"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, April 18, 2022

Supplemental Feeding for Purple Martins in Inclement Weather

In late March 2011, I was staring out my window watching the falling rain and sleet and the thermometer that was falling even faster. I was also keeping watch on my eight purple martins that had arrived 10 days earlier than in years past and wondered how I would ever get them through the bad weather that as predicted for the next 8 days. There would certainly be no flying insects available on which they could feed in that cold, wet weather. I had read the stories on the PMCA forum about how people had trained their martins to accept supplemental feeding of crickets and eggs but I was torn over the whole “nature taking its course” and praying, or helping them. 

As I watched their wings droop further, it suddenly became very clear for me; either make the effort and try to feed them or grab a bucket and pick up the dead ones in a few days. There was absolutely no way I was going to be able to do the latter. So I grabbed a handful of plastic picnic spoons, a plate of crickets, gathered up my determination and stood in the middle of my colony with mud up to my ankles and sleet in my face and flipped over 40 crickets to my sad-looking martins. Suddenly, the magic happened and I have never again had to worry about having to pick up buckets full of dead martins in my yard when Mother Nature plays a cruel trick on our migrating martins.


If you’re interested in providing supplemental feeding yourself, here are some pointers how to train your martins, based on my experiences as well as from the other experienced landlords that worked with me and encouraged me along the way.

First, be prepared. A lot of us know about when our martins will arrive and what the average weather is like during those months. My first arrivals come during March, so by February, I know that I should have approximately 5000 crickets in my freezer (I order from ReptileFood.com). An adult martin can eat 40-50 large (1”) crickets a day, so base your cricket supply on that estimate times the number of days of expected bad weather. I usually have a box or two of the cheap, plastic picnic spoons in my pantry as well. When the weather drops below 45-50 degrees, or there is constant rain then there are no flying insects on which the martins can feed. You’ll know they are stressed by observing their physical appearance. Usually they are fluffed out and have very droopy wings. 

Cold weather in late March - notice the martins on the porch with drooping wings

During the first day or two of bad weather, they may not take the food, but by the third day, it’s time to start flipping. Try to pick the warmest time of the day and the least windy. Position yourself so that you can flip the crickets up high and in front of your martins. Do not flip the crickets directly *at* the birds as that will cause them to fly away from you. I only flipped one cricket at a time as this was their first introduction to crickets and I didn’t want to waste any until I saw the first one take one. I only had to flip 40 to get them started, but I have heard other landlords have had to flip over 100 to get the ball rolling.

I also called out a word (much like training your dog) every time I flipped a cricket. You’ll know why later. After the first martin went after a cricket and returned to her perch, the others slowly started joining her and swirling around in the rain as I flipped over 200 crickets to them. It takes a lot of energy that they can’t afford to waste at these critical times, to fly and catch a cricket. So my next goal was to move them to “tray feeding” so they wouldn’t waste their limited energy. Tray feeding is a different way of feeding for a purple martin as they usually catch their food on the fly.

As they all slowly circled, grabbing flipped crickets, I started flipping the crickets up on my rooftop. Some would finally land and grab the food that fell there. Some of it bounced down onto a tray just below the edge of my roof and they all started landing there and eating the food that bounced off my makeshift ‘tray’. I also added scrambled eggs in with the offerings (crickets can get expensive when you’re trying to feed 20-40 birds). I first had to flip the egg pieces in the air to get them used to accepting egg, then I could add it to the tray where they could eat it later.

During subsequent feedings, I would prepare the eggs and crickets and call the martins out of their housing to the feeder, using my special word that I had used during training. It worked every time. 

This season we once again started another 8 days of bad weather at the end of March. The first day the weather snapped down cold, a male martin flew right up to me, squawking at me. I knew that he was one that remembered the drill from 2 years ago. I fed over 6000 crickets and 5 dozen eggs over the course of those 8 days to 22 martins. I did end up losing 4 of them, but I could never be sure if those 4 were “mine” or were migrants, or they simply died of old age. But I ended up pulling the rest of my martins through those cold, long, miserable days and I can’t tell you how happy I am about that.

If you have never tried to feed your birds, I encourage you to try it. My best advice is to be persistent and keep trying. You already know what is the worst that can happen, so you can’t lose anything by trying. My martins bring me great joy every year. I figure providing them with food during desperate times is the least I can do to repay them. 

More good information on Supplemental feeding can be found here on the PMCA forum:

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Eliminating Invasive Honeysuckle - Phase 2 Begins

This past summer was so hot & dry and we have been in the worst drought we've ever had on Gobbler's Knob since moving here in 2007. If we don't get some rain soon, I'm not sure our fish will survive the winter freezes. The west side of the pond is, at best, 4' deep, and the east side is down to about 8' deep....with no substantial rain in the forecast.

There's absolutely nothing I can do about it, so I've decided to focus on the plans that we made for this Fall. This past Spring and late Winter, Bob and I spent some time identifying the areas where we need to start the battle with invasive Japanese honeysuckle. Depressingly, it looked a bit overwhelming - my shoulders and neck ached at the idea of trying to manually rake and pull it out. Fortunately, avoidance of strained, twisted backs, is the "Mother of Invention". Bob fired up the tractor - the brush hog on the back and the teeth on the front bucket would work nicely for the first attack. 

After stripping its vines off the trees, uprooting and mowing down as much as we could, we burned some of the spots.

Japanese honeysuckle vines after being pulled back from the trees with the tractor, then brush hogged.

I'm not sure how effective the burning was, but in my mind, we set it back. Besides, it felt good to set fire to something that is trying to take over and kill all the native plants. ha! At the very least, when it greened up again during the summer, it would be nice & low - perfectly setup for phase 2.

It took a great deal of constraint on my part as we walked past the honeysuckle patches this summer as they thrived in the heat, regrowing their leaves and trying to advance again. It is truly tenacious.

The only thing that made me feel better and gave me hope that waiting was the right thing to do, was attending the Missouri Prairie Foundation online classes on how to deal with invasive plants, such as honeysuckle. Their advice from the class for someone with an already-established prairie, spray the honeysuckle in the fall after the first frost (when everything else has died back)- with Glyphosate. My husband had been to all the safety & training classes for using such chemicals/ herbicides so that he could use them as part of his Land Care business and knows how to use this stuff, so he knows all about how they work. These chemicals are important tools to use in the fight against invasive plant species that, if allowed to continue unabated, would wipe out all our native trees, forbes & grasses, in a true environmental disaster. Anyone that has ever driven on I40 into the West side of Knoxville, TN would be shocked at the way the non-native, invasive Kudzu has literally smothered thousands of trees along the highway.

With all the misinformation and emotionalism around the use of "Round Up" and other weed killers, it was so refreshing to discuss this topic with true *Conservationists* in the public domain that had extensive knowledge in its *proper* use.   

Here's a link to the herbicide table and application rates that was shared with us during the presentation:


Thanks to the prep work, the growth stayed very low - perfect for the coming murder rampage I had planned for the fall.

This 75' foot long and 30-40- wide section on our East field has a thick, low mat of honeysuckle. The Indian, Big Blue and Little Blue grasses are struggling to fight through it...and losing. They're only able to sprout around the edges of the advancing honeysuckle vines. This is a view from the south. NOTE: All pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.

The same section, view from the north.

Further north, a strip of honeysuckle has gotten a foothold...not for long though. Hold tight, I'mma coming. One clump of little bluestem has managed to grow up (far right of the picture, 1/3 of the way down - now light brown-colored)

Another 50' north, around the corner, we brush hogged & pulled the vines down here too. Perfect for the coming spray-a-thon.

On to the west side of the property - this is the area that we cleared out last year (more about that here)
We dragged this cluster out and burned it. The honeysuckle came back, but the grass got a little better start here.

This west cluster in the Savanna is only 40' from the one above.

Now we wait to see the results. I am not a patient woman, but a great distraction is found in shopping the Native Seed catalogs and planning the next phase.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Purple Martin Sub-Adults Arriving in Missouri

For those of you trying to attract purple martins to your site, NOW is the prime time in Missouri!

On April 29th, 2021, I reported a male sub-adult (SY - second year) arrival at my colony. Sub-adults, or "SY" (second-year) birds are the birds that were hatched last season that are just now reaching our borders during migration. 

I also spotted 3 sub-adult females, but the PMCA asks that we report the sub-adult males, since they're a wee bit easier to identify. Well, "easier" is subjective.  Some sub-adult males are easy to identify because they have large groupings of purple feathers (the indicators of a male martin) speckled about their chest & throat. For others, it can be more subtle.

When I first started out as a landlord, I spent hours taking pictures and following a bird that I suspected was a sub-adult male, only to realize it was a sub-adult female. It takes awhile - especially, because the purple feathers that you're searching for can be few and far between or so many that it's obvious. When I absolutely couldn't identify him using his feather markings, I would just wait for him to make the typical male 'clicking' sound and THAT was the indicator that sealed the ID game! 

In this photo, the SY-Male on the left is checking out an ASY-Female on the right. There are a couple of small purple feathers on his chest that are glowing in the sunlight, another one under his left wing and a couple behind his legs.

In this photo below, this SY-Male has several purple feathers on his upper chest that makes him a little easier to spot.
In the photo below, the SY-Male has several small purple feathers under his chin. He is standing guard over his SY-Female (R).
This SY-male in the photo below was super-easy. He already has almost the full adult head covered with dark purple feathers.
In the photo below, the sub-adult female on the left is probably paired up with the ASY (adult) male on the right.

If you're a new landlord this season and awaiting purple martins, now would be a good time to start playing the dawnsong at your site. You can play it on a portable CD player, from your car's CD player with the doors open, from your house with the windows open or from your cell phone. It should be played in the wee hours of the morning (starting about 5 AM through until about 9 or 10 AM). Then start playing the daytime chatter. Purple martins like to be around other purple martins and that will help draw their attention to your new sites.

If you're still not sure of your ID skills, just watch for a bird behaving like an out-of-control, hormonal teenager. That would be the SY male.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Easy DIY Purple Martin Gourd Rack

I'll be writing another blog post soon about the current status of purple martins here at my site. But I wanted to get this information out to all of you that love to create things and are handy with wood while it's still early in the season.

I recently saw this DIY gourd rack on a purple martin forum and I think it is absolutely the best DIY gourd rack I've ever seen. I asked the gentleman who built it to share his plans and detailed instructions and he emailed me the following instructions & pictures. There are also links to all the supplies that he used at the bottom of this post.

For those of you that would like to build this gourd rack, here ya go:

Instructions for how to build this gourd rack, provided by Jimmy Dugan, Purple Martin Fanatics Group

As far as the carriage system is concerned, I loosely followed the Anderson cc page.

Link: http://www.anderson.cc/hazer.html?fbclid=IwAR3xJAgzzTwTRtJ89IM5c32TfpIsjVZD--fAq8xzE5TA6r-E4epUXPYZZAI

I used two, three foot 2x6 boards. The carriage system is held together using, 3/8" threaded rod, washers and nuts.

The actual system that rides on the pole is 1/2" outer diameter, 3/8" inner diameter aluminum tubing. The tubing is cut based on the size of the pole to be used.

Installed over the tubing is 3/4" pvc pipe which actually does the "rolling" up and down the pole. This is cut shorter than the tubing so it doesn't chafe on the wood as it goes up and down. 

View inside the carriage system, showing the ¾” pvc pipe that was installed over the 3/8” aluminum tubing

Closeup showing the pvc pipe as it rolls against the steel pole.

The 2x4 cross members are approximately 26” long and screwed to the carriage. The gourds are attached to the 2x4 cross members using 3/8" threaded rod. You can buy the 3/8” threaded rod in 6 foot lengths and cut them in half so they are 3 feet long. The gourds attach to them using nuts and washers.



Once you build the carriage system, the possibilities are endless as to what you mock up to hold gourds/houses. Mine in particular has 16 S&K Bo 9 gourds attached to it.

A nut is installed on either side of the gourd neck to hold it in place.

To keep the 3/8” threaded rod from slipping back & forth, nuts are tightened up against the 2x4’s on each side.

The pole that was used was galvanized steel. At the top of the pole, I cut a notch for the 4 inch diameter V idler pulley which I bought from Amazon. The pulley is attached to the pole by using a 3/8" bolt.

It is kept centered using spacers on either side.

The winch can be purchased from Harbor Freight for $20. I believe it is rated for 1k lbs. It's bolted directly to the pole as I couldn't find U bolts that would work for it.

The cable is attached on the opposite side of the carriage system from the winch, to an eye bolt.

A small pulley is mounted to the top of the carriage to keep the cable from rubbing against the carriage system.

I put two perches at the top of the pole again using 3/8" threaded rod.

The pole is in a ground socket that I built using pvc trim board that I cut to width. I like the idea of the socket so I can remove the pole and there will not be a ground stake still there. 

I could have used all stainless hardware....but I didn't want to spend a million dollars. So I used zinc and galvanized stuff.

Well, Jimmy - it certainly looks like a million dollar setup! I bet the martins think so too!

Links to the things I used. 

Round Tubing: https://www.homedepot.com/p/Everbilt-36-in-x-1-2-in-x-1-16-in-Aluminum-Round-Tube-801247/204274002

Hand Winch: https://www.harborfreight.com/automotive/winches/hand-winches/12-ton-capacity-hand-winch-62592.html

3/8” threaded Rod: https://www.lowes.com/pd/Steelworks-3-8-in-dia-x-6-ft-L-Coarse-Steel-Threaded-Rod/3128769

V-Groove Idler Pulley:


PVC Pipe:






Friday, March 19, 2021

Smell That Smoke?

The title of this blogpost is a phrase that is normally used by BBQ restaurants, but when you smell smoke here on Gobbler's Knob; we're usually burning the prairie. And, it's usually not an accident - it's a result of a few years of cajoling and convincing the Fire Chief that it's time.

Way back in Winter & Spring of 2019, then again in 2020, we missed the opportunity to burn our first prairie installation (according to Mr. Freeze -but, I think he was just stalling-ha!). I was bummed. The original prairie hadn't been burned since 2013 and the east field hadn't been burned since 2014. We had bought an old hay rake and had been raking off the duff every year, but nothing beats prairie rejuvenation like a good, hot fire. 

So, in Fall, 2020 Mr. Freeze knew he could not put it off for another year. There was going to be a major burn on Gobbler's Knob before the plants started to emerge this year - he could either be part of the planning...or be surprised when he saw the flames. We waited & we watched the weather. I watched all the major MDC and MPF burns and reminded him almost daily. We had learned our lessons from previous burns - make good, wide firebreaks, wait until the wind was right and don't mow it down until you're ready to throw a match. 

FINALLY, we had a week of dry weather and with the reassurance of assistance from one of my best friends, Cindy and her husband Rob, Bob quickly mowed the field on March 6th and refreshed the firebreaks.

Plenty of dry fuel for the burn. The view from south of the pond.

The fire crew arrived early on March 7th and our fire chief (Bob) tries to corral everyone so he can teach them how to use the tools, sprayers, etc. We all look like we're paying attention, right?

Enough training - let's throw a match - we'll make it up as we go along. The wind was perfect - 5-10 mph, solid & steady from the southwest. But Bob and I have seen this rodeo before, so Cindy and I started burning the northern firebreak and working our way to the west - just in case the wind decided to change direction. Low & slow.

We left Rob to attend the very high-fuel area. He's got water and is partnered with the Fire Chief. Notice the nice back-burn slowly snaking its way across the dried grass?

The men worked their way southward down the eastern firebreak, while Cindy and I worked our way towards the firebreak to the West, finally turning southward, along the western firebreak..., only about 10 minutes behind the east crew.

 Bob & Rob's line looks like it died out - is that why they're standing there leaning on their rakes?

Then, the inevitable happened - it was as if the Wind Gods knew that Cindy and I were having a great time...taking our time. The wind direction shifted and it was suddenly coming straight from the East. Blowing a head-fire right towards our west line that wasn't quite completed yet. And Cindy needed to refill her sprayer. I looked up and saw this re-invigorated fire line coming at us, so I started dragging fire at a slow trot, trying to not look too panicked and I glanced over to see Cindy quickly refilling her sprayer.

For one brief second, I thought we would get a reprieve as the wind whipped around again.

Nope, keep dragging girl...faster.  Where's that water sprayer?

And then, as quickly as it started, the wind changed again.  Cindy and I had reached our corner fire break and the neighborhood was safe once more from the firebugs on Gobbler's Knob.

The wind shifted to come directly from the West and we had our own head-fire excitement for a few minutes, but no reason to panic - the firebreaks can contain this now and we can hang out & enjoy.

We were so comfortable with the containment now that Cindy could take a video. She's so good at it! Good grief - I sound like a child - "I saved a wooley worm"! Oh well, I'm not going to edit the video - it's the way I am and everyone should know this about me. We had a blast - thank you, Cindy & Rob for helping us. We would have been in good company if we had ended up in jail for burning down the county - fortunately, thanks to your help, we didn't!

The completed burn - approximately 2.5 acres. I can't wait to see what it looks like this Spring!

View from the south east corner.

The eastern firebreak. The specimen garden (where I planted numerous specimens from which I can gather various seeds to share), burned very thoroughly.

We also burned the "East Field" while we had the benefit of Cindy and Rob's help.

View from the south of the burned East field.

View from the north of the burned East field.