The Black Death Has Arrived

Welcome to the internet's gathering place for Purple Martin enthusiasts
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

The Black Death Has Arrived

Our purple martin colonies are under siege by hordes of black flies or buffalo gnats and I have never had this problem before. I noticed this just happening. You can’t stay outside now without having a swarm of flies all around your face; it is almost unbearable.

Black flies can inflict significant damage to purple martin colonies by biting the babies; the female fly requires blood while the male does not. Baby martins may die after being bitten even a few times.

Black flies are also reaching plague conditions in parts of central and south Louisiana and I spoke with a martin landlord the other day about it. He lives south of Alexandria and there is an INFESTATION of the black flies.

Today I will be checking my nests and seeing what is happening inside. Early this morning I am already seeing some parent martins that are showing signs that something is wrong inside their nests. The parents are no longer bringing food in and gnats can been seen going in and out.

Right now, we don’t have a lot of nestlings and most martins are on eggs or laying eggs. But many babies should be hatching over the next two weeks.

Our big problem is our big martin colonies and how to address this potential disaster. How to apply some kind of repellant to hundreds of nests over and over again to keep the gnats away. It is just overwhelming. Plus we have five satellite martin colonies which could be under attack by the black flies.

I know folks have had success with using vanilla extract. We would probably need gallons of the stuff for our large colonies. There is also some fly control absorbine products that can work. I will be checking into these.

It is still early and maybe we will not see a prolonged black fly infestation in this area that will cause significant damage to our martin colonies. Only time will tell.

However, I am sure there are MANY martin colonies in this area that are facing the black flies and a possible catastrophe for the nestlings. I have never had this kind of problem with my martin colonies in both Florida where I previously lived and now in Louisiana.

Steve
PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season
Tim Mangan-Kansas
Posts: 1728
Joined: Wed Mar 15, 2006 7:25 am
Location: Kansas, Pittsburg
Martin Colony History: 2016 - 22 Pair

Steve, hate to hear about this. I know you and Bob will do all you can to protect your colony's. Please let us know what product you end up using and how well it protected your nestlings.
Licensed Bander
2015 - 14 Pair - fledged 68
2014 - Moved to Kansas - 7 Pair, 35 eggs, 28 fledged in first year
2010 Thru 2013 - Moved-Tried to start new colony
2009 - 46 pair, 217 eggs, 178 fledged
MichaelH
Posts: 586
Joined: Fri Mar 27, 2015 10:10 am
Location: IL/Gillespie
Martin Colony History: 2015 28 cavities 2 pairs
2016 big upgrade 56cavities 16 pairs great year
2017. 76 cavities 36 pairs
2018. 146 cavities

Wow steve ,there is always something isn't there a,hope this is a short term infestation and it passes without an impact on your colonies
Mick
2018 146 cavities.
colliemom
Posts: 36
Joined: Fri Mar 18, 2016 10:13 am
Location: Sandwich IL

Feel so bad for you and your martins.

Really a tough one for a colony the size of yours. Several years ago, I had some here after a big infestations in Iowa
after floods. Wiped my gourds with OFF wipes mostly in areas the martins wouldn't be perching, cleaned the poop off,
replaced soiled nest material. Alcohol can help also. Would Sevin in the nests help maybe? Is there anything to
kill the maggots? Clean nest boxes?

You are probably going to need some help - you and everyone else getting all that rain and flooding.
ShawnK
Posts: 23
Joined: Wed Jun 11, 2014 7:58 am
Location: IN/Owensville

We are having problems with Buffalo gnats in my area. For us we have found a product
Called "Buggins" that works wonders in keeping them off us. Not sure if it could be used with a cotton ball and applied around the entrance hole or not. I believe it is all natural. The down side for us is we have to reapply every couple of hours. I'm not sure if that helps our feathered friends.
2013 - 0
2014 - 0 Some lookers but no takers
2015 - three males attempted attracting a mate 1 ASY and 2 SY
2016 - became a landlord with 14 pair
2017 - 36 pr
2018 - 52 pr
2019 - 54 pr
saltair
Posts: 58
Joined: Tue Mar 31, 2015 1:56 pm
Location: Delaware

Maybe trying Permetherin....http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/PermGen.html#wildlife

Can permethrin affect birds, fish, or other wildlife?

Permethrin is highly toxic to fish and other animals that live in either salt water or fresh water. Permethrin is low in toxicity to birds, but some aerosol products made with permethrin may also contain other ingredients that can harm birds if they inhale it. Permethrin is highly toxic to bees and other beneficial insects.

Keep this product away from cats.
mike2656
Posts: 22
Joined: Tue Mar 29, 2016 10:07 am
Location: West Grove, PA
Martin Colony History: 2013 1 Breeding pair, eggs pinned by HS. And the war began!
2014 Nothing
2015 1 Breeding pair. 4 hatchlings
2016 Cold wiped out Martins
2017 Nothing

I use Sevin dust on all my bird housing, very small amounts.

It has never bothered any bluebirds, tree swallows or Martins and I have never lost a bird to insects.
saltair
Posts: 58
Joined: Tue Mar 31, 2015 1:56 pm
Location: Delaware

mike2656 wrote:I use Sevin dust on all my bird housing, very small amounts.

It has never bothered any bluebirds, tree swallows or Martins and I have never lost a bird to insects.
I agree with mike on the Sevin dust.
tor
Posts: 220
Joined: Wed Feb 25, 2009 4:35 pm
Location: Marlboro County, SC
Martin Colony History: Capacity: 72 Troyers on 3 X Super-24 racks

saltair wrote:Maybe trying Permetherin....http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/PermGen.html#wildlife

Can permethrin affect birds, fish, or other wildlife?

Permethrin is highly toxic to fish and other animals that live in either salt water or fresh water. Permethrin is low in toxicity to birds, but some aerosol products made with permethrin may also contain other ingredients that can harm birds if they inhale it. Permethrin is highly toxic to bees and other beneficial insects.

Keep this product away from cats.
I use permethrin around our property. As mentioned, toxic to cats and fish. Very effective against mosquitoes and other insects. I usually spray all around our house- and work shop foundations. Not an insect in sight for the rest of the warm-weather season. I buy it at 36 % concentration and dilute it down to about 0.5 % and use it in a pump sprayer. I also dunk my outside clothes / camping clothes every year with it (soaking in 0.5 %, and let it dry.) Good stuff. I don't know if it can be used on martin gourds or other housing. Only thing I would maybe attempt (if I had a black fly issue) would be to spray the gourds inside before season, and let it completely dry before season start.
This stuff is deet on steroids.
Location: Marlboro County, SC

2020: Capacity: 72 - First Scouts: 2/11 - 71 pair - 298 hatched as of last nest check.
2019: Capacity: 72 - First Scouts: 2/22 - 70 pair - 315 fledged
2018: Capacity: 70 - First Scouts: 2/18 - 60 pair - 270 fledged
2017: Capacity: 42 - First Scouts: 2/25 - 39 pair
2016: Capacity: 42 - First Scouts: 3/10 - 32 pair
2015: Capacity: 24 - First Scouts: 3/23 - 4 pair

Purple Martins Of South Carolina
2020 Season
saltair
Posts: 58
Joined: Tue Mar 31, 2015 1:56 pm
Location: Delaware

Before the martins arrive spray the Permetherin inside the gourds especially where the drain holes are, this is where most of the moisture and many critters enter the gourds. Then I place cedar chips and/or pine needles in the gourds and spray again with the Permetherin.

I also spray it in my shoes, gloves and clothes that I keep in the garage where the spiders like to hide.

The military use it on their cots, sleeping bags, and clothes before entering the jungle where the mean critters live.
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

I appreciate the suggestions regarding our black fly problem. Black flies can sometimes decimate purple martin nestlings.

Well, I’m cautiously optimistic that our black fly problem may not be as bad as I thought. Since I have never dealt with this problem before, I was alarmed at what I saw and remember what I had read about how destructive they can be. Today I checked my martin cavities with babies and all were OK so far. The parent martins started feeding their young a little later than usual but were a little hesitant initially. Yesterday I couldn’t stay outside for hardly any time without my face being covered with black flies. I could see the black flies hovering around active martin nests with young. I didn’t see as many black flies today and I am hoping we aren’t as infested with them as other areas in south Louisiana. So I will monitor the situation closely tomorrow and see what is happening. I will probably check the nests again to see if the young are still OK.

If I need to apply some kind of repellant for this season, I will probably use vanilla extract and I plan to order a large amount from Amazon. I may consider some of the other repellants mentioned, too.

I hope other martin landlords are NOT experiencing any black fly problems!

Steve
PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season
pmartinlover2
Posts: 521
Joined: Mon Mar 24, 2014 6:37 pm
Location: IL/Hillsboro
Martin Colony History: 2011 Home site--1 SY pair--2 fledged
2016 Satellite Site---4 pair--19 eggs laid--17 hatched--16 fledged
2017 Satellite Site--8 pair--37 eggs laid--34 hatched--34 fledged
2018 11 pair--fledged 60
2019 20 pair-fledged 94
2020 23pair-fledged 108

Thanks for the heads-up on the black fly/nat problem, Steve. Are they a result of all the rain we've had? Do you apply the vanilla extract to the entrance or wipe down the inside of the gourd or what? There does seem to be a lot of nats here when the temp gets above 60'.We're looking at 35-36* here on Saturday night! Mercy!!! Hope you can control these pests and don't lose any martins. Let us know what happens.
_____
Jody
Jody in Central Illinois
Landlord in 2016
2016—4 pr fledged 16
2017—8 pr fledged 34
2018—11 pr fledged 60
Archer
Posts: 757
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.

Watch the wind direction in the next couple of days. When my colony was affected, the black flies did their damage on the downwind side of the housing. We had very windy conditions at the time. I lost a couple that year, but the rest pulled through. The bites were very evident on any young without feathers, looked like deep purple bruises.
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.
2019-59 pair, 238 fledglings.
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Hey Jody,

From what I read the gnats require running water to breed in, so ponds and other still bodies of water would not be breeding areas. We don't have any rivers nearby and the closest river is the Sabine River which is about 8 miles south of us. But the female gnats which do the biting can fly long distances in search of a blood meal. A lot of rain could create temporary "running water" areas in places and perhaps these could serve as breeding sites. We have small branches which could have running water to provide a breeding place.

Our martins are still feeding their babies but the gnats are still present and a possible threat to the martins. Possibly the key is the number of gnats and if they are swarming all around the martin housing. I am not seeing any gnat swarms on the gourds/houses at this time.

The landlords I have spoken to usually spray the vanilla extract around the entrance hole or other openings to try to repel the gnats before they enter the nests. You could probably wipe around the entrances. I will spray around the entrances if necessary. I believe one person did spray inside the nests and the vanilla did not harm the martins.

Our major problem is the huge number of martin cavities in our two colonies. It is rather overwhelming if we will have to apply repellant daily should the problem become worse.

I spoke to a good friend Johnny Gerber who lives in north central Louisiana about 100+ miles east of us and he has not seen any gnats at this time. He has a large martin colony of over 100 pairs.

So at this time I am monitoring the gnat situation and seeing what happens. Hopefully it will not get any worse and the martin babies can pull through. There may be some losses.

I hope you don't have any gnat infestations!

Steve
PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season
Tim m.
Posts: 25
Joined: Thu Feb 27, 2014 10:56 am
Location: IA/Lockridge

Dear Steve and every martin landlord, I fight gnats here every year and only thing i have found to stop them is ABSORBINE JR. OR ABSORBINE LINIMENT FOR HORSES . I soak it in cotton ball and put down in nest material and spray around entrance hole . It REALLY WORKS!!!!!! Horse spray on outside of gourds and houses. Gnats killed 85% OF my young ones one year. Sincerely Tim Millard Purple Martin Ridge Lockridge, Iowa
I'm a member of pmca,iowa purple martin org. which has ask me to be a mentor of jefferson county,ia. and citizen assistant for purple martins of Griggsville,Il.
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Hey Tim,

Thank you for sharing that information. I will check into those products.

I believe our black fly problem is getting a little better now and I haven't found any dead martin nestlings yet. The parent martins are feeding their young. But the black flies are still here and will swarm around my face at times.

As I said in my post, we have never had a black fly problem before and I asked my neighbor Bob who has lived here all his life if he remembers any problems in the past. He said he had never had such a problem with his martins. So this situation is most unusual for our area I believe.

I will continue to monitor the situation. I am sure some of the nestlings have been bitten by the flies and perhaps it takes a while before serious complications arise.

Steve
PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season
Okie
Posts: 541
Joined: Mon Apr 11, 2016 3:26 pm
Location: Claremore, OK
Martin Colony History: 2016 Informed landlord now Have 2 pair returning from 2015 That is a miracle. Hoping for a very successful year, sparrow population on decline.
First house was plastic with crescent holes Had martins within a few days. Ignorant landlord gradually lost them
Then got Trio House and still lost most of them. Lots of sparrows

Just a caution which is in no way passing off the black fly problem, it sounds dreadful. As a long time self taught organic gardener I have learned there is a balanced self sustaining cycle to nature. There are damaging insects and they are balanced by beneficial insects and then there are insects that are neither. Gardeners often have a knee jerk reaction when they see an insect eating their plants and spray everything in sight. What happens is not just the target insect is killed but all insects including the predators of the target insect. There is a saying: If you kill the beneficial insects, you inherit their job of keeping the damaging insects under control.
What I am saying here is there may be another way to control those pesky black flies in keeping with nature. There may be insects that target those.
Go to dirt doctor.com Go into the Library under I. Look for Insect Beneficial Bug Sources. There is a list of insectaries that provide different insects. Call them for advice on your problem. They may have a solution that will be more of a long term fix in keeping with that balanced self sustaining cycle that will make the problem neither worse nor have unintended consequences.
Another thing to keep in mind, martins eat insects. What if they eat the ones contaminated with these substances suggested? Also there is a major problem with disappearing bees called colony collapse & certain insecticides are implicated. They pollinate most of our food plants.
Just a suggestion
Okie
Okie
PMCA member
2016 Started with 2 pair, 1 pair abandoned after HOSP destroyed eggs
1 pair= 6 eggs, 6 fledged
2017 1 pair so far, But they abandoned before nest complete for ?reason? Now Bridless and joined the Wannabes
2018 One pair ASY male SY female 5 eggs, 5 fledged
marcus
Posts: 314
Joined: Tue May 10, 2016 10:21 pm
Location: Fairland OK
Martin Colony History: Mom n Dad had a plastic 12 unit martin house with some martins as long as I can remember. In 2013 they had 1 pair. I don't think they fledged any. I then started learning how to take care of martins and in 2014 we took that house down and put up a Troyer 18 gourd rack. We had 7 pair with 28 fledged.That summer I built a T-14 (I was only 12). I was also given 4 natural gourds that I hung beneath the T-14. In 2015, we had 23 pair although only 22 pair fledged young. They fledged 88 young. In 2016, we had 36 pair, 210 eggs, 163 hatched, 149 fledge!! One pair fledged 2 broods. In 2017, I had 36 pair with 35 fledging young. They laid 204 eggs, hatched 155, and fledged 152.

So sorry to hear about your infestation. I hope losses are few. Make sure you read the article about Smile Amazon before purchasing the vanilla extract. 8)
terriergal
Posts: 76
Joined: Thu Apr 26, 2012 12:41 pm
Location: MN/Hutchinson

Steve Kroenke wrote:The Black Death Has Arrived
I know folks have had success with using vanilla extract. We would probably need gallons of the stuff for our large colonies. There is also some fly control absorbine products that can work. I will be checking into these. "
What about those bird protector discs that some people put in cages for caged birds? It acts as a sort of repellent like moth balls. Or even putting a small sachet of moth balls taped up under the house, just for a while until the problem subsides?

Or insect-fogging the area every evening for a while?
Paula in MN
Chuck4
Posts: 861
Joined: Mon May 16, 2011 10:05 am
Location: North MS
Martin Colony History: I started trying to attract Purple Martins in 2011. I got my first breeding pair in 2013.

2013-1 pair, 2014-4 pair, 2015-8 pair, 2016-12 pair 60 babies :-).

Steve,

I do wish you the very best of luck in finding a solution to the problem. I suspect it is due to all of the flooding down in that area earlier this year. It seems highly probable that there is a correlation.
PMCA Member
_____
Post Reply