What happened to the martins in North Richland Hills, TX?

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Jim Rockford
Posts: 78
Joined: Sun Mar 19, 2006 12:35 pm
Location: Texas/North Richland Hills

Hi all,

I'm in North Richland Hills, TX, about 15 mi. NE of Ft. Worth. I'm pretty sure there are several who frequent this forum who live in the vicinity. My question is what happened to the martins around here? Does anyone have any idea?

The martins abandoned my setup about 5-6 years ago and I've seen very few of them around here since. When I started this hobby in 2005, I never seemed to have any trouble attracting a few, and I always saw many martins flying around the ponds in a nearby park foraging for insects. For the last few years, I've seen none. I spruced up my setup this year in hopes of attracting a couple. I saw two pairs on March 4. They left and didn't come back. Then I saw another pair about two weeks ago and they came back the next week, but they're now gone too. I'll leave my house and gourds set up and ready until the end of the month. Last year I ultimately attracted a pair of bluebirds, and a couple babies fledged.

Interestingly, perhaps, I haven't seen a HOSP or a European Starling around here for years either!

There is a local guy who runs a retail store nearby who was a martineer for years. I was chatting him up a couple years ago it turns out, whereas he used to attract many martins himself, he doesn't see any anymore either. He reckons that they left because some peregrine falcons took up residence near his house.

In the last couple years, I've noticed raptors soaring above my house and wondered if they might be peregrines. I'm not expert, but I've watched them for a couple years and I think they're they're Mississippi Kites. I see 2-4 of them soaring above most days in the summer.

We've always had a few sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks in the area, even when I was attracting martins.

Has anyone in my area had any luck attracting martins in recent years? I'm really curious what might have happened.

Thanks for any help.
Bird Brain
Posts: 151
Joined: Wed Feb 10, 2016 9:22 am
Location: Highland Village, TX
Martin Colony History: 2017-nothing
2018-1 visitor
2019-nothing
2020-the most visitors/activity by far after making many site improvements. Unsuccessful SY Male visited for 2 weeks.

I don't think Mississippi Kites could catch a martin, unless the martin is totally not paying attention. Kites strike from the air just like Red Tail Hawks. Air strikes aren't as successful against Martins because they can see it coming and have plenty of time to react. The Cooper is successful at attacking martins because he strikes from a close tree. The martins have very little time to react. I live minutes from you. I've never seen a sharp-shinned or peregrine around here. My guess is that you live in an older neighborhood where the trees planted decades ago have matured and become very tall. Martins sometimes avoid entire neighborhoods if they become heavily wooded with tall, mature trees. I live in a similar neighborhood. North Richland Hills is not as "open prairie" as it used to be. Many parts of North Richland Hills have become heavily wooded with tall, mature trees. Even if your yard is wide open, the heavily wooded neighborhood around you can reduce your chances of martin occupation. The local terrain of NRH may have been conducive to breeding martins years ago. Now, it no longer is. You are not alone. Many who live in older neighborhoods are in similar situations. You might try a bat house. I've had major success with bats. They love older neighborhoods. Bats are enjoyable to watch but they aren't as much fun as martins. It's all I can attract so far. Hope this helps.
Every time I kill a house sparrow, I make the world a better place.
Louise Chambers
Site Admin
Posts: 6208
Joined: Tue Nov 04, 2003 1:07 pm
Location: Corpus Christi, TX

Peregrine falcons don't nest in most of Texas - here is range map link: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Per ... maps-range Some winter in Texas but leave to nest much further north, ditto sharp-shinned hawks. Cooper's Hawks do nest in much of Texas - but a question for you about your site. How many pairs of martins nested with you, for about how many years? Did you do nest checks, and do you have a predator guard on your pole(s)? How many pairs could your site host (how many rooms and/or gourds)?
M.Stephens
Posts: 1130
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 3:14 pm
Location: Texas/Texarkana

Sounds like predators wiped you out.
Malcolm
2015 (110 nesting pair)
2014 (92 nesting pair)
2013 (75 nesting pair)
2012 (35 nesting pair)
2011 (20 pair)
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Jim Rockford
Posts: 78
Joined: Sun Mar 19, 2006 12:35 pm
Location: Texas/North Richland Hills

Bird Brain wrote:
Thu Apr 09, 2020 6:22 pm
I don't think Mississippi Kites could catch a martin, unless the martin is totally not paying attention. Kites strike from the air just like Red Tail Hawks. Air strikes aren't as successful against Martins because they can see it coming and have plenty of time to react. The Cooper is successful at attacking martins because he strikes from a close tree. The martins have very little time to react. I live minutes from you. I've never seen a sharp-shinned or peregrine around here. My guess is that you live in an older neighborhood where the trees planted decades ago have matured and become very tall. Martins sometimes avoid entire neighborhoods if they become heavily wooded with tall, mature trees. I live in a similar neighborhood. North Richland Hills is not as "open prairie" as it used to be. Many parts of North Richland Hills have become heavily wooded with tall, mature trees. Even if your yard is wide open, the heavily wooded neighborhood around you can reduce your chances of martin occupation. The local terrain of NRH may have been conducive to breeding martins years ago. Now, it no longer is. You are not alone. Many who live in older neighborhoods are in similar situations. You might try a bat house. I've had major success with bats. They love older neighborhoods. Bats are enjoyable to watch but they aren't as much fun as martins. It's all I can attract so far. Hope this helps.
Thank you for your response.

If you're in Highland Village, you're 40 miles from me. That's a "furr piece", I'd say. :grin:

I don't mean to suggest that the kites are the problem, just that their presence is about the only thing I've noticed that's changed in the wake of the disappearance of the martins around my place.

My neighborhood is about 20 years old. It's really more open around our house now than it was when I was attracting martins. (Two neighbors cleared out several trees in the last few years.) The nearest tree now from my setup is about 50 feet away. When I was attracting martins, the nearest tree was about 20 feet away. It is definitely not heavily wooded around here. But I take your point. Maybe this neighborhood has just become undesirable martin habitat. I'm hoping someone from nearby will tell me they they are or are not attracting martins.
Louise Chambers wrote: Peregrine falcons don't nest in most of Texas - here is range map link: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Per ... maps-range Some winter in Texas but leave to nest much further north, ditto sharp-shinned hawks. Cooper's Hawks do nest in much of Texas - but a question for you about your site. How many pairs of martins nested with you, for about how many years? Did you do nest checks, and do you have a predator guard on your pole(s)? How many pairs could your site host (how many rooms and/or gourds)?
Thank you for your response, Louise. I don't think I have peregrines around here; I'm pretty sure I have Mississippi kites. (The shop owner I chatted up suggested peregrines, but the larger point is that he has no more martins either, after attracting them for several years. He's in Colleyville, which is nearby -- much closer than Bird Brain in Highland Village.)

The kites weren't around when I was attracting martins, but, as I said above, I can't say that they're responsible for my dry spell. I've always had sharp-shinned and/or Cooper's hawks (I can't tell the difference when there's only one hawk.) When I started in 2005, I had 3 pairs of martins. For about 5 years, I had anywhere from 2 to 5 pairs of martins each year. Many young fledged, I had the usual problems with sparrows and starlings, but, generally, I had decent luck. No predators. I have a Trio "Grandpa" with 12 rooms. I keep 6 of them open and close the rest. I also have two "Big Bo" gourds attached to the Grandpa. I did nest checks regularly while I had martins. I have not used predator guards, but I had no problems with predators except for the last year I had martins -- I had 5 pairs that year -- when I had a rat snake visit my set up. That snake didn't show up, however, until early July, after my martins fledged. The snake ran off a couple sparrows, and I enjoyed that.

I'm quite willing to accept that it's my poor land-lording that's caused my dry spell, but I can say my approach to land-lording hasn't changed throughout my experience. I can also say that, whereas my wife and I would routinely see many martins feeding around our local park, we see virtually none anymore, and their disappearance from the park has nothing to do with my land-lording skills.
Sounds like predators wiped you out.
Thank you for your response, M. Stephens.

I have to have martins before they can be predated, right? :) I haven't attracted any for at least 6 years, and they've all but disappeared from the local park, which is only 2 blocks from my house. Now, if you're saying the kites are getting them or chasing them away before they can even set up a nest, then perhaps that's what's going on.

Thanks again for all the responses.
Jim Rockford
Posts: 78
Joined: Sun Mar 19, 2006 12:35 pm
Location: Texas/North Richland Hills

Well, I was hopeful that I'd hear from others in my area, but I haven't, so I thought I'd close the book on this thread, and on another disappointing year of zero martins for me.

As I described earlier, I had a few pairs of ASY martins investigate my setup for a few days in the early March time frame. They showed a decent amount of interest, but eventually went elsewhere. There was no nest building activity from them. Later on in the season, in the late April/early May time frame, I had a few SY birds visit, look around for a few days, and leave. Again, there was no nest building activity from them either. I've seen no martins at the nearby park, which includes two ponds.

A couple days ago, I converted my Trio Grandpa into a sparrow trap and took down the Big Bo gourds. I've eliminated 5 sparrows in two days, so there's that. :P

There are routinely 2-4 Mississippi Kites (I'm pretty sure that's what they are) patrolling the skies above my house.

I guess I have to conclude that my area has become poor habitat for martins over the last several years. I don't think it's more heavily wooded than it was when I started. It's still pretty open around here. My setup is the same one that attracted numerous martins for years. That said, I guess either there is better martin habitat; e.g., better housing setups, nearby or perhaps more or more dangerous predators have set up shop here in recent years.

I will try again next year!
Whippy
Posts: 598
Joined: Thu Jan 19, 2017 11:15 pm
Location: Plano, Texas
Martin Colony History: 2016 - late to put up, many visitors
2017 - 1 pair, 3 fledged
2018- 2 pair, 12 fledged
2019 - 4 pair, 21 fledged
2020 - 15 pair, 67 fledged

I have 3 Mississippi Kites in my area and have not witnessed any aggression from them towards the Martins. Being a bit concerned when I first noticed their presence in my airspace a did a little research and what I found set me at ease a bit.

Feeding Behavior

Catches many large flying insects high in the air in graceful maneuvers, often then holding these in one foot and eating them while soaring. Also skims low to catch prey on or near the ground. Sometimes flies out from a perch to catch passing insects. Pursues bats and flying birds (such as swallows and swifts) in the air. Sometimes catches insects that have been flushed from the grass by herds of grazing animals or by fire. Also scavenges road-killed animals at times (this may account for occasional large rodents or turtles in diet).

Diet

Mostly large insects. Major items in diet include cicadas, grasshoppers, katydids, beetles, and dragonflies; also eats moths, bees, and other insects, mainly large ones. In addition, eats lesser numbers of frogs, toads, snakes, bats, rodents, small birds, turtles.


https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bir ... sippi-kite

Event hough they do eat small birds I believe the population of large insects in the area is big enough to make feeding a bit easier than chasing a Martin. My Martins hardly pay them any attention.

Just thought I'd add those details to the conversation.

Coolwhips
Jim Rockford
Posts: 78
Joined: Sun Mar 19, 2006 12:35 pm
Location: Texas/North Richland Hills

Thanks Coolwhips.

As I said earlier, I'm not absolutely sure the birds I'm seeing are Mississippi Kites. They are certainly raptors of some kind. They spend their time soaring, often quite high, and infrequently go into steep dives. Louise advises above that they're probably not falcons. They stay far enough away from me and my field glasses that I don't get a good look at them, but their heads are definitely light colored. I'm nowhere near quick enough or skilled enough with a camera to photograph them. Unlike hawks, I've never seen them land anywhere. They're not vultures, either. I know them well.

It sounds like, from your research, if they are Mississippi Kites, they're not responsible for keeping martins away from me. Then, either they're not kites and are driving the martins away, or my site is no longer good martin habitat because better housing is available nearby or the "lay of the land" is no longer preferred for them. There are definitely martins around here, though. They just don't want my site.
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