"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, May 19, 2014

The Night Belongs to Thee

I have been a busy purple martin landlord lately and not in a good way.  Between erecting owl guards and preparing for my presentation at the Missouri Department of Conservation in Houston, MO last week, I haven't had much time to write about it.  But now that the adrenaline is subsiding and the fear is alleviated with the installation of the guards, I now have some time to share.

Ever since mid April, I felt something was wrong in my colony.  I had found a Great Horned Owl feather in my driveway, but really wasn't too worried as it was over 200' from my colony and I wasn't seeing the classic signs that everyone talks about (plucked feathers, martins leaving the site right before it gets dark, etc.) 
What I was seeing were very few martins in my Trendsetter-12 house.  This was unusual because my oldest martins always took up residence in my Trendsetter first.  Afterall, it was my first *official* purple martin housing.  But something felt off and not quite right with my colony.  So, I ordered a Browning Recon game camera and put it out on April 21st.  Every day I would retrieve the SD card from the camera and find nothing recorded on it, except the daytime activities of the martins.
I got lazy and around May 3rd or 4th, I quit the daily retrieval of the card thinking that I was just being paranoid and silly and had read too many posts about owl attacks.  On Friday, May 9th, I decided that I really needed to check that card and I pulled it.  But I still didn't review its contents until just before bedtime that night.  As I opened the card and saw the timestamps on some of the pictures, my throat began to tighten.
Then as I started opening the pictures, I thought, "This can't be.  Everything was fine up until now, so why am I suddenly seeing timestamps for pictures at 4:23 A.M. for May 6th?"  As I viewed the pictures and my brain processed what had happened the night of May 6th (3 days prior), I felt something tighten around my waist and I couldn't swallow - I thought I was going to be sick.  I couldn't believe that a Great Horned Owl was attacking my housing.  The whole reason I had bought the Trendsetter was so that an owl can't reach into the cavity and pull martins out.  What he can do though as I was informed that night, was exactly what this Wise Old Owl was doing - he was beating his wings against the house, attempting to get the martins to flush, right into his talons.
Great Horned owl attack on my Trendsetter-12 housing.  Note the time. Dawnsinging starts about this time every morning at my colony, so it is likely that the owl heard the martins and was drawn to the housing.

The terror that had arrived at my colony on the morning of May 6th could have been enough to frighten the purple martins into abandoning that house.  And who could blame them?  I would certainly pack my stuff & go if I were them!  I wasn't as much worried about them abandoning though as I was about keeping the remaining ones safe.  I couldn't justify serving up a buffet to the owls.

I hastily made a post on the PMCA forum with the pictures and was rather surprised to see how many people were still awake and willing to help, advise and provide empathy at such a late hour.  I was willing to do whatever needed to be done to protect my colony.  It had been 3 days since that attack and there were no guards on any of the housing or gourds and there was no telling when he would be back.  I was frantic.  What if he came back that very night?  Was he successful on the night of May 6th?  I had no way of knowing.  Lots of good suggestions came rolling in, but there was only one reality - I needed to stay up and protect my colony that night and figure out how to get guards installed on all my housing the next day.
It was quite an experience staying up all night with my martin colony.  Owls hunt by sound and I can see why he was attracted to my colony.  My martins are noisy!!  By 3:30 A.M. the next morning, I could hear a Barred Owl on the east side of my colony and the Great Horned Owl (GHO) on the northwest side of my colony.  Hoot, hoot, hooting away.  I was happy as long as I could hear them calling, but when they became silent was when I became worried and started scanning my colony with my spotlight to make sure they weren't visiting.  Fortunately, they weren't.
I had always read that a GHO would displace a Barred owl, but as frequently happens here, my site is often the exception I guess.  By 4:30 A.M., I could hear my martins in the sky singing their dawnsong.  What an awesome experience.  It was a very strange feeling to hear martins in the black, velvety sky but only be able to see the stars.  I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.  It was one of the most beautiful things in the world.  Dawnsinging, the darkness of the night, stars and owls.  I have never felt more alive.
By Saturday afternoon, I had driven my husband crazy and we finally deployed the cage on my Trendsetter.
It took about an hour for my martins to adjust and trust it, but they finally did.  We used "Welded Wire Fabric", 2x4" from Orscheln's Farm Store and cut out a couple of wires to make 4x4" openings in front of each of the house entrances.  I have also added tubing over each of the entrances to make a more bulky landing spot for each of the martins.  I am happy to report that the house has martins and eggs in every cavity, except one.  That's a pretty good occupancy rate, given the circumstances.

By Sunday afternoon, we had erected some temporary guards on the gourd racks as well.  In thinking about how the owl had approached the housing and the wing span on the GHO (39 to 43 inches), the idea with these guards is to interrupt his wing space.  Pretty funny looking, eh?

I had always read about landlords erecting their owl guards and their martins seem to relax after installing them.  I thought, "how would you know"?  But now I have experienced it - you know.  Somehow you know, you feel it and you hear it in their song and see it in their activities.  They are safe and they know it.  Fortunately, the owl has not been back since that night.  I'm hoping it stays that way, but I'm no longer naive enough to believe that.
We are working on a plan for more permanent owl guards - something that won't interfere with our view during the off-martin season (can be removed), something that won't need a 20' ladder to install, something that won't interfere with storage, and will be user-friendly for nest checks.  My husband is brilliant and has come up with some ideas to fit our particular situation.
I am much more comfortable with knowing my martins are safe now.  But I have learned a few things.  First, trust your intuition and act on it.  And do it before something really bad occurs.  Apparently, we all live within the range of a barred owl or a GHO.  Don't get lazy.
Lastly, 3:30 A.M. is a special time with a purple martin colony, especially when dawnsinging starts.  It is wild; it was an ethereal experience and it is Mother Nature in her purest form.  I loved it.  I'll be up a few times every year now to enjoy it.  For that, I am thankful to the owl for the rude awakening.  I will remember you are out there always and you sir, YOU own the night.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

No, There's No Silence In The Night

While out watching over my purple martin colony last weekend, I carried my video camera around with me.  As I listened to the frogs in our smaller pond I had to work hard to suppress my laughter as I didn't want to scare them into silence while I was recording them.  They seemed to be competing for the title of "Loudest, Most Obnoxious Noisemaker".

I may be revealing my age, but one of my favorite Red Skelton shows was one in which he recited his poem, "Frogs". He was right - "there's no silence in the night"!


Monday, May 12, 2014

The Goldilocks Colony

Since I have started mentoring purple martin landlords in Missouri, there are two questions I'm frequently asked; 1) "what is the minimum number of cavities I should offer?"; and 2) "how large should I grow my colony?".  Too small a colony and a single catastrophic event can wipe it out.  Too large a colony and problems can go undetected until it's too late to correct them.  With migration still underway in this 2014 season, now is a good time to start addressing those questions and determine for yourself whether you'd like to stick with a smaller colony or plan for a larger colony.

Small Colonies
I've done some research on the minimum number of martins required to sustain a colony throughout weather calamities and natural attrition and here is what I've found. First, the PMCA recommends that landlords should offer at least 24 total nesting compartments and strive to build their colonies to at least 12-15 breeding pairs.
Consider the following from the PMCA site: http://www.purplemartin.org/main/toptwelve.html
"Too many martin landlords offer just one 12-unit martin house. While this is enough to start a colony, it is not enough to ensure long-term colony site survival.  Landlords should offer multiple houses and/or at least 24 total nesting compartments. They should strive to build their colonies to at least 12-15 breeding pairs. Because conventionally-designed martin houses rarely have active nests in more than 50 - 60% of their rooms (due to male porch domination), this means a landlord should be offering at least 24-30 total compartments. Don’t put ‘all of your eggs in one basket.’ If you have only one house and a summer storm blows it to the ground, smashing the eggs and killing the nestlings, you could be out of the martin business. Landlords with single houses (and thus smaller colonies) run a much higher risk of losing all their birds from a weather calamity, or from one year to the next due to natural attrition — approximately half of all adult martins die each year, and about 75% of the fledglings. Give your martins a diversity of nesting choices: try adding some gourds to your housing set-up. "
Luther & Fonda's small, but very well-managed colony.  Luther uses Troyer Vertical gourds with the Conley II entrance.  He conducts nest checks and eliminates any house sparrows checking out his housing (note the repeating house sparrow trap attached to the pole).
**Note that the article refers to the "conventionally-designed houses" when talking about the 50-60% occupancy.  One landlord I know offered a 12-cavity house for many years and was only able to get 5-6 pair to nest. Last year after adding another 12-room house they were able to get 10 pair to nest, effectively doubling their colony.  The article also states that martins are far more productive in gourds. I would submit that besides the obvious reason of more room offered in gourds, there is also less porch domination with gourds, especially when staggered, which will increase your occupancy rate.
Large Colonies
Some landlords strive to achieve the label of "super colony" for their sites.  A de facto super colony is one that offers 100 nest cavities.  I have visited a couple of these super colonies and talked with their owners.  Most are retired and management of purple martins is their sole hobby for the summer.
Photo provided by Jonathan Spangler.  Large colonies need an abundant food supply both for the adults and for the fast-growing new fledges.  ASY female with Cicada breakfast for the kids.
Consider some of the points below by Mr. Jamie Hill-founder of the PMCA - below: http://www.purplemartin.org/forumarchives/archive/q&awith.htm
21. Q: Some martin enthusiasts become so addicted to the hobby that their main goal each year is to attract more martins than the previous year until they have built up a "super colony" of over 100 pairs of martins. Do you think martin colonies can be too large?
A:  Yes. Large colonies become giant predator magnets. I know of no martin colony over 75 pairs that doesn't have hawk and owl problems. One site we know with over 300 pairs is hit repeatedly each day by aerial predators. With such high levels of predation, the breeding success of martins in such colonies is probably depressed. The level of aggressive fighting among martins is also greater in larger colonies, as is the spread of disease and parasites. Competition for food is also increased, forcing martins to fly farther from their housing to find food for their nestlings. This causes life-shortening stress on parents and increases the time between feedings for the nestlings, slowing their growth.

While Mr. Hill makes some good general points, you would need to take into account your own circumstances when growing your colony.  For example, Jerry in Troy, MO experienced frequent owl attacks in 2012 with only 38 nesting pair in residence and had to install owl guards to protect his colony in 2013.  An awareness of the resident predators in your area will help give you an idea of the challenges you will face with increasing the size of your colony.

Jerry's colony in Troy, MO offering 44 Troyer gourds with Conley II entrances in 2012.
Just Right?
I urge anyone that desires to grow their colony to go slowly.  Going slowly allows to you observe your colony, deal with challenges along the way and make adjustments quickly.  You will know when you've reached the "sweet spot" when you still have time to enjoy your martins, rather than being constantly frustrated and having to address issues.
More from Mr. Hill's interview:
22. Q:  What do you feel is the "ideal" martin colony size that can be properly managed?

A:  The answer to this question depends on how much time the landlord has to devote to the hobby. A colony should only be as big as a landlord can properly manage. During the breeding season, a nest check of 100 nesting compartments can take about 30 minutes, if you move fast (as you should). This needs to be done every four days during the egg-laying period and every 5-7 days during the nestling period. A landlord should also walk underneath his housing once or twice each day to look for evidence of problems. Trapping and shooting House Sparrows and starlings is another factor determining how many cavities should be offered. No more than what the landlord can keep 100% starling and sparrow free. And don't forget annual maintenance. Housing needs to be taken down, nests cleaned out, housing washed off, repainted (if necessary), stored for the winter, and put back up in spring. Only build your colony to the size you can manage. For some people this is one 12-unit house. For others, it's several hundred gourds or a dozen multi-room houses.
An example of a medium-sized colony.  Mark & Teresa, Brandon, SD - photo taken 7/24/2013.  24-gourd system:  first year, 2012 - 8 nesting pair, 2013-21 nesting pair.  Mark & Teresa also have another 16 gourd rack system with 15 out of the 16 Super Gourds occupied every year.

Personal Perspective:
Based on Mr. Hill's recommendation of 30 minutes to conduct a nest check of 100 compartments, I can see that I need to work on my nest check timing!  I currently offer a total of 84 cavities - 72 Troyer gourds and 12 cavities in my Trendsetter house - and it is taking me about 45 minutes.  I have found that 84 cavities is all that I want to manage at this time, along with my full-time job.  At the end of each season, when I'm hauling all my cleaning gear out and staring at all my housing I have to clean up, anticipating the inevitable week of back pain afterwards, I just can't fathom the idea of adding more housing at this time.  Of course, once I retire, all bets are off and I reserve the right to change my mind (insert loud laughter from my husband here).  Ha!

Who wouldn't love a rack full of martins?
Full management of a large colony takes a lot of time, planning, money and effort.  So, based on the above information, here are some questions to ask yourself when trying to decide the correct size colony for you:
1. How involved do you want to be with your colony? Do you want to do weekly nest checks and record their progress? If so, you will need to consider how much time that will take and weigh it against how much available time you have to devote to those activities.
2. If you're not very involved, do you have frequent predator or nest-site competitor problems that keep you busy? As Mr. Hill states, hawks are drawn to the noise made by a large colony but on the flip side of that, I have found that a larger colony such as mine usually has more eyes in the sky that can watch out for hawk attacks. Hawk attacks can also be minimized through a few other strategies mentioned in an earlier article.
If you're using SREH, then you should have minimum problems with starlings.  By the way, we just have to face it; English House Sparrows will always be a problem, but the problem is manageable with traps and frequent shooting / elimination.  As far as other predators, with the proper guards installed, you can prevent snake and raccoon attacks and also reduce the impact an owl can have on your colony (updated since this article was written - I'll be sharing some recent owl attack experiences).
3. Is there enough food around to support a larger colony at your site?  One of the reasons I've become so interested in native wildflowers and ponds was because I was concerned about there being an ample supply of bugs to support my large colony.  Increased numbers of martins require increased numbers of insects, not only for the adults, but also for the young they would raise here.  So as not to cause them to have to fly further to find that food, I've learned to attract that food to my backyard through native wildflower plantings and a large pond.
Native wildflower plantings help draw in many insects that not only provide pollination benefits, but also provide food for your martin colony.
Of course, not everyone has the land for these things. But you can certainly increase your insect populations through native wildflower plantings which will attract thousands of beneficial bugs (yes, including bees), to your area. An interesting side-note:  Purple Martins (and other insect-eating birds) will not eat the Monarch butterfly as their host milkweed plant causes them to taste bitter to all birds.  However, they will eat the numerous other butterflies, moths, wasps, bees, cicadas, butterflies and dragonflies that are drawn to the wildflowers and any water features (ponds included) that you may add to your yard.
Common Green Darner dragonfly is found near water sources.

So, for those of you that would like to keep a small colony, the minimum number of cavities offered should be at least 24. Beyond that, it is strictly up to you and what you feel comfortable managing. My plan for my martins when I retire is still up in the air. I love martins. I am extremely passionate about them. My heart wants to setup purple martin gourd racks as far as my boundaries permit, but my head knows better. So, I will probably negotiate a compromise between the two someday. Maybe after ensuring that many of the landlords I am mentoring have well-established colonies, I might choose to setup 1 or 2 more racks and after that, do further public outreach.
Photo provided by Jonathan Spangler.  ASY male providing a Common Green Darner to the kids.

To me, there is nothing better than sitting out on your porch, enjoying the raucous vocalizations and chatter of over 150+ purple martins and laughing at their antics throughout the various stages of their breeding cycle and rearing of their young.  Even the young fledglings provide me with enormous amounts of entertainment and I delight in their shenanigans.  Regardless of the stresses they face, whether being chased by hawks, awakened by an owl knocking in the middle of the night, or fighting off house sparrows and starlings, the indomitable, determined spirit of the martin persists and he surges forth with his delightful chatter against all odds with one thing in mind. To further his bloodline, against all odds.
We can increase his odds of being more successful.  It is easy to get caught up on the romantic idea of a larger colony.  But you will do the purple martin more harm than good if you become frustrated with difficult issues and neglect, or worse, decide to remove your housing.  There is nothing sadder than seeing a flock of martins return to a site whose housing has been removed.
Whether you have a small or a large, well-managed colony, make sure that you are able to manage it in such a way that keeps both you and your purple martins happy while helping them increase their numbers, despite the odds.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Purple Martin Workshop Scheduled with Missouri Department of Conservation

The Missouri Department of Conservation has asked me to give a purple martin workshop next Tuesday, May 13th.  They have now opened registration to 25 people if you're interested in attending!

Read more about it at the link below and call the number in the article if you plan on attending.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Green Leaf Gathering - You Know What That Means

As I stood on my porch this morning, I noticed a flurry of activity on the poplar trees.  As the weather has warmed significantly this week, that can only mean one thing.  There's going to be an egg-splosion here in a few days.  These poplar trees are 4-5 years old and even though there are numerous plum and cherry trees around that leaf out much earlier, the purple martins put off egg-laying until the poplars are fully leafed out with fresh, young, tender leaves.  My husband wonders why these trees do not get much bigger each year.  I probably shouldn't show this video to him.

My first sub-adult male knows exactly how to charm his sweet, little lady.
See what I brought home?  Take it!

See, just take it right in there.  Take it, please!

Well, it's not from Jared's, but for purple martins, love is giving your mate a green leaf!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Choosing the Right Housing for your Purple Martins

As I sat outside yesterday morning, reading the bands on my returning purple martins, my husband came out to tell me my sister had called.  “She has a whole bunch of new martins at her site and you really need to call her!” he said.  I had to laugh out loud.  I wasn’t laughing at her or his excitement; it was more of an outburst of relief that she is finally experiencing the joy of having martins not only visiting, but nesting in her housing this year. 
It has been 3 long seasons since I first gave my sister 6 Troyer vertical gourds for her birthday in 2012.  She lives in Louisiana which has quite a thick population of purple martins during the breeding season, so I thought for sure she would have at least a pair or two her first season. 
She went into her yard and dutifully measured off 40’ from each of the tree lines and her husband even removed a large, older pine tree at her behest.  So, I was quite disappointed to hear that she only had a couple of lookie loos her first year.   
Adult Purple Martin visitors checking out the Troyer Vertical gourds but never staying.
At the end of her first season, despite her being in LA, I realized that it wasn’t going to be that easy.  After confirming that all of her neighbors have the cheaper, plastic green and tan housing, I found a used one that she could use temporarily to attract her first pair.  The only problems were that it had the round holes already cut out and the plastic was starting to crumble from being baked in the sun.
As sure as the sun rises in the east though, starlings flocked to the round holes and kept her from getting purple martins her second year, even with active elimination, so the sub-adults moved on.  They were not going to take any chances with these native bird killers in their apartment building.
Prior to the start of her third season, I encouraged her to go buy a newer house with the crescent entrances intact and give it a try.  I instructed her on how to enlarge the compartments to make them safer.  She knew that meant less nest cavities in her house, but she also knew her martins would be safer from an owl’s reach, as well as experience more reproductive success.
This year, her third season, she had the house and the gourd racks up, but still no takers yet.  I couldn't believe it - with all my successes here in Missouri, I was failing my own sister who lived in a martin-rich area.  Only one thing left to do; after deciding she had nothing to lose, we made a decision to move both the house and the gourd rack to a different location in her yard (and when I say *we* made the decision, I mean her sweet husband had to go move the housing).  The gamble paid off.  She now has two SY male and female pairs completing nests; one pair in the house and one pair in the gourd rack.  
After modifying the cavities to be 6" x 12" and moving the house to a different location in her yard, the pair on the house is nesting.  Due to porch domination, the pair on the perches are nesting in a gourd on the closely-situated gourd rack.
Now this morning, she has even more sub-adult arrivals that may take up residence in her housing and she is walking on air.  This was a true reminder and lesson learned – purple martins, despite the fact that the gourds would be a safer and more productive option for them, prefer the style of housing with which they are most familiar. 

Housing for the Short Term

All new landlords should be aware that just because you put up purple martin housing, doesn’t mean that you will automatically get martins.  It makes sense then that starting out with the cheaper plastic houses is certainly a good way to see if martins will even be attracted to your site.  But being aware of the pros and cons of cheaper housing and what you can do to alleviate some of the cons will help you make good decisions and protect your martins.

The basic requirements you should start with, whether buying or building are pretty basic: the housing should allow for easy raising and lowering and nest compartment access for cleanout and checking on the eggs or young. 
There is lots of good information included in this article on the PMCA website:

-The initial monetary investment is very low.
-Cheap, easy way to find out if purple martins will even be attracted to your site.
-Easy to move around the yard with a smaller ground stake and sleeve to try out different locations.
-Compartment sizes in these houses are only 6” x 6”.  Adult purple martins are 8” long and compartments must be large enough to accommodate 2 adults along with 4-6 nearly-grown nestlings.  Modifications to provide larger cavities and ensure your martins will be safe in that housing are required to enlarge the cavities to 6” x 12”.  This effectively reduces a 12-14 room house to a 6-room house. 
-Porch domination is an issue with these houses, so the landlord may need to install porch dividers.
-The telescoping poles are not very durable and will not stand up to strong winds.  Landlords should be prepared to reinforce the telescoping poles made for these houses.
-As we found out with the used house, they are not very durable and will not last through very many seasons.
-In warmer areas, the housing may need to have shade added as they can get quite hot inside.

Housing for the Long Term

Houses versus Gourds:
Once you have attracted martins to your site, it becomes a personal decision about what type of quality housing with which you choose to move forward.  After my first year with the cheap, plastic barn, I tossed it (frustrations with the pole, the house, etc.) and put in a Trendsetter house.  I had never seen any others like it in this area, but it attracted 10 pair during its first year.  Then I added gourds and the martins still kept coming, seemingly no longer caring about the style of housing offered.
Trendsetter-12, with Conley II entrances.
Buying housing:
There are many different types of commercial martin housing available for purchase.  They can be made out of plastic, wood or metal.  If you do plan on buying, I suggest taking a look at the Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA)’s website at http://purplemartin.org/shop/, or if you do not have access to the internet, call 1-814-833-7656 to request a catalog (this newsletter is also mailed out to local landlords via USPS).

If you decide to buy, purchase the best housing or gourds and the strongest pole you can afford and remember that cheaper is not always better and it will last a lot longer.  When reviewing your purchasing options, recall that the adult martin size is around 8” long and will have 4 to 6 young.  Martins will nest in smaller (6”x6”) cavities, but prefer larger 6”x10” or 6”x12” compartments, or a gourd diameter of 8” to 10”.  Deeper nesting cavities will also help keep your martins safe from predators that will try to reach into the nesting cavity to catch their prey.
My sister's second pair has taken up residence in the nearby gourd rack now.  They think my sister's husband is pretty cool.
The pole upon which you place your housing is just as important as the foundation of your own home.  If the pole for your martin house fails, all your efforts will be wasted and may result in the death of many martins and their eggs.  When selecting a pole, ensure that it can withstand dangerous winds and that you will be able to vertically slide your house up and down the pole.  Never use a tilt pole or you will not be able to lower the house to remove a snake or English house sparrow’s nest once eggs are laid without causing catastrophic damage.

Building your own housing:
There are lots of different floor plans available for building martin houses, or you can create your own.  Keeping the above space requirements in mind, ensure that you use materials that will not absorb moisture, paint the outside of the house white and build your house with the idea that protecting the martins is the highest priority.  Use cedar as it is a better, longer lasting wood from which to build birdhouses.  Do not use any chemicals inside the nesting chamber. 

T-14 plans available from the PMCA Shop here.
One particular style house called the “T-14” (the 14 represents the number of nest cavities) has been very popular lately and has been the winter project of many landlords. Plans are available from the PMCA.  Another house style that I like is the “Northstar” house.  Plans are available from the inventor for $20.00.

Growing & preparing gourds:
If you don’t have natural gourds available right now that you can prepare for housing, then there are online sources where you can order gourds in 8” to 10” size.  You can also order more “ready to hang” gourds from http://purplemartin.org/shop/.
I am no expert in the area of growing and preparing gourds, but I can certainly point you to some websites with terrific information and step-by-step instructions as well as point you to some forums (PMCA) where the experienced, gourd-growing members can help with your questions. If you have the time and would like the challenge of growing and preparing gourds, send an email or call me and I can point you in the right direction!
For the “Do It Yourself” types, here is a great page for “From Natural Gourd to Bird House” - http://www.purplemartin.org/update/NaturalGourd.pdf.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Supplemental Feeding at the Tray

It has only been in the mid-40s during the day and low to mid-30s during the night here for a few days.  My martins have been trained to take both flipped food (crickets and scrambled eggs) and food from a feeding tray.

Here's what our morning looked like:

A year or two ago, I wrote this article for the Purple Martin Association of the Dakotas, explaining how I got my martins to take supplemental feeding.  We have had nowhere near the awful weather we had back then when this first started, but I took advantage of some of my experienced martins' desire to feed so they could train the other new arrivals.  It's a "monkey see, monkey do" type thing.  And when martins start feeding, the others see what's going on and join in and I probably have some newly-trained that never were before.

Everyone else shows up too, including the bluebirds, cardinals and yes, even the occasional house sparrow that hasn't had a cross hair on him, yet.


Here's a lot of good information on the PMCA forum also: