Tragic Observation At One Of Our Satellite Martin Colonies

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Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Tragic Observation At One Of Our Satellite Martin Colonies

This morning Bob and I visited some of our satellite purple martin colonies to see how things were going. We checked on several and things were just fine with martins feeding babies and other martins flying around the housing. But all this would change at another colony.

I have seen this happen hundreds of times during the martin fledging season at our two personal colonies. Screaming parent martins desperately trying to protect their fledglings and other martins climbing rapidly as they emit blood curdling screams of terror. It happens EVERY year at our personal colonies and is going on now as hundreds of martin babies are in the air and assembled in the tops of trees and on utility lines. Every day the Grim Reaper arrives to harvest a little one and many babies are already gone forever.

But we have never seen this happen at one of our satellite colonies until this morning. We were at our truck stop satellite colony and everything looked deceptively good initially with the three housing systems covered with martins as they fed their babies.

Suddenly the martins started screaming and I looked up and saw a Cooper’s hawk diving straight down into the colony! It was a mature male hawk with rusty barred breast feathers and a slate gray back. He chased an ASY male martin almost to the ground not more than 30 feet from us in the parking lot and the martin just managed to escape by inches it seemed.

The hawk showed little fear of us and continued to fly around area while about a dozen martins bravely mobbed him and he paid absolutely NO attention to his tormentors. Martins don’t actually strike a hawk during mobbing and only come close while emitting a harsh “nasal” like vocalization.

The hawk then flew up in a nearby pine tree and watched the colony. The martins were INSANE and had formed a tight flock that swarmed above the tree; the screaming of the martins seemed almost electronically amplified.

Then after a few minutes the hawk casually flew from the tree and appeared to be leaving. But he wasn’t and suddenly banked sharply downward and attacked two martin fledglings which were perched on a utility line at a nearby gas station. We didn’t know these fledglings were there until then.

Both fledglings bolted downward, but there was NO escape for one and the hawk snagged the youngster not more than a foot off the pavement. The baby made no “death rattle” scream and the hawk’s talons must have killed the youngster instantly.

The hawk was no more than about 50 feet from us and ignored cars/trucks that passed by. He took his prize and slowly flew across HWY 171 to a nearby woodlot. He was flying just above speeding vehicles!

Cooper’s hawks are THRIVING and increasing in population all over North America. They are nesting in people’s yards in suburban/urban locations and are adapting well to such environments.

I suspect all of our satellite martin colonies experience some form of Cooper’s hawk predation, particularly when the martins are fledging their young. Oh, about a week ago Bob and I were in downtown Shreveport and guess what we saw! Yes, a Cooper’s hawk carrying a small bird to a possible nest site! We watched the hawk fly over a busy street and between buildings!

We currently have several Cooper’s hawks preying on the recent martin fledglings from our two personal colonies. The hawks hunt the fledglings several hundred yards away from our colonies for the most part and typically catch the youngsters when they are assembled in the tops of trees or on utility lines. This predation will continue through July or until the last martins leave.

Steve
PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season
M.Stephens
Posts: 1130
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 3:14 pm
Location: Texas/Texarkana

Steve,
With so many Cooper's thriving around everywhere it makes it tough on any established martin colony.

I wish the fish and wildlife depts. in the states would control them. I think permits can be gotten through some of the state agencies. That would take further investigation. Maybe if more of us would voice our opinion something could be done to bring the number of Cooper's down some. There has been times that I cannot enjoy my colony for them.

I haven't had a problem this year as I have had in the past. Usually during fledging time which is now I see Cooper's regularly but this year not so much. I still have owl decoys setup in areas the Cooper's have attacked from before and so far none have been coming in low like they used too. I have seen a few fly over high but the martins spot them real fast and mob them.

Hopefully the state wildlife agencies will see there is a problem and try a plan to control them.
Malcolm
2015 (110 nesting pair)
2014 (92 nesting pair)
2013 (75 nesting pair)
2012 (35 nesting pair)
2011 (20 pair)
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tim414
Posts: 247
Joined: Wed Nov 05, 2014 10:52 am
Location: NorthTX/Pottsboro/Lake Texoma

Perhaps on the flipside it's good the Coopers Hawk has adapted to suburban environments. They'll snatch a cowbird, STARLING and such just as fast as they will a desired bird's fledgling. Luck of the draw I suppose; whatever gets locked into their radar. They gotta eat too. They do prey on Starlings too.

It's not to say or discount in any way, that it is rough when I witness preferred birds get the axe by a bird of prey. Hopefully, more desired fledgings will go on to migrate and become adults than to be a meal for another spcies. At least it wasn't death from HOSP or Starlings attacking their nest just to kill them.
Scully
Posts: 2008
Joined: Mon Jan 26, 2004 5:35 pm
Location: Texas/San Antonio

tim414 wrote:Perhaps on the flipside it's good the Coopers Hawk has adapted to suburban environments. They'll snatch a cowbird, STARLING and such just as fast as they will a desired bird's fledgling. Luck of the draw I suppose; whatever gets locked into their radar. They gotta eat too. They do prey on Starlings too.

It's not to say or discount in any way, that it is rough when I witness preferred birds get the axe by a bird of prey. Hopefully, more desired fledgings will go on to migrate and become adults than to be a meal for another spcies. At least it wasn't death from HOSP or Starlings attacking their nest just to kill them.

Around here your average martin site consists of a single 12 room house with 1 to 4 pairs or martins in residence. I have hope that small scattered colonies like this may not attract so much attention from Cooper's.

But really, more than other fledgling songbirds martin fledglings call attention to themselves by sitting on power lines and treetops and the like

In our area, even with scattered small colonies, a Cooper's would only have to soar up a couple of hundred feet to see small groups of fledglings like that over a large area.

I have seen migrating Cooper's in the spring home in on even small colonies to an extent it seems as if they instinctively recognise martins perched down low as easy prey.

I guess the real test will be how martin numbers trend across Eastern North America now that Cooper's are coming back.

One encouraging fact is that the whole American Indian/purple martin partnership was able to develop even in the presence of Cooper's.

BUt I do wonder if Cooper's are the reason Western Martin populations still in their original natural cavities are so scarce.

Mike
...if the gentlemen of Virginia shall send us a dozen of their sons, we would take great care in their education, instruct them in all we know, and make men of them. Canasatego 1744
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Hey Malcom,

I doubt any federal wildlife agency would issue permits to control Cooper's hawks that are predating martin colonies. Since martins are wild birds and a natural prey item for hawks, probably the feds would view such predation as a natural act.

Cooper's hawks often prey on pigeons much to the dismay of pigeon breeders. Some time ago a number of pigeon enthusiasts were arrested by the feds for trapping/shooting Cooper's hawks and other raptors. I doubt the feds would issue any permits to pigeon breeders to harm raptors that were preying on their pigeons.

So Cooper's hawk predation on our martin colonies is probably going to continue and increase in intensity as these hawks flourish and start nesting in areas where they previously have not.

In your situation, possibly the hawks are hunting martin fledglings within several hundred yards of your colony and that is what they are doing at our colonies. The mobbing of distant Cooper's hawks flying high up by martins is a possible sign that the hawks are searching for martin fledglings assembled in the tops of trees or on utility lines.

Steve

Hey Tim,

Yes, Cooper's hawks prey on starlings, sparrows and other birds, particularly doves and pigeons. I have seen these hawks attack all these bird species.

It is natural for Cooper's hawks to hunt easy prey like martin fledglings and the martins make it easy when their babies are sitting out in the open.

So it is something we martin landlords must deal with and I have been dealing with it for MANY years! Our large martin colonies do attract the hawks but such colonies can withstand considerable hawk pressure and the hawks can't eat all the martin fledglings.

Steve

Hey Mike,

Purple martin fledglings are such easy prey for Accipiters like the Cooper's hawks. Yes, parent martins assemble their babies out in the open in the tops of trees and on utility lines. These hawks can see martin fledglings from hundreds of yards high up. I am seeing Cooper's hawks dive down like peregrine falcons and catch martin fledglings with ease.

Our large colonies do attract resident hawks just like an African waterhole will attract lions that prey on ungulates that come to drink. It is the law of the jungle: large concentrations of prey attract predators! But the Cooper's hawks can't eat all the fledglings but they do cause a lot of psychological terror for the parent martins!

But with large colonies there are more eyes watching for danger and more martins can withstand losses while smaller colonies may not be able to so.

Our fledgling losses are largely dependent on whether the hawks have young to feed. If the hawks are feeding babies or fledglings, then the hawks often hunt multiple times a day and I have seen attacks every half hour or hour. If there are no baby hawks to feed, then I may see just several hunts a day.

Accipiter hawk predation on martin colonies is just something we landlords have to deal with!

Steve
PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season
Chris B
Posts: 378
Joined: Sun Jun 01, 2014 4:10 pm
Location: AL/Toney

I had a jumper Sat AM that I put back in a gourd cause he couldn't fly when he was on the ground flapping his wings. When I picked him off the ground he cried bloody murder but didn't seem to mind after I stroked him. Another jumper later in the morning but this guy could fly when I had him in my hand and he flew away - well at about a 45* angle downward but it seemed like he was trying. I left him on the ground and checked back as I was mowing grass further back on the property. He was gone when I checked back later that afternoon. Predator get him? Who knows.

When the Coopers fly past the colony they all get after him like little fighter planes. The hawk leaves without an attack. I think the males in the colony practice their hawk attacks on my decoys as they buzz and squawk, again and again.

Just part of it I think. You can't shoot the hawks.
2014 8 gourds, 3 pairs nested. Ended w/ 24 total
2015 24 gourds, 22 nests. Lotsa birds!
2016 24 gourds and good activity.
2017 32 SREH gourds. Great activity.
2018 40 SREH gourds. Good finish despite big storm damage. No more dangling gourds.
2019 56+ SREH gourds, all on 3/8 rods. Birds did very well.
2020 56 SREH gourds.
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