Anyone have an explanation?!

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Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Jul 30, 2020 9:24 am
Location: Thomasville, PA

This was our fourth year hosting these delightful birds. They come rather late to our area -- other local landlords have tenants by the end of March, and ours don't show up until mid-May. We're a small colony -- we have eight gourds and have had only one or two families fledge young ones each year, but it's still so exciting for us! This year, however, was awful! That's the nature of my question to anyone out there. End of May, our birds were back nesting fast and furiously. We had two eggs in #3 and five eggs in #5! Someone (yes, it was indeed a martin) made a lovely nest in #1 but no eggs appeared. Mid-June, during a weekly nest check, we discovered only one egg in #3, and that one was pecked. No sign of the other one, in the net or anywhere on the ground. All five in #5 were still intact. Because it seemed that there was reduced activity in and out, I took one of the green leaves already in the nest area and placed it on top of the eggs to see if it would be moved. The following week, however, we noticed that we had virtually no activity at the colony -- we waited outside until 8:30 in the evenings, but no one came home. Another nest check revealed the green leaf in #5 still in the same place, one pecked egg, and no one had been in or out for days. We emptied all the gourds, and no one's been back. We are so disappointed!! Does anyone have any ideas as to what might have happened? A local landlord friend said only, "It's been a weird year!" -- which I can believe, as I found three dead bluebird babies in a bird box (the poor fourth one was trying to stay away from them), and a house wren had two "dud" eggs in her nest. No explanation for either of those situations...
And should we leave our gourds up for any possible migrating birds to use as a stopover? We normally take the gourds and pole down for the "off season."
Thanks to anyone for any insights or similar experiences.
Posts: 2126
Joined: Mon Apr 10, 2006 6:07 pm
Location: PA/Avis
Martin Colony History: The 1972 St. Agnes flood wiped out all the Martins in my area. One day, in 1997-98, 5 or 6 Martins landed on the power wires crossing my back yard. I had no house for them. They kept coming back day after day. We got a martin house a few weeks later & they have been coming back every year since. I average 12-15 pair per year.

I'd guess possible predator. Do you have snake nets, owl guards, SREH? Pecked eggs sound like HS got in. Abandoned nests could be any of those or the female got killed by a hawk. I had a nest of 4 eggs, female was SY male ASY. She went missing while off feeding, so I assume a hawk got her.

Are your martins ASY or SY? Normally male ASY arrive early April to mid April & SY's come later.

Some SY females tend to drop eggs in several nests. They may lay eggs, then decide they don't like the male & leave. It's hard to say what happened.

Wet nests can be a major problem too. If your area was lucky enough to get rain the bluebird nests could have gotten wet, which would have been the cause of those chicks dying. If the nests were dry, another option could be lack of food in your area. Many chicks look healthy, but they end up dying, no idea why.

I would let your gourds up until late September early October. I often get stop overs during migration.

Toy in PA
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Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Jul 30, 2020 9:24 am
Location: Thomasville, PA

Thanks, ToyinPA, for responding with good questions, information, and suggestions. The gourds have SREHs, yes, but not nets or guards. And I’m not that advanced at identifying the various stages or ages of martins that I see, so I don't really know if the birds we saw were ASY or SY. We did have a persistent house sparrow give us a bit of unwanted drama this year, so I suppose the pecked eggs could have been that rascal's work. Grrrr...

As for the bluebird nest, no, it wasn’t wet, so who knows. And I like to think that I garden for wildlife (meaning no spraying or pesticides, plenty of wild areas, lots of flowers, lots of bugs), so I would hope the chicks didn’t starve. Some things we just can't know, I suppose.

Thanks again for your response. I look forward to reading others' stories and suggestions in this forum. So glad I found it!
Posts: 614
Joined: Thu Jan 19, 2017 11:15 pm
Location: Plano, Texas
Martin Colony History: See Signature


That house sparrow could be the culprit of all your problems. They are sneaky and mean. You may have seen it around a few times but, when you're not paying attention or unable to watch the colony, he'll be in there fighting with the Martins, breaking their eggs and killing young. They are very very territorial.

If you have been trying to run it off, he will sit off in the distance and wait for you to leave the yard before returning to the colony.

I'm not saying that's 100% of your problem but pecked eggs and Martins not returning lead me to believe that's a good possibility.

House sparrows, as you know, are invasive species and must be removed from your colony and surrounding area.

That's my $0.02

Good luck to you.

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
Mike Mack
Posts: 42
Joined: Mon Jan 27, 2020 11:56 pm
Location: Centex

Totally good advise above. What Whippy says about sparrows is all true, they are very evasive and will watch for you from a long way off. I use to control them by shooting but now have repeating sparrow traps that do the job. Since useing the traps I now have other species comeing to my yard. Most noticeably painted buntings. Wish I had found out about repeating sparrow traps a long time ago. Mike.
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