"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 9, 2020

Purple Martin Arrivals - 2020 Season Begins and Prenesting Gourds

My bluebirds are a bunch of Divas. For about 5 months of each year, they pretty much have this whole 23 acres, along with 14 nestboxes to themselves. But when the first Tree Swallows arrive in Spring, the bluebirds become a bunch of whiny babies and fly from nestbox-to-nestbox, trying to dominate each one and bully the Tree Swallows away from *their* site.
My friend Jeff in Rogersville, Keith in Ava and myself always have a small competition going each year regarding who will get their martins back first. On Saturday, Feb. 29th, I had already rolled out 2 gourds since I just *KNEW* all three of us would be getting our martins back on the same day. It was a classic weather pattern for my arrivals - winds from the south and 60 degrees.
When I searched the skies first thing in the morning, the first tell tale sign was a little teal-colored, "orca of the skies" zooming around my backyard. In years past, my tree swallows have always been the first to arrive here on Gobbler's Knob, usually followed closely by a purple martin...or three.

Several of us that host tree swallows along with purple martins have nicknamed them "Orcas of the Skies"; one obvious reason is their coloring, but the biggest reason is how ferocious and brave these little birds can be when a hawk enters their territory. They are fierce and are a great bird to host along with purple martins - all they need is a nest box - similar to a bluebird's nestbox.
By Sunday, I still had no martins, so I checked the Purple Martin forum and found that Jeff and Keith BOTH had received several martins on Saturday already. I guess my purple martins are going to be slackers this year. Probably hanging out in Sikeston at Lambert's - "Home of the Throwed Roll", thinking they really meant, "Home of the Throwed Crickets".
With the weather still looking warm for last week though, I decided to go ahead and put out a few more gourds.
Since I get a lot of questions about pre-nesting gourds, I decided to make a short video to show how I do it. Please note - I use only gourds, but you can also pre-nest any housing that you provide.
It not only helps keep the martins warm by providing some insulation when they arrive in early March, it also gives your gourds / housing a more "lived-in" look and will help attract new martins, since they are "secondary cavity-nesters". Click here to read more about the tradition shift in their nesting habits.
Pre-nesting also ensures there's enough nesting material in the bottom of your housing to prevent the birds from slipping around on the flooring as well as preventing 'splayed-leg' syndrome in the nestlings.

Materials to NOT use:
- Do NOT use cedar chips / shavings. While they are purported to repel insects, they also absorb a lot of water and a wet nest is just as deadly to nestlings as are too many mites, etc.
- Do NOT use green grass - it has too much moisture in it and it will mold & rot in the nest.

Recommended Materials:
- Eastern White Pine needles - they 'shed' water and don't absorb it.
- Corn fodder -  some landlords that live near corn fields have reported their martins using this for their nesting materials. It also sheds water
- Straw - use only dry straw

Here's a video I made this past weekend, while waiting for my purple martin arrivals:
An ASY male martin did arrive at my site on Saturday, March 7th. That purple dot right in the middle of the Mark Twain National Forest - that's me - in the picture below.  You can report your arrivals too, to the Purple Martin Scout Arrival Study linked here:

Get ready - the purple martins are coming!  If you're a new landlord this year, you still have about 4-6 weeks to get ready, so don't panic. Obviously, the sooner the better - you want to do it right the first time!