"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


Showing posts with label purple martin sub-adults. Show all posts
Showing posts with label purple martin sub-adults. Show all posts

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Singing Invitation to the Kids

Ever since my first experience with getting up early to hear the purple martin dawnsong, I have been hooked on it.  I committed to getting up at least one early morning to enjoy it during each season.  Today was that day.  I got up at 3 AM, grabbed the biggest mug I have and carried my coffee out to the porch, using the little flashlight on my cell phone....which has to be the handiest thing they've ever put on a cell phone, that can only be discovered quite by accident.
This morning's early rising would also help serve the purpose of driving away or at least keeping the Great Horned Owl at bay.  As I settled in, I almost laughed out loud in the cool, velvety darkness at how loud the bullfrogs were at the pond, over 75 yards away.  How DO they manage to escape all the predators when they're making so much noise? If you're wondering where the Milky Way is right now, you will need to get up at 3 A.M. to see that one too - it's directly overhead at this time of year.  I love the challenge of trying to capture pictures of it.


A few scurrying noises around my deck made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  I can be pretty brave in daylight, but the idea of a snake, a large spider, or some other critter accidentally bumping into me in the darkness can sometimes make me feel like I'm 2 years old.
A few of the male martins were being noisy and were loudly performing their mating calls with the clicking at the end, while still in their gourds.  It's no wonder that an owl or any other predator can easily find them at night...silly birds. And what makes them think that's what their lovely lady wants to hear at 3:00 A.M. anyway??

By 3:30 A.M., I had heard only 1 bird start the dawnsong.  He zipped out of his gourd and he was up, up, and away from the colony quickly.  At 3:45 A.M., the neighbor's rooster was crowing.  I thought, "If that were my rooster, that would be his last day to crow at 3:45 A.M.".  But that must have been my martins' queue because within minutes of the rooster crowing, the rest of the Dawnsong choir joined in.  As I scanned the yard and racks carefully watching for the owl in case she tried to take advantage (we put out solar yard lights last week), a huge number of male martins exited and rose quickly in the darkness, chortling as they rose - the only indication I had that another one was in the air. 

It's amazing how loud each martin sounds as they circle high above and sing the darkness away. As the stars started to fade and my human eyes detected dawn around 5:12 A.M., the first martin returned to the racks and proceed to womp on another male that had tried to sneak into his place while he was out gathering fresh troops. Apparently, there are no time constraints for when territorial battles can be fought. 
I took this video a couple of years ago of a male martin performing the dawnsong on my racks and it is still the best video I've been able to capture of it.

Even though I've witnessed the end of the song and their returns to the racks several times now, that part never gets old either.  Close to 60-65 martins falling out of the sky, dropping into the colony, almost all at once is a fantastic sight.
For anyone that missed it, via the PMCA - the purpose of the Dawnsong:
"Gene Morton's dawnsong theory was that adult males perform it after their mate is committed and their paternity is assured - it's safe, at that point, to invite sub-adult birds to join the site, so the senior males can have extra offspring via the sub-adult females.  So dawnsong will not be performed until green leaf stage of nest building"
It must be working - as of last Saturday, May 13th, I have 3 sub-adult males.  Welcome back kiddos! 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Nest Check Season Begins and Sub-Adults Swarm Missouri


For the last three weeks, I have been swarmed by sub-adult purple martins as they flooded into my site, harassing the already-established pairs.  We must have had a banner year last year and the happy, carefree calls and antics from the sub-adult males as they try to find a mate puts a grin on my face and tears in my eyes as I stop to enjoy the sounds and raw nature of these birds as they focus on their single goal.  Last Saturday afternoon, May 21st, I decided it was the perfect weather to do my first nest check of the season.  With the temperatures being so cold during the prior week and having to feed almost 160 martins, I was dreading nest checks, but I had to know.
As I gathered my tools, the persistent cheeping of the baby bluebirds begging for food from their exhausted parents made it easy to spot this little fellow in the yard.  Unfortunately, I had found feathers from one of his brothers/sisters nearby, indicating the owl had caught one of them.  But this one's a survivor and I was about to discover how my colony was surviving too.
Bob bought a new tool belt for me to hold all the new equipment I now need for my nest checks inside the wire cages.  It has a belt clip on the back to hook over a belt or the waistband of your pants.  It has plenty of small pouches around the outside with a few clips too, and even a magnetized patch for holding screws, nuts or gourd clips.  It has loops inside the main pouch which will hold things in place and a large opening inside for holding bigger items. I've added wire cutters to quickly cut zip ties that hold the wire cage panels on the frame, 3 different sizes of zip ties for various applications, a marker for refreshing gourd numbers, needle nose pliers for pulling the stubborn zip ties tighter, and I put the zip tie discards in the middle open pouch.  As my nestlings get older, I'll safety pin a plastic bag to the side containing an index card.  The index card will be an easy, quick reference list of nest cavities with the older nestlings whose nest needs to be plugged.  This thing has room for much, much more - as long as my pants don't slide down from all the weight.

A picture of my old tool belt (things fell out of it too easily) and tool box.  I still use the tool box to carry all my nest plugs (used for plugging cavities with older nestlings), a bag full of alcohol wipes, and it also makes a nice step stool for the upper gourd levels.
The martins know what's coming when I enter the yard with my tool belt, my tool box, and my white hat, while smelling like Vanilla extract. The old-timers don't mind - they hang out on the cages and perches, awaiting their turn, while the new sub-adults flush and scream to alert everyone that surely, the Vanilla extract I'm wearing will be used create some tasty dish out of all of them.
The martins in the middle rack await their turn.  They know what's coming. But first, I have to remove the ties that hold each panel to the next, so I can slip inside.
I also use a voice recorder for all my nest checks that I pin to my shirt for easy access.  This helps keep my hands free and I don't have to deal with keeping track of a pen & paper in all the chaos too.  I've had this little thing for the last 6 years and it just keeps going & going.  With 84 cavities to check, it is just another tool that helps expedite the process.
Sony voice recorder.
With some dark days behind us with the cool weather and repeated, Great Horned Owl attacks every night, my heart pounded and I could hear the blood rushing through my veins, unsure of what I would find. 

To my delight, I found 54 pair of nesting purple martins, which is 8 pair ahead of last year around the same part of May, along with 264 eggs and 10 young nestlings.  Still, I didn't know which way my numbers were trending, so I waited another week before breathing a sigh of relief with another nest check completed this past Saturday, May 28th.  I am so excited to report my total pair number increased to 71 pair, 306 eggs and 40 young.  YIPPEEEE!!! 
Since adding the roof over the top of the house cage and extending the bottom of the wire, the owl has been visiting less frequently. I've also been going out just before complete dark and shooing the sub-adults off the porches.
In 2014 and 2015, I had 76 total pair each year and this year, I'm on track for the same total, if not more this year.  Despite the best efforts of the GHO, my martins are surging ahead with their work.  Establishing nests, finding mates and supplying food to the ever-growing number of nestlings.  During the day, you would never know what terrors they have experienced.  They may not forget the night before, but they're moving on quickly & efficiently with their lives, obviously enjoying this moment - the present.  I think I need to be more like my purple martins too - enjoy this moment, for today, we are still the survivors.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Purple Martin Sub-Adult Arrivals and an Old Friend Visits

When purple martin landlord, John Miller from St. Louis (who also manages a few public sites in Forest Park), reported a sighting of a sub-adult male on 4/22/2016, I thought he was kidding around.  But no, he was serious.  And because it was John, I knew he knew what he was talking about.  Check out his post here:
https://www.purplemartin.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=31644&p=258054#p258054
Turns out, this is his earliest sub-adult arrival ever.  I searched my colony on 4/28 and identified a rowdy, reckless sub-adult male also, along with 5 ASY banded males whose bands need to be read too!  Not my earliest arrival, but close!  On the night of 4/28, I anxiously watched as the sun sank in the western sky and 12-13 young sub-adult males and females tried desperately to find an open nest cavity.
An ASY male - banded - number to be identified (see his lower right leg).  He patiently waits as his mate-to-be inspects his new housing.
One of the sub-adult females obviously has some leucistic genes, displaying some white splotches on her head.  You can tell it's a female by her bright white undertail coverts.  The loving gaze she's receiving from all the males surrounding her is also a dead giveaway.  I've never noticed a bird with pink legs before and I wonder if that's due to the leucistic genes in her bloodline?
A sub-adult female is checked out by the eager males.  Note the white splotches on her head and her legs are an unusual pink color that I've never seen before.  I shall call her Betty Boop for her "pink stockings". 
Another sub-adult female sits nearby with perfect posture, very lady-like.  Note the very white undertail coverts on her also.  She was somebody's baby last year.
ASY male and SY female.
No group of sub-adult pictures would be complete without one of the very eager, clumsy SY males also fluttering about trying to impress the females.  Note the coloring in his undertail coverts and the purple feather splotches above his right leg and around his throat & chin.  Definitely a young male, about to take a whomping from the ASY males in the Trendsetter whose females he's trying to steal.
SY male - note the splotches of purple feathers already showing.  He will be very easy to identify and track this season.
The reason I was so anxious the night of 4/28 was because earlier in the week, the morning of 4/24/2016 an old friend had returned.  I have mixed feelings about seeing her on my game camera again.  For one thing, I was hoping she would leave us alone this year.  It is encouraging in the video that she is not actually attacking any of the housing, but simply looking like she is using the perches for hunting.

For all I know, she has been using the tops of the gourd racks for hunting most of the year, but since I don't keep the game cameras running all year due to the obvious high cost of batteries, I don't know what she's been up to.  She does look very healthy - downright fat, even.
On the other hand, it is a bit comforting, knowing I have done everything I can to protect my martins and the only way she can get to them now is if they decide to flush out of their housing.  For that, there's nothing I can do and they are on their own.  I have already found a few feathers of one bird about 100' away from my colony.  I can only hope that was from the Sharp-shinned hawk that has now moved out of the area and that was the only loss I'll see this year.  Yeah, let's just say that.
Regarding the video, I watched the ones before & after the GHO left and the patterned shadows on the video look oddly like another owl's feathers, but I cannot for the life of me, figure out how they would be spread out like that.  But they weren't there before the owl appeared or after she left.  So, is there another owl, perhaps her mate, traveling with her?  I'm not sure, but I've setup my main monitoring system now to try to watch the overall colony. Take a look and let me know your thoughts in the comments below regarding what you think the ghost shape is.

The first wave of sub-adults has definitely arrived, so I hope you have your housing open and if you're wanting to expand your colony this year, now is a good time to add more housing or gourds!



Saturday, May 2, 2015

Romance and Sub-Adult Arrivals on Gobbler's Knob

It looks like the majority of my adult martins are now paired up.  They were working feverishly on their nest-building tasks during the past couple of weeks, however, since this past Monday, they've had to spend a lot of time guarding their cavities and fighting off the new arrivals.
But who says that they can't squeeze in some nuzzle time while guarding their cavities?
I watched this couple for close to 20 minutes. They're so close that it made me wonder if they were old friends from previous years too.

Sometimes, you just need a few quiet moments and a shoulder to lean on.
And everyone has started their annual trek to tear the leaves from Mr. Freeze's poplar trees.  He wonders why his trees won't grow.  I don't show him any of the incriminating evidence such as that in the below pictures.


Many leaves were being shredded yesterday and today.  The bright, warm sunshine is so conducive to nest preparation.  The martins are taking full advantage.


On Monday, April 27th I filed my report for the first Purple Martin Sub-Adult arrival in 2015.  It was late evening and I couldn't get a good picture of him because he kept falling off the porches and perches.  Not on purpose.  The adult male martins were hard on his tail, pulling the little gangster off their cavities and out of their gourds.  I love the fearless and recklessly brave sub-adults.  They are so much like human teenagers - they come home from college, eat all the food in the refrigerator, play their music as loud as it will go, stomp around the house and drag their friends in at all hours while you're trying to sleep, challenge the parents' authority, kick the doors in to find their girlfriends sleeping with another male and in general, just make a mess of things.  These guys are no different.
If this sub-adult in the picture below, manages to hold onto and move into this cavity on the Trendsetter, it will be the first time in 7 years that I've had a sub-adult in that house.  Since it's my oldest housing, I've had nothing but adults in the house for a long time.  So, either some of the older adults moved to the gourds, or they have passed on.

Notice the small, purple feathers on his chest and under the chin of this sub-adult male.  I've learned to spot them just by watching for the martins that are causing the most trouble.  Note his "I'm going to kick someone's butt" posture too.

Sometimes it can be very difficult to spot a sub-adult male in your colony, but other times, it can be quite easy.  The most obvious identifying factor is the classic male clicking that they do to attract mates.  If you see a martin that looks like a female but it's doing the clicking, you can be 100% sure it's a male.  The other identifying factor is to look for purple feathers under the chin or on the chest.  Sometimes, there will even be one on the lower part of his abdomen or under his tail.  They can be very subtle, sometimes only a single feather or two as with this guy.  Other times, it can be quite obvious and the subbie will have a whole head & chest full of purple feathers.
Other identifying traits - watch for the classic 'I'm a troublemaker' posture and usually the one getting his butt whipped by the other males is the youngster that thinks he can swoop in and steal the others'  mates for which they've worked for weeks to attract.
An adult female paired with a sub-adult male.  Once the sub-adults have paired up, they usually settle down and focus on nest-building.  Note the purple feathers on this male's chest and under his chin.
My racks have been filling up for the last 4 days with more martin arrivals.



I can always tell who the newbies are as they try their best to navigate the fencing while still looking cool.

Stay on the lookout for the sub-adults at your site in Missouri.  We're halfway through migration at this point.  And if you have a new site, now is the best time to establish a new colony.