Standing on the shoulders of those before us

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Ed Svetich-WI
Posts: 700
Joined: Tue Jan 13, 2004 10:05 pm
Location: Brooks, Wi (McGinnis Lake)
Martin Colony History: 24 Super and Excluder Gourds on two gourd racks, all SREH. Full occupancy. My philosophy is to maximize fledge % with existing cavities rather than adding gourds to grow colony, thus providing opportunities for new colony expansion. Fledge over 100 nestlings yearly from 24 gourds. Band nestlings in cooperation with state university.

Standing on the shoulders of those before us

Postby Ed Svetich-WI » Mon Jan 29, 2018 9:25 am

The first person that I mentored as they were attempting to attract that first pair of martins was at times frustrating. With one initial pair of martins, they suddenly knew all the answers. Knowledge that I had gained through trial and many errors was suddenly suspect. The many improvements in martin management that were developed by Jamie Hill and the fledgling PMCA as well as many other inventive hobbyists were somehow now not worthy of imitation. After 20+ years of futility, I began to accept improvements in martin husbandry that had been shown to increase attraction of martins such as audio tapes, prenests, placement of housing, timely opening of housing, tree swallow defense and invasive species control. As the evidence continued to mount from the experiences of people much smarter than I was, I began to understand how I had been my own worst enemy in what had been a 20+ effort to attract martins.

My first mentee tried to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Their frustration mounted. I let them stew. After a few years, they again asked for help.I deferred. They asked again. I again gave the same suggestions that I had originally made to them. This time, they were more receptive. The hardest advice to accept was to first take care of the tree swallow challenge and wait to open martin housing. Starling control was not an issue initially and we worked on other basics such as a pole guard, snake guard and owl guards. They held at one nest for several years until that day that starlings destroyed their lone martin nest in a lightening quick attack. Two years went by without martins. In that time, half of the entries on their T14 were converted to crescents while the others remained round holes. Their first returning martins chose the crescents. The second pair chose a round hole. The starlings returned. The nest in the crescent entry was safe. The other nest was wasted. The next year all cavities were converted SREH OF various configurations.

My first mentee now mentors others. I have to smile when they discuss THEIR frustration that their advice is often ignored. Human nature is interesting.


Dave Duit
Posts: 1334
Joined: Tue Nov 25, 2003 2:02 pm
Location: state:Iowa / town:Nevada
Martin Colony History: In 2018, 54 pair with 202 fledged youngsters. 73 total compartments available, 48 Troyer Horizontal gourds and 4 modified trio metal house units, owl cages around all units. Martin educator and speaker. President of the Iowa Purple Martin Organization. Please visit and join.

Re: Standing on the shoulders of those before us

Postby Dave Duit » Mon Jan 29, 2018 9:58 am

Hi Ed,
All I can say is ditto. Advice is golden when it is absorbed and followed. It is nice to see landlords knowledge grow over the years.
Mite control, heat venting, predator protection and additional feeding during bad weather add up to success.

Posts: 633
Joined: Fri Mar 11, 2011 1:09 pm
Location: Manitoba/Altona
Martin Colony History: six pair in 2014, have grown to 52 pairs in 2017.

Re: Standing on the shoulders of those before us

Postby Archer » Mon Jan 29, 2018 10:52 am

I have not been in the mentoring game as long as you, but I have experienced the frustration of not being listened to. You win some and some take more time. Best case I had was a conversion to SREH and a sparrow trap purchased, followed by a successful summer where numbers increased, I was so happy when I heard his report. At the other end of the spectrum, advise a landlord who had lost his colony to move his house to a more open location. Still waiting for that to happen. When I started with him, to help him, I asked him what he would be willing to do to get his martins back, He responded, "anything that is reasonable" good! I figured, we have something to work with here. I did borrow him my Dawnsong and Daytime chatter CD'S. He attracted one sy pair to my amazement as his martin house is within 10 feet of his house and the only flyway is between his and his neighbours house. I will not be surprised when he calls me this spring asking why his martins have not returned. Maybe then he'll have ears that listen.
2011- first year trying, a few visitors.
2012-One ASY pair, raised two young, lots of subby visitors. So thankfull.
2013-daily subby visits.
2014-Six SY pairs
2015-18 pair, 83 fledglings
2016-36 pair, 147 fledglings
2017-52 pairs, 192 fledglings.
2018-60 pair, 246 fledglings.

Louise Chambers
Site Admin
Posts: 6160
Joined: Tue Nov 04, 2003 1:07 pm
Location: Corpus Christi, TX

Re: Standing on the shoulders of those before us

Postby Louise Chambers » Mon Jan 29, 2018 11:01 am

Perhaps the saddest experiences of failed mentoring, though that's not really the right term, are those where the martins pay the price - landlords who will not control house sparrows/starlings, with result that eggs, nestlings, and adult martins are destroyed.

Landlords who say "we don't have those around here" when warned about need for predator guards, with result that snakes/raccoons, owls, etc, can freely raid the nests.

Landlords who won't monitor nests at all, with result that nest parasites and other issues that could be resolved, aren't, and martin nestlings jump out or die in the nests.

Some of these folks assume that an empty (but used) nest at the end of the season means "all the babies fledged." Nothing could be further from the truth - martins remove and carry off dead nestlings, so an empty nest could just as easily mean "all the babies died" unless nests are monitored.

Posts: 556
Joined: Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:15 am
Location: Corpus Christi Tx
Martin Colony History: Will always be a wanna be landlord, martins or not!
2016- Two lookers-No takers.
2017- 5 pair. 15 fledged.
2018-18 pair. 85 fledged.
Home colony: 13 natural gourds, one house. 19 cavities.
PMCA member

Re: Standing on the shoulders of those before us

Postby C.C.Martins » Mon Jan 29, 2018 1:28 pm

Louise, et al, this is a tough subject. Its like my kids who didn't listen to advice on a life choice and learned the hard way and like you have all indicated the martins are the losers. During the off season I had a chance to do some work at an old martin colony by invitation, houses are bad, sparrows everywhere. We opened some of the cavities but not all. I gave them a re-furbished trio mini castle, with pole. Straightened some poles and cemented them in place. All the while talking involvement if they couldn't kill sparrows, spend a little money and time or be out with the birds more. They will get martins because those birds will come back but I couldn't get them to be involved. I almost regret doing anything (I don't know alot) but I do know the basics, tried to impart some of that and in the end, lost. I think their birds will suffer. We can only do what we can, hope the birds come out winners. In this case I went to them to offer help, I believe that I shouldnt have but needed to try. They could have a thriving colony. I will be more selective in the future.

2016-Wanna be LL. Two lookers. nada
2017-5 pairs. 15 Fledged
2018-18 pairs. 85 Fledged.
Offering: 11 natural gourds, w/crescents and WDC openings. 6 modified compartment house

Ed Svetich-WI
Posts: 700
Joined: Tue Jan 13, 2004 10:05 pm
Location: Brooks, Wi (McGinnis Lake)
Martin Colony History: 24 Super and Excluder Gourds on two gourd racks, all SREH. Full occupancy. My philosophy is to maximize fledge % with existing cavities rather than adding gourds to grow colony, thus providing opportunities for new colony expansion. Fledge over 100 nestlings yearly from 24 gourds. Band nestlings in cooperation with state university.

Re: Standing on the shoulders of those before us

Postby Ed Svetich-WI » Mon Jan 29, 2018 9:07 pm

I guess we have to ask ourselves why we want to attract martins in the first place. The answer may be telling. Having martins and managing a martin colony are two very distinct types of activities. One is passive and the other a more active engagement in attracting, protecting and ensuring the safety of the nests up to fledging as many young as the current science allows.

Numbers of martin pair attracted to any colony are only important when the end goal is the number of young martins successfully fledged at the end of the season. "Having" 24 pair is irrelevant unless the number of young produced is great enough to replace the parents each season with the excess free to populate new colonies or join other successful ones.Example: during the 2017 season 24 pair raise 3 young each equals 72 young- minus 50% of the parents who die each year, minus 50 % of the young who live to return to the north next year =60 martins net returning in 2018. Change the numbers a bit and the results are still sobering!

If just having martins is your goal, you may attract some. You may attract a lot. If you do not do everything in your power to maximize the number of young raised, you may just be treading water. When I ask someone who has s martin colony how many they have and they say "about 20 pair", or when they say that they fledged "about 60 this year", I know they just "have" martins. They are not doing what it takes to maximize the number raised each year. I take producing martins seriously. They say they are in trouble in Wisconsin.Last season 24 pair produced 132 eggs, hatched 128 young and fledged 116. Last year was a good, not great year as the number of fledglngs was down. Even so, that is only 82 returning birds in 2018, and not all will return here. I still end up with 20 ASY pair each spring. You know where the new ASY birds come from? They come from another colony where something adversely impacted them.

SREH entries, proper placement of the housing, various predator prevention devices, prenests, frequent nest checks and replacements and record keeping should be the minimum expectation for anyone who intends to help martins. 24 gourds keep me busy but I'm a bit anal about nature as you probably can see. But the key is that I can manage the number that I have for the benefit of the birds. Why is it that so many people go overboard with their hobbies? They soon tire and give up or go about them in a haphazard manner. How much better to begin slow and enjoy rather than create another job for yourself. Rather than run a mile, walk a mile to work into it. Rather than have three gourd racks with round holes, no owl guards and no martins or many unmanaged martins, why not have one gourd rack with SREH and all the tools required to raise the greatest number of martins possible. If you find you can handle more, then increase the number of cavities.

In truth, you may never attract martins. Just read some of the Forum posts. Some of the most frequent contributors are still waiting for martins and yet have not yet embraced all of the proven tools available.The odds are better today than they were years ago because of the science behind the improvements that we now have available to us. Maybe that is why I get frustrated by those who refuse to employ everything available to help the martins be successful. If you just "want" martins, ask yourself if the martins are better off with you or with someone who will do everything that they can to be successful.

After all, isn't it about the martins?


Posts: 3475
Joined: Thu May 24, 2007 1:57 pm
Location: Missouri/Licking
Martin Colony History: Colony started - 2007 with one pair
As of 2018 - 84 cavities offered, max # of pairs hosted - 82.

Re: Standing on the shoulders of those before us

Postby KathyF » Sun Feb 11, 2018 10:54 am

This is a great topic, Ed! I've spent a lot of my time and $$$ here in Missouri, mentoring many, many new landlords and helping existing landlords improve their sites.
I have a list of 78 'mentees' now. My analysis may be anecdotal, but from what I'm reading here, I think it's a good bet that this is a real average.
I would say that approx. 40% of the landlords I've met and helped have regressed and are letting their colonies decline again....realizing the amount of effort it takes to eliminate HOSP and starlings.
About another 25% of them actually do nest checks now and truly do 100% management (eliminate HOSP / starlings, etc.)
The remaining 35% are somewhere in the middle.
I can safely say though that 95% of them DO have snake / racoon predator guards on their poles, as that was the easiest thing to tackle for most of them. Of course, the horror stories I shared with them was a big factor in getting the guards installed. :lol:

It's all about putting in the numbers - out of all the new / existing landlords I've visited, I've only had 2 that ushered me right back out the door once I mentioned killing the HOSP / Starlings (these were very funny stories). All you can do is share the information - but you can't impart your passion...that is something they have to develop.
Just keep visiting people and sharing - it's still worth increasing the number of landlords in your area by 60%. :grin:
"Sometimes", said Pooh, "the smallest things take up the most room in your heart."
2016 - 82 pair
2015 - 76 pair
2014 - 75 pair
2013 - 75 pair
2012-72 pair

Craig Dyer
Posts: 500
Joined: Fri May 13, 2005 2:24 pm
Location: Nevada, TX
Martin Colony History: Area is rural. Offer 28 compartments...metal housing (Lonestar Goliad) & Supergourds all w/crescent entrance holes. Purple martins are abundant here and eager for quality, well maintained, safe housing. Expect near 100% occupancy this season.

Re: Standing on the shoulders of those before us

Postby Craig Dyer » Sun Feb 11, 2018 12:45 pm

I share in the frustration. A couple of years ago a neighbor (self-proclaimed bird lover) expressed an interest in starting a purple martin colony. I stressed to her the importance of controlling and eliminating house sparrows and European starlings. That both would have to be dealt with if she hoped to attract and maintain a thriving purple martin colony. She informed me that she would never harm a house sparrow, starling or for that matter any bird (willful ignorance). She purchased a top-of-the-line purple martin house. She opted for round entrance holes instead of starling resistant, and has so far neglected to utilize a pole predator guard. She has been attracting purple martins. She refuses to control house sparrows and starlings as I see them on her martin housing in ever increasing numbers. I cringe at the damage the house sparrows, starlings and ground predators may be inflicting on this new colony.
Craig Dyer

James Strickland FL
Posts: 2219
Joined: Thu Nov 13, 2003 8:04 pm
Location: Reidsville NC
Martin Colony History: 2017 Had a lot visitors no Matins nesting, hoping 2018 will be different.

Re: Standing on the shoulders of those before us

Postby James Strickland FL » Sun Feb 11, 2018 1:51 pm

Ed, You are correct that some do not listen and wonder why. Back in 2000 or 2002 when I joined here. I was totally lost as what to do. There were 2 that really helped me out and they were Steve Kroenke and John Miller. Now that not to say others have not helped, but they are really the most knowing of Martin habits. They helped me get started and what they told me was on target. I was living in South Florida and Steve at the time was in North Florida and John was in TX. At the time I knew of no one having Martin there. The first year I got a pair of Martins. Last year I moved to North Carolina and am starting over. I took all those years of knowledge that they have given and did have visitors. I found and older man that lives a few miles away and saw that he had about 40 gourds up and I stopped to ask him if he had Martins. He told me that he was full every year. I asked what the secret and he said you have to have some Natural Gourds, which is what they like around here. So this year I am taking his advice. I have 26 Natural Gourds with round holes and the rest are Super and Troyer Gourds with Sher which comes to total of 54. I think you learn a lot on here, but local knowledge is the best.

Bird Brain
Posts: 87
Joined: Wed Feb 10, 2016 9:22 am
Location: Highland Village, TX
Martin Colony History: 2017-visitors, 2018-visitors

Re: Standing on the shoulders of those before us

Postby Bird Brain » Tue Feb 13, 2018 10:11 am

My first advice to a potential mentee would be this. If you don't have the backbone to kill house sparrows, then you should consider another hobby like golf or something. House sparrows are enemy #1 in my opinion to the martins. People try to protect their small dogs from coyotes. House sparrows are feathered rats and they thrive like rats due to human expansion. Rats, roaches, pigeons, starlings, house sparrows are all successful because of us. People kill rats all the time, mostly inhumanely. Rat poison takes days to work. At least I euthanize house sparrows quickly and humanely. Also, the government is on our side. House sparrows are not protected by law and martins are. The government encourages one species over another. Potential mentees should be made aware of house sparrow elimination before anymore time is wasted on them.
Every time I kill a house sparrow, I make the world a better place.

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