"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

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Dear Prairie - While You Were Sleeping

Winter is our time for burning, planning, planting and clearing even more areas to prepare them for the native plantings of forbes and grasses. With over 23 acres of soil available, we have an endless canvas where we can plant and then later, enjoy the summer blooming parties that result from so many varieties of plants.

Each fall, as all the trees are starting to shake off their summer leaves and the flowers are starting to make seeds, I start visiting the Hamilton Native Seed and Missouri Wildflowers websites and perusing their catalogs. This year, I found a new educational resource - I signed myself up for the Missouri Prairie Foundation's webinars via Zoom and yowza, are they fantastic! With Covid-19 lockdown and winter encroaching, now's the time for me to educate myself, read everything I can and discover new planting opportunities so we can provide more diversity in our native plantings. Thanks to MPF and Missouri Wildflowers, this year we decided to try something new - we now have over 40 new shrubs planted - wild hydrangea, ninebark, and witch hazel planted & hunkered down under leaf-mulch...waiting to spring their beautiful flowers on us this spring.

And thanks to Hamilton Seed and my own seed-gathering techniques (which consists of one step -  outrun the birds), I have over 4 oz. of a variety of coneflower seeds (at 7,000 seeds/oz., I'm pretty proud of myself!) and almost 1 full pound of my full-sun native wildflower mix too (see the hand-written labels on the bags in the picture below). These orders I make are my Christmas presents to myself...thousands of wildflower seeds. Thousands...maybe millions. Gazillions...all to be planted this winter.

This is another quarter-acre area that we cleared - where one bag of the above wildflower seeds has already been spread. And it's right outside my home-office window!
We've also started tackling the non-native Japanese honeysuckle. Ugggh, what a pain it is. Below is a picture of a sprout (probably Sumac) that finally gave up. The honeysuckle had wrapped itself so tightly around the trunk that it created these permanent twists in the trunk. Behold the strength and the impact of the non-native, for they are indeed impressive, but now, we need to rip it out.
I love winter, almost as much as I love fall. I can walk all the trails, even when covered with ice or snow and not be attacked by chiggers or ticks. It's a time when I can see everything from a different perspective. The ice-laden branches of the sandbar willows create their own beautiful reflections over the pond.

The cedar trees whine about the ice & cold as their branches droop, threatening to snap off, as the surrounding Sassafras and Ash trees stand tall and proud, bragging that their branches stand UP to such brutal weather, while simultaneously laughing at their sagging evergreen neighbors.

As I walked yesterday, I recalled the pictures I took this past summer and thought it would be fun to compare the summer versus winter pictures from the same perspective. Winter is part of their normal cycle - the plants take time to rest, the soil re-saturates from the rainfall & snow (measured in feet here in the fall, winter & spring), the ground heaves and contracts to absorb the seeds dropped by all the plants and the seeds that need it, as they are stratified, in preparation for growing a new plant in the spring. It is a time to shake off the past year, renew and change things - to try again to do better in the New Year.

The Sandbar willows on the pond:


Pond-winter 2021 


The Goldenrod and Indian Grass - Winter:


 The same patch this past August / September:

The West Trail around the pond, Winter:


The same West Trail, this past August / September:

   Part of the prairie, Winter:

The same part of the prairie was rioting this summer in June & July with coneflowers, prairie blazing start, Wild quinine, compass plant, etc.:

To some, this winter perspective may look like quite the dreary landscape. But for me, this landscape it quite exciting and holds a lot of secrets that will be revealed in the spring. 

Rest & renew, Dear Prairie. Bob and I have been busy this winter, so make sure you say, "Hello" to your new neighbors this Spring and let them know how much you love your happy home here on Gobbler's Knob.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Another Vision Becomes Reality

The *NEW* newest, savanna extension is almost ready for planting. For years, every time Bob and I walked past this grove of trees, we had the inevitable discussion; 'we should clear this area out and plant something better in there'. But we just never got around to it.  This year, we have been on a tear around Gobbler's Knob. Maybe it's because I haven't had to travel this year...or maybe it's because we want to focus on something else besides all the recent bullshit over which we have no control, outside our digs here on Gobbler's Knob. 

So, I donned my bib overalls, my favorite 14-year old Wolverine boots, charged up my chainsaw battery (what Bob calls, his "best purchase ever"!), and dove in to clearing out the non-beneficial and establishing the beneficial.

My little battery-powered chainsaw came in very handy to help defeat all the cedar trees. Bob took on the bigger persimmon sprouts, large limbs that were hanging too low and other hardwoods that needed to be thinned out. There are 6 large dogwood trees in here that we saved. We found the oldest multi-flora rose in the middle of it all that we've ever found here. It was so old & woody that we had to use a chainsaw on it.

It used to hurt my heart when we cleared areas like this, but after seeing how much more the wildlife uses these restored areas after we plant it, and how much better the uncrowded trees perform, I'm a believer. Have I mentioned how much I hate cedar trees?  Ha! We did leave a row of them on the north side of this clearing - for many reasons.

Before the clearing (facing north)

After the clearing (facing north). After some dragging around to fill in holes, this will be filled with River Oats & Wild hydrangea!

 Before the clearing (from the Viburnum / black haw grove side)

After the clearing (from the Viburnum / black haw grove side). The spread of the Viburnum was a little stalled on the north side due to all the rogue cedar trees in its way. Can't wait until it wakes up this spring - I'm expecting to hear, "YEEHAWWWW"!
(to avoid damaging any viburnum, I just crawled in and cut that cedar tree off to stop its growth and didn't drag it out). It cracks Bob up when I do stupid things like that, but I know he really appreciates me doing it, so he doesn't have to.

This is the new wildlife brush pile made with all the cedars and sprouts that came out of the area. My little chainsaw has earned a couple of days off.

The first 10 of the 30 Wild Hydrangeas that we purchased are in their permanent spots! I learned today that about 10 per day is all I'm going to be able to plant in this accursed Missouri soil. As I was bent over the last plant to mulch it, a Sharpie flew through the trees chasing a small woodpecker. I told Bob I think I recognized the 'beeping' the woodpecker was doing as it rushed into the nearby brush pile. HA!

    Sleep well, my beauties! (The tall Indian Grass in the background provides a lot of cover for the deer, quail and our resident coyote that hang out on the Northern Range of Gobbler's Knob)

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Gobbler's Knob: Our Very Grateful Beneficiaries

“If you are not filled with overflowing love, compassion and goodwill for all creatures living wild in nature, You will never know true happiness.”
Paul Oxton

I get great satisfaction from watching all the critters in the Fall as they zip around the fields and forest to gather seeds from all the native wildflower & grass plantings we've done here on Gobbler's Knob. Everyone's so eager to fatten up and/or gather their stores that they (mostly) ignore me as I run around with my video camera, excitedly documenting The Gatherers. 

Gazillions of seeds are consumed and gathered so quickly that I must sprint from plant to plant with scissors and a bucket if I expect to harvest any to spread in other areas during the winter. 

The goldfinches are absolute Jedi masters at extracting coneflower seeds from these prickly heads. If I didn't collect seeds each year and spread them on the ground myself, the coneflower plants would not spread very much since the goldfinches only leave one or two seeds on each head. 

I have managed to collect enough seeds this time that I have a nice jar filled with them (more in my next post about native wildflower plantings).


On the other hand, some of The Gatherers do leave some 'deposits' here too - some adventurous bird found some Rough Blazing Star seeds (Liatris aspera) and planted them in my field in the last couple of years. After removing the seeds from this stem I was so impressed with how pretty the base of the flowers were - resembling flowers themselves that I kept them. This is definitely one native wildflower that I want to see more of!



The Goldfinches also seem to know just the right time to raid the New England Asters. When I'm harvesting these seeds, I take the seed heads from every other plant, leaving plenty for the Goldfinches, since they treat the NE Asters like they're cake.

This year, the winter flock of goldfinches only leave the NE Asters momentarily, when I open the front door. See the video below.

After removing over 70 feral cats from our property over the last 13 years, at long last, we have finally spotted a new resident here. We named him Charlie and he's a hoot. He now resides in the ravine / plum orchard area and we think he may be dating a female we just found in the North woods.

Meet Charlie the Chipmunk

Bob's covey of quail have been more visible lately too as they wander near the house, looking for food. Earlier this year there were 24 in one covey. Not sure if they split up or some have been lost to predators, but we counted 14 in this covey when it wandered across the yard last week. It's a wonder that these birds aren't extinct as they do not seem to be very smart and are not very predator-savvy. There was a Red Tail hawk stalking & hunting the field about 100 yards south of where they emerged here in my backyard. I've actually had them walk down the driveway in front of me - out in the wide open gravel, just toodling along as if not a care in the world. Silly birds. 

This particular covey appears to have a special taste for Dallas grass seeds.

Speaking of Red Tail hawks, it appears that this one was going after some kind of prey and found itself so hung up in my neighbor's barbed wire fence that it could not free itself. I almost didn't post this video, because it is heart breaking for me to film it, render it, upload it to YouTube, then put it in this post which results in me having to watch it over & over again. But, if it helps to inform people to at least be on the lookout for such events and potentially save a hawk or owl, then it is worth it to share it. 

I understand the need for this fencing - in this case, to keep the neighbor's cattle from tromping around my native prairie, but I wish the strands were more bird-friendly. It was a very sad sight and my heart sank to see this beautiful bird and realize it had died here - probably a slow death from starvation. If there's any good news to this story, it's that this is the only hawk I've seen entangled on this fence since we moved here in 2007. The bad news is there are a lot more Red Tails hunting here than I've ever seen before. I'm not sure whether I should leave it there - to let the predators have it / or pull it off and bury it. Knowing it is there beside the trail now makes my heart break over & over as I pass it by.

On to the living. Another grateful beneficiary of all the prey here is a Barred Owl that seems to appear here very late in the Fall, sometimes sometimes staying through winter. The first time we noticed this Barred owl was in 2018, when we saw her perched on a nestbox pole, then got a closeup when Nikki flushed her out of the underbrush one day.  (see story here:  https://kathyfreeze.blogspot.com/2018/02/all-hail-predators-of-winter.html). 

Yesterday, as Bob and I walked our trail we heard the crows harassing the owl. They were loud & persistent and as we watched, they flushed the barred owl out of hiding and down the ravine, where there are lots of Eastern red cedar trees where she can hide. We traipsed back & forth with my video camera trying to get a glimpse and after 15 minutes, I finally spotted the poor, harassed bird trying to hide. I laughed when I was able to better view this video on my computer - my view finder was blurry, but I didn't dare take the camera off the owl to try to refocus the screen so I could see better. The owl seemed more concerned about Bob and I than she did the 15 or so crows that were harassing her. If we ever want to know where the owls are hanging out during the day, we only need go outside & listen for a moment.

Watch "The Chase" in the video below (ignore the date stamp on the first part of video - it was from the GoPro - and we haven't fixed it yet).


Saturday, November 14, 2020

Living the Quarantine Life on Gobbler's Knob

With the final mass gourd cleanup completed and 2 coats of Pig Snot (my favorite car / motorcycle wax) applied to my predator baffles (which makes them super-slick!), I can now say that the Purple Martin Season of 2020 is officially closed. 

We had a great Purple Martin year - 80 pair with over 305 young fledged. This year, everything seemed to get started about 2-3 weeks later than usual. On average in past years, we would normally only have  2-3 pair still trying to fledge their young around the first or second week of August. This year however, I still had around 25 pair up until August 18th. A very late season. 

We had 4 confirmed kills by the Great Horned Owl - a 75% decrease over the last 6 years and that is definitely something I can live with. Last Fall, we opened up the East field even more by cutting down a few Eastern red cedar trees, and it worked - the hawk attacks were also greatly reduced. I was so relieved this year to have fewer successful attacks. While the trees were well over 150' away from the colony, in the prior years, the speedy little Sharpie and the Cooper's hawks had learned to use the trees for cover on their approach to the colony.  

With a lot less stress this year from hawks & owls, it was much more fun to watch the martins fledge their young - they haven't a clue about Covid-19 and what the world is suffering through right now. But they do have their own worries - owls, hawks, bug supply, and climate change, just to name a few.

Bob and I notice that when my purple martins are here, along with the nesting bluebirds, tree swallows, chickadees, tufted titmice and others, we hardly ever see any bugs flying through the yard. The birds seem to keep the population of flying insects very controlled.

It is only after the nesting season ends and the purple martins have left for Brazil that I start to see more bugs around my yard again. Thousands of dragonflies appear, the Pennsylvania Leatherwings cover the Bidens and multiple wasp species descend on the Goldenrod. 

Check out the video below, taken A view into some of the September & October bugs:

After all the other native wildflowers have gone to seed, the New England Asters, goldenrod (did you know that Missouri has over 23 species of goldenrod?) and bidens bloom & continue to provide food for the bees:

And the fields light up with a sea of yellow and purple flowers. Yes, life is good here on Gobbler's Knob.
Pennsylvania Leatherwings on Missouri Bidens

Bumblebee with filled pollen basket on Goldenrod

A Wasp party on Goldenrod

Bidens, Indian grass, Goldenrod and Pickerel weed provide cover and food for insects, quail and all the other wildlife that choose to live on Gobbler's Knob.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Purple Martins: Winnowing-Natural and Unnatural

This Guest post was written by my good friend in Corpus Christi, Mr. John Barrow - purple martin landlord expert and all-around good-guy-extraordinaire. Thanks for sharing, John!
Winnowing Definition: (referring to a group of things, people, animals) to reduce something's size by separating the ones that are useful or relevant from the ones that are not. 
           I have been contemplating the effects of the post-fledge natural winnowing process on a colony this season and, I am becoming convinced that a great deal (or majority) of hatch year (HY) loss occurs in the week or two after fledging occurs.

          At my colony we had moderate drought in 2008, severe drought in 2009, and a banner year in 2010. In 2008 we had numerous jumpers--at one point we were rehabbing a dozen nestlings. In 2009, we had severe brood reduction due to weather related events--nearly all in the nature of fewer eggs produced; many that were not incubated. I recall we had only one jumper, but had 62 nest starts from 45 pairs. This year (2010) we had laying and incubation of large clutches of eggs, with only one jumper that was returned to fledge.

          Fledging each year, occurred in most cases over several days. That scenario, which is probably typical, results in separation of the family unit as adults take their new fledges to a presumably safe location and, starting individually, teach them to find and catch food. Prior to fledging adults have already reduced feeding of nestlings to encourage fledging, and as the post-fledging training occurs, those left in the nest lose weight, often to critical levels. This is what, in most instances absent mites, etc., I believe, causes jumpers. Not an easy problem to deal with. You can stuff the jumper with food and stick it back in the compartment you believe it belongs in. But that doesn't increase the feeding by its parents. These late fledges are really in a battle against time to get out of the nest, fly capably, and remain with their family group, in order to survive.
           Add to this other typical behavior like the adults returning to the cavities with newly fledged young--a form of post fledging memory stamping--and the ensuing confusion as these newly fledged young are attacked, chased and threatened when trying to reenter what is often someone else's turf, you almost certainly have more family unit separation and confusion.

          There has been little study done of the effects of this post fledge winnowing period, and I suspect study would be difficult and for the most part subjective. But it is something I have been reflecting on. Did my adult pairs of martins that fledged 3 young/per pair in 2009, and were probably better equipped to train that lesser number and keep the family unit intact, have a substantially lesser effect on the overall population, then those pairs in 2010 that fledged 6 or 7 per nest; but, that had more difficulty in training the individual fledges, locating and preserving a safe and secure locale for staging that provided a reliable food source; and finally, in keeping the entire family unit intact for the requisite training period to allow the young to become independent? I think there are signals that the overall population fluctuation of a certain area in a good year, may not be significantly different than in a marginal year.

          What does it matter? Assuming there are substantial losses during this post fledging period, what can be done to reduce it? Winnowing in this light is defined as reducing the number of birds in a species until only the best ones are left. It is natural selection at its purest.

          It is not maintaining a colony so large that it becomes a magnet for predators, not only endangering adults during the nesting process, but more so, becoming an attack zone for recently fledged hatch year birds whose survival is dependent on their having a safe and secure training area to learn basic survival skills as part of a family unit. It is not offering housing that serves to maximize the confusion of family units returning to housing as part of post fledging memory stamping at the colony, be it housing that is too closely configured, or stacked row on top of row; it is not building a colony of the size or in an area beyond the capacity of the immediate food supply.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Won't You Be My Neighbor

Today was one of those days where it seemed like all the stars aligned and all the forces in the universe came together to make everything just perfect with hardly any effort at all. As David Gray, put it in the song, Babylon, "Saturday I'm running wild, and all the lights are changin' red to green." That was my day. 
My purple martins have had a rough week - the rain and cold weather have not been optimal for them to find insects. Along with all the sub-adult arrivals the last few days, the adult males have also had to fight off the teenagers trying to run-away with their females. But, we made it through the worst of the weather, only losing 1 adult male. Today they woke up to a warm, foggy, misty morning and somehow they knew it was going to be a good day to find insects, so while waiting for the weather to clear, they hung out on the racks getting acquainted with some of their new neighbors.
So far, we've had 9 peaceful nights with no Great Horned Owl appearances. We're not missing her at all and today I celebrated our brief reprieve.

While it was warm out, I decided to check on the honeybee swarm that I captured 7 days ago. To my surprise, they had already built comb in about 1/3rd of each of 8 frames. All that work completed in only 7 days. Filled with nectar and pollen, I was mesmerized with the beautiful white comb and the perfect hexagon shapes. I could watch the building of the combs all day long. I've been pretty happy to find this swam seems to be reasonably gentle so far - they're turning out to be good neighbors.
With all the rain we've had, I was thrilled when I noticed all the new milkweed in the bed where we had kept the potted milkweed plants a couple of years ago before moving them out into the fields.  Over 50 new common milkweed plants have sprouted from the broken rhizomes when we pulled the pots out, a few asters and 8 new butterfly milkweeds. Unexpected neighbors, shouldering their way through the mulch and reaching for the hidden sun today. I learned a couple of years ago that common milkweed really likes moist areas and butterfly milkweed prefers dry feet, so if it keeps raining, I'm not sure the butterfly weed will make it here.

But the best surprise of the day came when I noticed a female bluebird going into a nestbox that has been paired with a tree swallow box for the last 2 years and never had any occupants.
I currently have 14 nestboxes for other birds here as well - some of which I've setup with the slotted entrances so the tree swallows can enter them, but the slot keeps the English House sparrow out. Unfortunately, it also keeps the bluebirds out, so I have round hole boxes for them set around the property as well.
When I discovered in Jan. 2018 that this Barred Owl was using this bluebird box on my trail as a lunch & go, I decided to move the box to the field, away from the forest and pair it up with a tree swallow box.

I had heard it would work but wasn't confident of that, since I had witnessed the ferocious battles between the tree swallows and bluebirds in my yard before.
But today, on my perfect day, guess what I found? The tree swallows had 4 little white eggs in their own little nestbox, reserved special just for them and a bluebird pair had moved into the paired nestbox that faces the opposite way and they have 5 eggs. Finally, after 2 years!

What were the odds that everything would come together in such perfect harmony today?
I'm sure we'll eventually see my GHO, we'll have to deal with the evil little flies that kill monarch caterpillars, we'll have to keep watch for varroa mites and English House sparrows.
But today, there was peace & harmony on Gobbler's Knob.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Predator Guards: A Story of Love and Betrayal

Per the PMCA, pole-mounted predator guards are an important part of being a conscientious and successful landlord, yet at the beginning of each Purple Martin season, as sure as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, the inevitable debates regarding whether landlords should use predator guards or not begin on the multiple online forums. Yet, I have never met a purple martin landlord that wanted to set up purple martin housing so they could offer 'free food' to a raccoon or a snake.
Screenshot taken from video by Dan Pancamo (Full video linked below). The bulge in the snake's head is from the first 8-day old nestling he just consumed.

So many Purple Martins are lost each year to snake and raccoon attacks. It makes me sad every season to read about the losses - sad for the landlords who worked so hard to attract them, sad for the purple martins who died needlessly, and even more sad for the loss of what could have been a productive site contributing to the overall population and well-being of the species. We need MORE purple landlords hosting these magnificent birds - but not just throwing up a pole and a house / gourds and ignoring it, because, that's where the predators will take advantage.  What we need are MORE purple landlords that know how to make their sites safe AND productive - the very pleasant side effect of that is the landlord has an even more enjoyable season.

After all, who wants to pull a snake out of their purple martin housing, or clean up the blood & mess after a raccoon attack? That's not 'enjoyable' to me. Who wants the stress of not knowing whether the surviving martins will return in the next season?
A landlord removed the predator guards for one night and found this snake in the cavity the next morning - full of 3 nestlings.

Many experienced landlords are well aware that after a predator attack, the surviving martins may never return - in fact, many sites remain empty for years afterward. People don't go out and buy chickens & ducks and then not protect them from the resident coyotes, raccoons & owls, so why are our purple martins - a resource that is so much more precious - treated as expendable?
A fourth nestling was found on the porch and had been squeezed to death by the same snake in the picture above.
The impact of a predator attack is well documented by the PMCA and by landlords who have experienced the regrettable losses firsthand - they will be the first people to tell you - "Don't let it happen to you".  Check out the link below to see what is the number ONE reason for why people lose their martins.
See the PMCA page: Twelve Reasons Why People Lose Their Purple Martins
By the time the martins get here, they have already had to deal with a multitude of obstacles and aerial predators. The PMCA estimates 50-60% of purple martins are lost during migration both to and from Brazil.  With such challenges and losses already, it becomes even more critical to protect them when they get here. I am a firm believer that we should NOT create a free 'all-you-can-eat buffet' for any predator by giving them free reign and unhindered access to our nesting sites.

The Basics- Recommended Predator Guards (from the PMCA): 

Pole Guards—Also called predator baffles, pole guards are cylindrical or conical in shape and help prevent raccoons or snakes from climbing up the pole.  No matter if your pole is 12 or 20 ft tall, round or square, metal or wood, it can easily be climbed by snakes or raccoons.  Pole guards are commercially available (PMCA recommends a quick release pole guard for ease of use) or you can make your own. Per the PMCA, they should be installed at least 4 ft above the ground (higher if possible), 8 inches in diameter, and 2 ft long.

Netting—For those in areas with large snakes 1/2 - 3/4" bird netting can be used as a secondary line of defense.  Netting should be placed above the predator baffle in puffy layers, ensuring there is no space for the snake to climb between the netting and pole, or over the netting. 
Electric Fence Guards -  If you have an electrical outlet nearby, or can connect to a fence charger, this is a great way to protect your poles from any climbing critters. The only drawback to this method is, unless you have your fencing also plugged into a backup power source, then a power outage would leave your poles open to a predator attack. Even a fence charger can fail though, so backup guards are still needed, in form of baffle and netting.

Predator Baffle w/ Netting - Materials & Mounting:

The combination of a cylinder / pole guard with the netting mounted above the guard will predator-proof your poles and protect your nesting martins.
You can purchase a 'quick release' predator baffle here: https://www.purplemartin.org/shop/

...or you can make your own.  Here's a link on how to make your own predator baffle / cylinder guard: https://www.purplemartin.org/uploads/media/8-2-predatorbaffles-496.pdf
**Note: A good coat of Carnuba car wax helps prevent your metal baffle from weathering and helps keep it smooth & slick so a predator cannot grasp it and bypass it. 
(See the bottom of this post for my DIY ideas for predator baffles).

For mounting my netting above my predator baffle, I use the following materials. 
My 'frame' to hold the netting - a piece of fencing - cut so that there are 'arms (wires)' to support the netting and hold it out
approx. 8" from the pole.
The top of my predator baffle is mounted up as high as I can comfortably reach. I then set the netting frame on top of the baffle and zip tie it together around the post. I can then just cut the zip ties and lower the system for nest checks later, then re-secure the frame with new zip ties.
The netting is approx 3/4" (you can use both 1/2" or 3/4") mesh layered & 'poofed' out and hooked on the wire frame hooks. The netting is available at Lowe's, Walmart, etc. Here's a direct link if you want to order from Walmart: https://www.walmart.com/ip/Easy-Gardener-604-7-x-20-Bird-X-Protective-Netting-For-Fruits-Vege/21945377

Electric Fence Guards: Some landlords prefer this method and if you know anything about electricity, then this is the absolute best way to go. You'll want something insulating your pole to ensure your pole itself is not electrified. The landlord below uses a four-foot tall piece of PVC pipe around his pole, then wraps that with approximately 24" tall hardware cloth. The hardware cloth is then attached to the 'live' wire. The few inches open at the bottom are left in case a bird comes in contact with the pole, he / she won't be electrocuted.

Photo provided by Malcolm Stephens, an experienced landlord who takes the protection of his very large purple martin colony very seriously.
You can either purchase a solar-powered fence charger or buy one such as the one below and enclose it in a weather-proof container.
Photo provided by Malcolm Stephens, an experienced landlord who takes the protection of his very large purple martin colony very seriously.
I am not an expert in this area, so if you'd like to try this method, you can either: Login to either of the most popular Facebook Purple Martin Forums (Purple Martin Fanatics or the Purple Martin Conservation Association) and ask for assistance with setting this up, or if you don't have Facebook, send me an email at purplemartin@centurytel.net and I will put you in contact with an expert who can advise you.

Snakes - Large & Small

Friends have shared their pictures with me of successful 'captures' of the snakes that never made it into their housing:
Snake ID: Texas Rat Snake

To remove any captured snake, hold the snake by the head while wearing heavy gloves and use scissors to cut the netting away from the body.  Snakes should be removed unharmed and released a few miles away from the colony.  Netting does not prevent raccoons from climbing the pole and should always be used along with a baffle.  Netting is a trap, rather than a guard and like all traps it needs to be closely monitored to ensure that any species caught by the trap are removed and released unharmed. **PLEASE NOTE: we should value our native predators and NOT kill them - they serve a purpose in our environment.
Snake ID: Texas Rat Snake

Don't let anyone tell you a snake cannot climb a pole - there are multiple recorded events showing they really can.

Photo provided by Greg Ballard - a southern purple martin landlord, where the rat snakes are HUGE!
Purple martins are at their most vulnerable when sleeping inside their nest cavities at night and have very little chance of escaping if a wily racoon or a snake comes calling.

From the PMCA: Once a snake has digested its meal and left, there are no signs that a predator has visited a site, other than missing eggs and birds.

 The next video is hard to watch (spoiler alert - the female, thankfully, escapes). But, I can't imagine putting my purple martins through this kind of terror. (Video credit: Dan Pancamo)

A landlord removed his predator guard for only ONE NIGHT. The snake in the picture below took advantage and wiped out all 4 nestlings overnight by eating 3 of them and the 4th was found dead on the house porch. How would you like to open a nest compartment and see THAT staring you in the face?
Snake ID: Texas Rat Snake
Snake ID: Black Rat Snake (Missouri)

A new landlord here in Missouri added the netting to her pole right after her first 2 purple martins arrived at her colony. She really didn't think anything would go after only 2 birds, but a few days after mounting the netting, she caught this snake before it destroyed what would have been her first and only pair of nesting purple martins.

The "Other" Ground Predator  - Raccoons

Raccoons can be found natively throughout most of the US and Canada, as well as in parts of Latin America, from Mexico extending down to the northernmost regions of South America. 
Raccoons are agile climbers, handling both wood and metal poles easily. Signs of a raccoon attack are finding severed martin wings on the ground, blood, fur and feathers on the martin housing and ground, and claw marks on wooden poles. Nesting material maybe hanging from entrance holes and doors may be pulled off.  
A landlord reported that nesting material had been torn out of each nesting cavity on this Trendsetter house. The torn-off wings and feathers were left on top of the house - a classic indication of a raccoon attack.
Feathers and a bent owl guard were clear signs of a raccoon attack.

Landlord Testimonial (northern Missouri): We left for a 4-day weekend and when we returned all three of our gourd racks (72 gourds) were totally empty. It was only early June (too early for the martins to have left already), so we knew something was wrong. After talking with Kathy and then lowering the housing and viewing the ground below the racks, we discovered that a local raccoon family had likely raided our gourd racks over the weekend. It was a bloody slaughter - feathers and torn off wings on the ground beneath the racks. We had seen the family of 5 raccoons in our nearby woods, but we did not have guards on our poles since we had no idea they (raccoons) could climb the poles.
**Note: It has been over 3 years since this attack, and no purple martins have returned to this site.

I always have at least 4 or 5 raccoons in a family here on Gobbler's Knob too. Last year, while monitoring my housing with a security camera to see what my resident Great Horned Owl was up to, I caught one of the raccoons on camera as he waddled across my yard and tested each guard to see if he could ascend and have a meal of purple martins. (He's hard to see, but click on the YouTube link after you hover over the video, then enlarge it - he enters from the left - watch for the movement).
With a decline in the number of landlords across the country offering housing, it becomes imperative that we offer safe housing to the birds we host. And, for the new landlords that are attracted to this hobby, it's really the responsibility of the experienced landlords to teach and help them provide safe housing. Really. It's not that hard, and with all the experienced landlords on the various forums, help is at your fingertips.

Our purple martins exhibit a lot of trust & faith in us by returning to our sites. It's up to us to not betray that trust by providing them with the needed protection.

A very special thanks to Louise Chambers for her most patient help with editing and providing some very helpful guidance in writing this post.

For more help dealing with aerial predators, you can access this link on my blog:

More links for DIY guards: