"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

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Building a Super Colony of Purple Martin Landlords

When I first decided to setup a purple martin colony, I searched the internet and came across the Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA) website.  I read everything I could find on the site, but one article in particular touched my heart;  "Last Testament to the Purple Martin", by John Barrow.  It surprised me.  It made me truly think about my contributions to the purple martin, beyond just setting up housing.  It made me cry to think about my own mortality and how I'd like to be here forever for them.  But the reality is, I won't be here forever, despite my best efforts.

The last question that Mr. Barrow asks in his article is:  "That, friends, is my last testament to the Purple Martin. What is yours???".
My friend and mentor, John Barrow.

During the purple martin season, I would often think of what my response would be to that question.  In 2009, after 3 years experience with my own colony, it suddenly occurred to me what my response would be:  "My last testament to the purple martin and all the thousands of martins that I intend to fledge from my site is to help other landlords in Missouri offer safe housing, free from nest-site competitors and predators, to my returning birds that will disperse around this area to their sites."

I embarked on that project during the winter of 2009-2010.  I was honored when I was asked to talk about my Missouri mentoring project at a PMCA conference in August 2011.  Since that presentation, my list of people that I mentor has now climbed to 63 and I have helped new and existing landlords setup 17 new gourd rack systems, cleaned out numerous starling and house sparrow nests, installed predator guards and SREH plates on older housing, and I've lost track of how many site visits I've done.

Purple Martins & Coffee presentation on a Saturday morning.
As we enter the 2014 Purple Martin season, I wanted to share this presentation with its examples of some easy, simple steps that you can use to help the purple martins in your area.

In our fast-paced, stressed-out, and overworked lives, it seems daunting to take on the tasks of helping someone else with their purple martin site.  But from my own experiences, I can assure you, it is manageable and the long-term, downstream effects are immeasurable.  By making the best use of electronic media, you can manage quite a few new landlords!  Your efforts to help your neighbors with their colonies by reducing their house sparrow populations and increase their martins' productivity would likely benefit your own colony!

The attached presentation is in a video format, but you can click the "Pause" button to review each slide in detail.  I hope you enjoy and consider becoming a mentor yourself this season; even if it's just one site, you too can leave behind a legacy for the Purple Martin.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Purple Martins Moving into Missouri - Migration 2014

Welcome to the Purple Martin Season 2014 for Missouri!
The Martins are starting to move northward fast!  I wish they wouldn't but we can't control nature can we?  We just have to work with it!  A report has been confirmed on the PMCA Scout Report site for a purple martin spotted in East Prairie, Missouri.  This is one to two weeks earlier than reported in past years by this experienced landlord. 

PMCA Scout Report

Last year, my first martin arrived on March 9th, so it makes me a little nervous to see these early reports.  I had to supplemental feed them through the first week of May last year and I'm hoping I won't have go through that again this Spring.  Since there are now 2 scout reports in Indiana I decided to take advantage of the warm weather this weekend and start preparing my own housing for their impending arrival.

My oldest martins always take up residence in my Trendsetter house first, so I started by preparing the nest box trays for the house.  These trays make it easier to pull the nestlings out during nest checks and they make it easier to clean the house out at the end of the season.  I have thought about buying some nice, wooden trays for my Trendsetter, but frankly, I'm a tight wad and for now, prefer to make my own.  I usually create my own for several reasons;  1) I don't have to clean these trays at the end of the season - I just throw them in the fire; 2) if they get wet during the nesting season, I can quickly make another out of my extra cardboard and replace the tray; and 3) it's a cheap alternative!

I usually keep some good, quality cardboard during the year from various shipments I receive.  The nest cavities in the Trendsetter are 6" x 11", so I size my trays to 5 1/2" x 10" to ensure that I can easily slide them in and out.  The back edge is 3" high and the side edge is 2" high.
Tools needed: Cardboard, Razor knife, Sharpie, Duct Tape and a stiff ruler (you'll use it to measure and also to help make the creases in the cardboard.
While doing my best to avoid the need to rush to the emergency room or apply a tourniquet, I cut out the nest trays and crease them at the fold lines, then bend the 'tab' over the back of the tray.  I use duct tape on the outside back of the box to secure the tab that helps make the 'tray'.
Securing the tab to the back of the tray with Duct Tape.

8 nest trays for the right-opening entrances and 4 for the left-opening entrances.  The mesh tray in this picture comes with the Trendsetter and helps hold the pine needles in place so that your nestlings don't develop "leg-splay".
After inserting the nest trays into the cavities of the Trendsetter, I load each one with 2 generous handfuls of Eastern White Pine needles.  This will help the martins not only by keeping them warm when they arrive in the early spring, but also by getting a head start on their nests.  There now, I feel much better about whatever may happen over the next 2 weeks.  :)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

English House Sparrows and Starlings-Strategies and Myths

This subject is always a *hot* issue to discuss with bird-lovers.  But it is one I feel very passionate about.  In the Trapping and Shooting Strategies article below, I describe why I became so passionate about the issue.
I've shared the links to those articles below.  I hope you find them helpful.  If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave them in the comments section.

Article:  House Sparrow Control Myths
Article:  Trapping and Shooting Strategies for House Sparrows and Starlings

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Time to Put out the Welcome Mat for the Tree Swallows and Bluebirds

It is a lovely 64 degrees today with winds out of the southwest at 15-20 mph.  I'm not crazy about the wind part, but it helps to know from which direction it's coming when you want to clean out all fourteen of your nest boxes and get them ready for the season.

I usually host 3-4 pair of bluebirds and 10-12 pair of tree swallows each year.  Bluebirds have a large nesting territory.  The literature states that they need 300' between their nest boxes.  Tree swallows only need 100'.  So, I place a few bluebird nest boxes among the tree swallow boxes and the rest around the perimeter of the property.

I leave the nesting material in the boxes during the winter so the bluebirds will have a warm place to rest, albeit they may be a bit crusty from the detritus left from the boxes' previous inhabitants.  Today was a perfect day to get on the 4-wheeler and make the rounds.  I'm leaving them all open until tomorrow to make sure they're nice and dry for the guests that will be arriving soon.

Three of the Tree Swallow nest boxes that have been cleaned out.
I have added screws inside the doors of all my nest boxes for my Van Ert traps.  If an English House Sparrow (HOSP) shows up, I can quickly deploy the trap in the box.

Inside of nest box door with screws in place to accept the Van Ert Trap.

A Van Ert trap -my favorite nest box trap (NBT).

A HOSP can easily enter a 1.5" hole that is sized for a Bluebird, but to reduce the amount of risk and stress that I have with potential HOSP attacks, I make the entrance to the Tree Swallow boxes more HOSP-resistant by adding these slot entrances.  I cut the internal hole to be much bigger, then screwed the plate over it.  It's not HOSP proof, but it keeps the majority of them out, especially during the spring and summer when they will fatten up after the lean winter months.

Slot entrance for Tree Swallow nest box - cut from vinyl siding - 7/8" tall x 2 1/4" wide.
As I drove around to all the boxes I came upon some of my now crunchy, dried-out milkweed stalks.  This picture may not look like much to you, but it makes me smile.  Somewhere nearby, or maybe even a mile away, a seed from this plant landed and is currently working its way into the soil where it will sprout and provide food for Monarch caterpillars.
Empty Butterfly Milkweed pods. The hundreds of small promises of life have already spread themselves in the wind.

It doesn't seem fitting to add a picture of the remains of a dead calf to a post about birds, does it?  Apparently, the coyotes had themselves a large feast last night.  I'm sad for the calf, but that is the way things are here in the Ozarks.  You never know what you will discover on my birding trails.

Purple Martins 2013

Hi and Welcome to my new blog!
I am excited to kick off my blog with a post about my beloved purple martins!  I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences this year with hosting purple martins and other birds here in the Ozarks.

I have some new projects this year that I'll be documenting here, such as my mason bee and native wildflower projects, with a special focus on planting extra milkweed seeds.

Make sure you click on the "Full screen mode" to enjoy!