the first 2 years until the showpiece flowers started blooming.  Over the next 3 years,  we burned the small patch every winter and each spring even more flowers would grow.  I was fascinated with the huge numbers of insects that surrounded the native wildflowers.  By the thousands, they come.  So many varieties of bees including honey bees, bumblebees, carpenter bees, mason bees and even little sweat bees were availing themselves of the sweet nectar produced by these plants and I could watch them for hours.  Their ability to work so energetically for hours is something of which I'm very envious!
Honey bees on Butterfly Milkweed in the hot July sun.

And when the butterflies arrived - oh lordy, I knew I was hooked on native wildflower gardening and needed to plant more.  After all, I have 23 acres, so why not plant it all in flowers?

Black Swallowtail on Prairie Blazing Star in July

Crimson clover makes a great cover crop.  We planted it in the late fall and it provides plenty of food in the early spring for the bees that emerge early from their winter slumber.

Last Fall, I spent a lot of time out gathering native wildflower seeds on our property which included thousands of Butterfly milkweed and Common milkweed seeds too.  I was delighted to receive seeds from new friends and I went even further and purchased a variety of packets of seed from the Missouri Wildflowers Nursery (MOwildflowers.net).

Normally, I would have already scattered the seeds over the areas to be planted so that the freezing and thawing from winter would naturally stratify the seeds and get them ready to sprout this summer.  But, the areas I’m going to plant this spring are still thickly covered with dead fescue that we killed last Fall.  If not killed, the fescue would continue to choke out the native plants and I might as well throw the seeds in the trash, because they wouldn’t sprout until the fescue is gone, gone, gone.  The dead grass then has to be burned off too so that the seed, once scattered, can make good contact with the soil.  I’ve been seeing some whorled milkweed struggling through the thick grass in this area for the last 2 years, so I can’t wait to see what happens when we burn it this spring.

Mr. Freeze has plowed a fire lane to the south (to the right) of this 3/4 acres, so we don't burn down the neighbor's barn & house.

While we’re waiting for the perfect burning weather (we don’t want our names to be part of a headline story in the local newspaper), I am manually stratifying the seeds.  Well, this is the way the experts recommend stratifying seeds at home, so we’ll see if it works.  At least this way, I’m not feeding the local mouse population too!   I moistened some soil less potting mixture (sphagnum peat moss) and mixed the seeds in, dumped it into trays, then put them in the spare refrigerator.  
These flats contain seeds for: Praire Blazing Star, Purple Coneflower, Yellow Coneflower, Pale Purple Coneflower, Horsemint (Bee Balm), New England and Aromatic Aster, Royal Catchfly, Rose Verbena, Hairy Mountain Mint.  The bag contains both Common and Butterfly milkweed seeds.  All require 3-6 weeks of stratification.
I have placed them outside at night a few times, just so they could freeze over and then brought them back in.  It’s what would happen in nature, so I’m helping, right? 
I've also potted some Common milkweed plants to have around for any Monarch caterpillars that I’ll find this year.  I’ll be able to set the potted milkweed plants inside of their houses for them to eat, eliminating the need for me to cut fresh leaves every day from the field plants.
4 seeds were added to moistened potting soil in each recycled 1/2 gallon milk jug.

I put together 34 of these, sealed them shut and left them on the deck all winter.
All I have to do now is wait until the perfect burning weather to do our prescribed burn.  Mr. Freeze always lets me throw the first match.  I think he knows it appeases my inner pyro, who needs to be unleashed often.  I love fire - not because it is destructive, but because of what happens after it passes through.  It brings new life to areas where it was once suffocated, it renews and rejuvenates and some seeds even require it for scarification.  After a long, cold winter, I am ready to turn up the heat!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Preparing for the Return of Your Martins

Well, February just slipped right by me and before I realized it, it was slipping out the door and waving goodbye!  Suddenly March was here and I am now trying to catch up!  I blinked I guess.  I checked the scout report yesterday and found that a martin has arrived at an older colony just 30 minutes south of me.  Last year, my martins arrived within 2 days of Joe's, so while I'm hoping that doesn't happen this year, I thought I'd send out this friendly reminder.

Hopefully, you’ve already been taking advantage of the few warm days that we’ve had and have some of these chores already completed.  If not, then print out this page and get started!  Your martins may not arrive soon, but preparing your site now will accomplish two things; 1) it will help keep you busy as you worry, “where are my martins?” and 2) it will ensure that when your martins DO arrive, you’ll have plenty of time to kick back with a pair of binoculars and enjoy every minute. 
Here’s your list – now get to it!

  1. Locate your predator guards and install on your poles to ensure that your martins will be safe from raccoons, snakes and other pole-climbing predators.  If you don’t have predator guards, now is a good time to either purchase one or make one for each of your poles.  Even if you don’t see any raccoons or snakes on your property, they are there and will strike at any time.  I am reprinting the section on Predators in this first newsletter as this is one of the most crucial aspects of caring for martins and may be the one thing that can make or break your colony.  Click here to find instructions on how to make a homemade predator guard:  http://www.purplemartin.org/update/PredBaff.html 
    A martin's-eye-view of a raccoon and the stovepipe baffle pole mount. The slick metal baffle wobbles on the pole preventing the raccoon from climbing to the box. The mesh inside the baffle keeps snakes from slithering up the pole. Illustration by Julie Zickefoose. © PMCA
  2. If you didn’t clean out their housing at the end of last year, now would be a good time to remove all the old nesting material and remove nests that have been built by house sparrows / starlings.
  3. Check the ropes, cables and winches on your gourd racks or housing.  Look for frayed ropes and cable wires and inspect closely for signs of rust.  If the cable or rope is frayed, then you need to replace them immediately.  If you have surface rust on your cable or winch, then you can simply use some WD-40 or follow the directions for your winch to oil/grease the mechanisms.
    Replacing Rope:  Rope: Polyester rope or nylon rope, or a combination of the two, are the best choices for outdoor use. Both will last up to 20 years. Polyester rope is the best choice and easy to find. Nylon rope is not common; look for solid, braided 100% nylon—it will be white in color. Nylon has more stretch than polyester, so may require tightening due to stretching. Avoid polypropylene rope, often mistakenly referred to as nylon rope.  It is usually yellow in color, and will last only two years when used outdoors. (reference:  PMCA)  Click on this link to read some helpful safety hints to save yourself from a trip to the emergency room or a concussion:  http://www.purplemartin.org/update/13%284%29Safety.pdf
  4. Check the nuts and bolts used to attach your poles together or mount your winch to your poles.  Tighten or replace if necessary.
  5. Check the doors on your housing and the port caps on your gourds to make sure they either raise & lower easily or come off easily.
  6. Ensure that the numbers on each of your compartments are large and clear so that you can read them with binoculars at a reasonable distance (Yes – numbering your nestboxes helps you keep track!)
  7. Run your housing or gourds up and down the poles a few times and make sure that they do not rotate around your pole.  The nest cavities must always stay oriented in the same direction when the housing is raised back up.
  8. Find a good source of Eastern White Pine needles and place up to 2-3 good sized handfuls in your gourds and at least 2 handfuls in your housing.
  9. Speaking of predators, hawks are on the prowl and they’re hungry.  Put up purple martin decoys to deter the hawks and help your martins escape.  With 75 pair last year, I will be putting up 14 purple martin decoys and 4 dove decoys at my site this season. http://shop.purplemartin.org/Purple_Martin_Decoys___4_Pack-details.aspx  
    Decoys can be mounted to your perches with hose clamps or other fasteners. They must be mounted securely, as hawks and owls will grab them.  To keep the mount from rotating around your rod, use some electrical tape under the fastening mechanism.  A Cooper's hawk repeatedly tried to grab several of my decoys last year, as evidenced by the scratches on this poor fellow.  This decoy was awarded a medal at the end of the year for his brave service while protecting my colony.

  10. Locate your starling and house sparrow traps and start trapping and eliminate these pests as quickly as possible before, during and after your martins’ arrival.
  11. Gather up all your nest check equipment and buy a cheap tackle box to put it in.  I personally stole a nice, heavy duty tool box from my husband and it works wonderfully!
  12. Buy yourself a cheap notebook with lined pages (you can get one for $.25 from the dollar store) and write down all your data this year.  
  13. Lastly, find your binoculars, camera and lawn chair because by the time you’re done with all the above, they’ll be here!

Attraction Techniques for New Sites

Description: http://i524.photobucket.com/albums/cc330/BobF_bucket/PMs_2010/DistancePic.jpg
© - Purple Martin Conservation Association.
The most important thing you can do to attract purple martins is place your house or gourds in the most wide open area of your property.  The more open the site, the better your chances are of attracting martins so now is a good time to cut back bushes or trees that interfere with the martins’ flyways.  As one landlord on the PMCA forum once put it, "martins prefer to land like an airplane, not a helicopter".   When taking off from their housing, martins often launch themselves, drop down, then fly up.  When returning to their housing, they will drop down, then swoop up to their housing.  It's actually a very distinct flying trait that helps me identify them in flight when I don't have my glasses on, from other black birds.The PMCA site recommends at least 40 feet of wide open area around your housing, but the more you have the better your chances. 

Trees that are too close to your housing also provide hawks and other predators with cover from which they can launch surprise attacks on your martin colony.  It seems that martins are well aware of these potential threats.  As martins only breed and raise young once per year, it is imperative that they select the most safe, protected site they can find for that one shot.

For landlords that are new to purple martins this year, if your housing is located in a wide open area, then try some of these additional techniques to increase your chances this year:

  1. Make pre-made nests for each of your nesting cavities using Eastern white pine needles (do not use the pine needles that hurt when you crush it in your hand – that is called “short leaf” pine).  Usually 2 to 3 good fistfuls will suffice in the nest cavity.  If you are unable to find white pine needles, some alternatives for nesting materials are wheat straw, dry aspen shavings, corn fodder (shredded corn husks) etc.  I prefer the white pine needles or corn fodder as these materials are not likely to soak up and hold water.  Cold, wet nests can be deadly to bird nestlings.

  2. After making the nests, smear some mud around the entrance holes to make the nest cavity look “used”.  Most martins will build a mud “dam” at the front of their nesting cavity.

  3. Add perches to your house.  Martins are a bit wary of new sites and adding perching rods either on your housing or on a separate perching station will help them to feel safe while observing your house or gourds for their potential new families.
    Four foot garden stakes can be purchased at any local store and added to the railings of your housing with a couple of zip ties.

  4. Throw out oyster shells or prepared egg shells on a bare spot on the ground away from shrubbery or in a tray mounted on a pole near the housing.  Lots of other birds, such as tree swallows, barn swallows and blue birds will also benefit from the calcium.

  5. Play the dawnsong cd (you can order the Dawnsong CD from the Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA)). Click here to order:

  6. Place a couple of martin decoys on your housing.  **Note:  Some martins may not like this and may act very wary around the decoy, but on the other hand, some martins snuggle right up to the decoy – but don’t worry, the relationship will be short-lived.  Observe your new arrivals to determine their reaction to your decoys, then decide whether you should remove them or not.  Decoys can also help protect your martins during hawk or owl attacks.

  7. Do not allow native cavity nesting birds to take over your martin housing.  If native birds (blue birds, tree swallows, wrens, etc.) are trying to take over your martin housing, close your martin housing and put up suitable housing for these cavity nesters 25 to 35 feet away from your purple martin housing.  Once they have accepted the other housing, then you may open your martin housing.  CAUTION:  It is illegal to remove a native bird’s nest once they have laid eggs so make sure you move the birds out early!

    If the bluebirds or tree swallows persist, then go to this link to read more about directing them to their own nestboxes:  http://www.drugfreeworkplace.com/~Dan/TRIHABITATION/TSEMERGENCY.html
    The presence of bluebirds and tree swallows in your yard is actually an excellent indicator that you have created a bird-friendly yard!  Also, these birds should not be discouraged from nesting in your yard in their own appropriate housing.  In fact, bluebirds, tree swallows and purple martins have somewhat of a symbiotic relationship.  Bluebirds and tree swallows nesting in your yard can provide an early warning system, sounding an alarm call when a predator such as a hawk or cat is nearby, quickly flushing all the birds into the air to safety.
Photo by Larry Melcher, Member Extraordonaire - PMCA
  1. Eliminate non-native nest cavity competitors immediately.  English house sparrows and starlings are not native to this country and are not protected.  If a house sparrow finds your house or gourds, he will set up territory and run off the more docile young martins that try to nest there.  I know I keep repeating this in every article and newsletter I publish, but it is hard to over stress how important this step is to having a successful martin colony.  Re-read this blog post on dealing with the non-native birds.  http://kathyfreeze.blogspot.com/2014/02/english-house-sparrows-and-starlings.html 
To test your knowledge of Purple Martins, here are some fun March Trivia Questions (submit your answers in the comments section below - I'll provide the correct answers in my next post):

  1. Purple Martins normally migrate south at the end of their nesting season to what country?
    1. Cuba
    2. Mexico
    3. Brazil
    4. Puerto Rico
  2. On average, how long does a martin live?
    1. 10-12 years
    2. 2-5 years
    3. 15-17 years
    4. More than 20 years
  3. How far can a purple martin fly in one day?
    1. 358 miles
    2. 93 miles
    3. 150 miles
    4. 229 miles
  4. The purple martin is a member of which bird family?
    1. Finch
    2. Raptor
    3. Gnateater
    4. Swallow
  5. Which of the following reasons may cause you to not attract or lose your martins?
    1. A pair of English house sparrows have built a nest in one of the compartments
    2. Your purple martin house is enclosed by trees within 10 feet of your housing.
    3. You conducted a nest check last year and touched the martins’ babies.
    4. A snake climbed your pole and ate an adult pair and their 5 babies.