Help - inheriting a colony...

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JSmitty2005
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Feb 17, 2017 4:40 pm
Location: Hanover, PA

Hello all,
Just a few weeks ago, I'd never heard of a purple martin. That changed when I recently bought my first home in an area near where I grew up. As we were closing on the house, I asked the elderly gentleman from whom we were buying it, what the "funny looking bird houses" (gourds) were that he used to have in the backyard, since I'd remembered seeing them there in the past. Purple martin houses was his answer. And thus began my obsession for the last several weeks of researching purple martins, which has annoyed my wife to no end, since we are still in the process of moving in AND have a newborn, a one year old, and an eight year old! Despite the reading that I've done, I still feel like I have a lot of questions, so I'm here for some help. Unfortunately, the former homeowner gave his martin housing away, so I didn't inherit any supplies at all, but I'm expecting a "scout" to show up here in the next 3-4 weeks, so time is of the essence. I feel like I have a certain moral obligation to these birds now and I also think this would be a neat experience for my 3 sons as they grow up. So, here are my questions for the experts :grin:

1.) I used google maps street view to determine to the best of my ability that the housing (at least in 2013) that used to be here was - two 12-unit houses on separate poles, a 12-gourd rack, and a 9-gourd rack. I can't tell from the picture whether he had natural or artificial gourds. My question is - Is it important that I replicate this set-up or can I do something different?

2.) The person that the previous landlord gave his martin housing to is apparently a neighbor, but I'm not sure where he lives. Is it more likely that the martins will prefer their familiar housing at the neighbor's (if they find it) or the familiar location of my yard even if the housing is different?

3.) It is unclear whether he used special entrances to keep starlings out. If he didn't use them, but I put up housing without any round holes, will the martins abandon the site?

4.) Speaking of entrances, is there any scientific data or anecdotal consensus regarding the superiority of: crescent vs. modified excluder vs. excluder II? (I plan on purchasing mostly PMCA excluder gourds.)

5.) Regarding owl guards - gourd guards vs rack guards - is one better?

6.) How do you humanely kill starlings and house sparrows?

7.) Does anyone know of any current promo codes for the PMCA Martin Market Place? :wink: I plan on placing a pretty big order and need all the help I can get.

8.) Are there local chapters of PMCA so that I can be an "apprentice" of a seasoned landlord? I'm on the edge of south central PA and northern MD - so if there's anyone out there from York or Adams County, PA or Carroll County, MD that's willing to take me under their wing :lol: - message me please!

9.) I understand martins eat bees, but will a martin colony decimate a beehive? I did beekeeping in the past and may take it up again.

I think that's it for now. Sorry for so many questions, and thank you in advance to anyone who responds!

-Jon
Last edited by JSmitty2005 on Tue Apr 11, 2017 2:33 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Dan G
Posts: 399
Joined: Thu Jun 12, 2014 7:52 pm
Location: PA/Bellefonte
Martin Colony History: Trying since 2014. Visitors, but no nests. Several colonies with in 6 mile radius.

Jon, you have come to the right place. Most of your questions can be answered by a search of similar topics. I am by no means an expert, but others here are, and they will chime in. These are just a wannabees opinion, but i have learned much here.

#1. I do not think you need to replicate the set up. Martins will adapt, but if all 45 cavities offered were full, i would stay close to that number. Maybe even find that nearby neighbor so he gets half and you do also. That way you could reduce your initial investment
#2 I think they have site fidelity. Not housing fidelity, but again, I'm not sure. If you build it, they will come. :grin: Maybe stay similar, but no replica needed.
#3 If starlings are an issue, use the SRE's. Again, martins will adapt.
#4 and 5 I have no experience here.
#6 The humane way to eliminate S and S is to give them lots of company. Not an easy thing for some, but it is necessary. Since you have an established colony, the martins may keep them at bay, but one starling can do a lot of damage. If you are in the country and can use a 22 rifle, that is a good option. With CCI quiet ammo, my 22 is very accurate and when i shoot out of the kitchen window, my wife can be in the living room and doesn't notice. ( or perhaps she has gotten used to it). It is as quiet and much more accurate than my pellet gun. there are a variety of traps as well, but shooting is quick end and non target birds can be avoided. If you do use a trap, it is important to monitor it so no other birds are harmed.
7 If you join the PMCA, you do receive a discount. but unsure of any PROMO codes.
#8 This is a mentors page that you could check. Copy and paste this.
https://www.purplemartin.org/education/ ... r-program/
#9 There was a recent topic about honey bees, and while martins do take some, the consensus was that they do not cause critical damage to a hive.

Those martins are lucky. I envy you. You seem committed and will do well. Congrats and good luck. Like the martins, your wife will adapt and I bet she will be helping with nest checks!!! Keep us posted.
Bellefonte PA
2014, 1st year-a few lookers, no nests
2015, 'Spot' SY male, here every day from 5-28 to 6-23, and several other visitors.
2016 added a perch wire between house and gourd rack.
offering 22 cavities, T-14 plus 8 gourds
2016, multiple visitors from 6-20 on. Almost daily
2017- Lots of visitors late in season.
2018- Adding another T-14. Few visitors
2019- Hopeful but stopped holding my breath
sugarcreek
Posts: 215
Joined: Sun Mar 27, 2016 10:43 am
Location: Sugarcreek, Ohio
Martin Colony History: 2016 First Yr.

Since your in PA you may want to call Andy Troyer he is from PA as well and could possibly help you out
Troyer Bird Paradise
20785 Morris Road
Conneautvilla PA.
814-587-2756

I believe he works closely with the PMCA as well
2016 - 1st Yr. 14 Compartments 4 Active Nests 9 fledged, 2.25 Fledged per Active Nest
2017 - 2nd Yr. 36 Compartments 18 Active Nests 65 Fledged, 3.61 Fledged per Active Nest
2018 - 3rd Yr. 54 Compartments 43 Active Nests 169 Fledged, 3.93 Fledged per Active Nest
2019 - 4th Yr. 108 Compartments 67 Active Nests 209 Fledged, 3.12 Fledged per Active Nest
2020 - 5th Yr. 108 Compartments ?
Ravens5281
Posts: 159
Joined: Mon Jun 27, 2016 10:14 pm
Location: Seymour, Indiana
Martin Colony History: PMCA Member:
Name: Stu Silver III
Begin trying to start a Colony since 2014
Had 2 Martins Visitors stop by (2014)
(2015) 2 Martins Visitors passed through
(2016) 35 Days that Martins Visitors/Stopped by but didn't nest

Jon, u may want to try & keep the same or as close as u can of Housing that the previous owner had!! & putting it back up in the exact same spot bc they say if u want to add or remove or replace existing houses than u can't move them very far or they won't come back & being an established colony I would get the same housing & put it back in the same spot if u can or they may not come back!! Don't know everything man just trying to help u keep ur birds!! They r special I know bc I had them & lost them bc our poles were twisting in the wind & it messed their direction up & boom they were gone so don't make that mistake I did & make sure the poles can't twist & u raise them back up the same way they came down!! I mark mine by north, south, east, & west!!

Stu III
PMCA Member: From Seymour, Indiana
Name: Stu Silver III
Begin trying to start a Colony since 2014
Had 2 Martins Visitors stop by (2014)
(2015) 2 Martins Visitors passed through
(2016) 35 Days that Martins Visitors/Stopped by but didn't nest
JamesinIA
Posts: 329
Joined: Thu Mar 27, 2008 8:43 am
Location: Iowa/Wellman

Jon, thanks for wanting to put up housing for those martins that will come back and if there is no housing for them they will hover over the spots where their old homes used to be. For me that would be a sad thing to witness.

You are on the right track for wanting to put up a gourd rack or two and the excluder gourds are excellent as are the Troyer horizontal and vertical gourds. I really don't think you need to replicate what was there as long as you offer quality housing. If it were me I would use the modified excluder and the Troyer Conley II entrances to keep the starlings out. Chances are the older gentleman had round holes in his houses but I think the martins will figure the new openings out fairly quickly.

When it comes to eliminating Starlings and sparrows, the quickest way for me to take out a trapped sparrow is just pull it's head off and it is over just like that. As for the starlings I twist their neck until it is dislocated. There are many other ways to kill them but this is the fastest and most humane in my opinion.

I can't help you on the owl guards since I have not had problems with owls and hope that I never do. I do have several honey bee hives and the only time that I have witnessed the martins eating any bees is in early spring when it was too cold for other insects to be flying but the honey bees were still flying. It did not seem to hurt them very much.

I am so glad that you found the PMCA website and forum, because of it, I became a successful landlord and learned how to take care of these birds that give me so much pleasure. I wish you and your family the best in your new home and hope you have success in becoming a new landlord.

James
2009 One ASY pair 5 eggs 5 fledged 2010 2 pair 5 fledged 2011 8 pair 27 fledged 2012 14 pair 38 fledged
2013 20 pair 64 fledged 2014 19 pair fledged 84 2015 26 pair fledged 124 2016 36 pair fledged 156 2017 40 pair fledged 156
PMCA member
ToyinPA
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.

Jon:
Congrats on inheriting a colony :). This will also be a great learning experience for your kids. Later on they may have their school friends come for a Martin event. The more younger people that get introduced the better.

You need to get moving on getting housing up. Poles will need to be cemented in the ground.

I'm central PA ...about 20 miles west of Williamsport . I think I may be the furtherest colony, in north central PA, as far as I know. Last year my colony had to endure 11 straight days of snow, sleet, freezing rain, cold right after they arrived. They were sitting in snow on the balconies. I had to suppleent feed out my back window, as I had bronchitis.

If possible contact the previous owner & ask how many pairs he had. Then decide how big your want your colony to be. Put up enough housing to cover that many pairs plus a few extras. The neighbor, he gave the houses to, will get any overflow. I limit my colony to two T-10 houses. That's all I can care for, as I live in town & have health issues.

I would suggest sturdy square poles with winches to raise & lower the housing & gourds. They do better than round poles during strong wind storms. The PMCA store has all you need. I would suggest changing the cables to stainless steel. Lowes sell stainless steel cable. You'll find it in the section where they have the nuts/bolts/screws/etc. Usually on the bottom shelf near the floor. They will cut it to length for you. It will hold up much better than the regular cable. We marked the cable with paint where to stop cranking when raised. Made it easier than looking up the whole time.

I prefer balconies with railings on my houses, but many don't use them. Railings help to keep chicks from falling off or getting pushed off.

As far as entrance holes....they will adapt. I changed houses after several years & then changed entrances as well.

I can't offer suggestion on owl guards, as I don't use them.

Get out & gather white pine needles now, so they can dry well. Lots of them. You'll need several plastic grocery bags full. It makes a great nesting base & keep the Martins warm & dry. Place a big handful in each nest & try to make a nest bowl towards the back. Straw works too, but it holds water. I use cedar chips on the bottom, then a handful of pine needles. I place straw & thin twigs, cut 3-5 inches from bushes, out for the martins to gather for nest building. You don't need to do this, but as I live in town it keeps my colony off the road. Also make sure the floors are not slippery. If they are you can add 1/8" piece of luan plywood as flooring. Drill a finger hole in one corner for easy removal.

Save & bake eggs shells now. Then crush them & put them out on a platform for the Martins. I have a frizbee attached to the top of the clothesline post. They need calcium for better laying. To do eggshells....Rinse well to get out as much egg as possible. I put them in a bowl covered with water until I get enough to bake. Drain off water. Lay on baking sheet & bake at 250 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Just until they are crunchy, but not brown. Let cool. Place some on paper towels & fold over the towel & crunch into small 1/4 inch pieces. Put in a ziploc bag. Once your colony has arrived place some out for them. Keep giving thru the end of season, as they will feed them to the chicks too.

Starling & HS removal.....trap or shoot. Never use sticky traps in Martin houses. Martins or other birds can get caught in them.

Supplemetal feeding is an option many use during no feeding times.....which is temps below 50 degrees, windy days, rain, snow, sleet, freezing rain, real hot/humid days & drought. Martins eat flying insects & they don't fly under any of those conditions. Many use crickets as they are easy to fling into the air. Others use meal worms. Buying local will cost a pretty penny so most order from insect farms via the internet. I think there's a post listing the sites most of us buy from.

Doing nest checks: You'll need a few things....a 5 gallon bucket for supplies. Rags, paper towels, nesting material to do nest changes when required. Paper/pencil to record each nest. I use a clip board with a nest check form I made on the computer. Also something to plug each nest hole later as chicks grow. Some use foam noodles cut to fit, other use rags with a long string tied to it. Watch your colony. Number each nest. Not long after you see them bringing in green leaves egg laying will start. You'll want to record how many eggs are in each nest. Then 16-26 days later hatching starts. Bad, non-fertile eggs won't hatch & are often pushed to the front. I do nest checks at least 2-3 times a week, more if weather is not good. I also tap the pole before lower to let the adults know the house is coming down. This keeps them from getting too scared, fleeing quicky & taking eggs or a chick with them. Every now & then a female will stay on the nest. So open doors slowly.

As the chicks hatch so does blow-fly larva. They crawl onto the chicks & suck their blood. A chick can become very weak in a matter of 2-3 days. Once they reach that point they are too dehydrated to survive. So nest checks are very important at this time. Remove any larva from each chick & change the nest out. Check all over the chick....feet, legs, under wings, neck, etc & remove the larva & smash them. Some chicks can be saved by supplemental hand feeding crickets dipped in pedilyte or gatorade. NEVER give a chick water or any liquid other than a cricket or meal worm being dipped in it. There are posts here about handfeeding, etc. Always place the chick back in the nest stomach down & towards the back of the nest.

As your Martins begin to arrive go out & talk to them. Say hello, welcome back, etc. Don't get too close at first. They will adapt to your moving around your yard. Also never lower the houses after dark. If a storm is due lower the house before the storm. The Martins will be OK. I lower mine to about the center of the pole.

Listen & learn their sounds, calls, songs. You'll soon learn when they are just singing or putting out a warning call that a hawk is close. They are super aerial fliers, so you'll have a show each night as they come & go before dark. They are noisy at this time.

You'll want a camera & binoculars too. This will become an obsession. Do your best to get your wife interested. She's got her hands full with a newborn, and 2 other young kids, but seeing baby chicks may sway her.

You'll learn as you go, so keep coming here & asking questions. Someone will answer.

Make sure you come back & post how this all goes & how many pair you ended up with.

Best wishes on becoming a Martin landlord :).

Toy in PA
PMCA Member
dubluv
Posts: 49
Joined: Wed Jun 08, 2016 9:44 pm
Location: Blue Point, L.I., N.Y.
Martin Colony History: started in 2016 with 6 gourds, some lookers, but no stayers
added a T-14 in 2017, still hoping and praying

Hey Toy, that was an amazing response. I will save it for sure :grin:
Steve,
PMCA member

Blue Point, Long Island, New York
JSmitty2005
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Feb 17, 2017 4:40 pm
Location: Hanover, PA

Thank you all for your answers and suggestions. I'll try to keep you updated on how things go for me.
JSmitty2005
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Feb 17, 2017 4:40 pm
Location: Hanover, PA

UPDATE & QUESTION

I received my order from PMCA today and I'm really excited. :grin: However, I've come across a slight stumbling block that I wasn't expecting with the excluder gourds/porches/owl guards. The instructions on the porches state that if you install them where the indentations are that this will help the starlings get in. Instead, the porches are supposed to be installed nearly flush with the entrance. However, this placement renders my excluder gourd owl guards unusable. I'm sure I'm not the first person to run into this problem. How do you think I should resolve this?

I'm thinking I'll probably return the owl guards and install the porches as suggested for maximum starling resistance. And perhaps get the owl guards that hang down from the rack arm. Thoughts?

Also, a neighbor told me that the colony at my site was 40-50 pairs! I sure hope I can get all of this up and ready in time!
JSmitty2005
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Feb 17, 2017 4:40 pm
Location: Hanover, PA

I actually just got off the phone w Linda at PMCA and she said that the owl guards will still work but will need bent into place. Just wanted to pass on that update if anyone's reading this.
JSmitty2005
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Feb 17, 2017 4:40 pm
Location: Hanover, PA

UPDATE
After anxiously watching the PMCA scout arrival map fill up with reports near me and then north of me, I started to become discouraged that the martins weren't coming back to this site. Then right at 1100AM this morning, four adult males showed up, checked out my two racks for a few minutes, and then left. Now I don't know what to think. Were they the ones returning from the previous owner? If so, did they leave to go feed and they'll be back later? Or did they abandon the site since the housing was unfamiliar and the entrances aren't round? Or were they simply passers by heading somewhere else? I'm not sure if I should report this on the scout map. Are we to report our first Martin sighting or just our first tenants?
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

Smitty I am by no means an expert. But I can give my 2 cents. This year my experience has been, 3 ASY males were the first I saw. Only one has remained. That is I'm sure my returning one male I had last year. The others have come a couple of times but not stuck. They may be visitors from nearby colonies or just migrants moving north.

Personally I would not panic or read too much into it this early. Just do A LOT of observation in order to learn. They do not do what we would expect them to do. They are wild birds and they do whatever suits their fancy. My male was only visible in the AM for a week. Then one day he was in & out all day. Remember they have to go feed. Then that night is the first time he spent the night inside the house. Now he continues to come & go. Today I saw him bring a female back and it was fun to watch him try to entice her to go inside his chosen compartments. She never went inside but did peek in. They are now both gone.

Hope this helps. Experts will give you better advice.
Good luck & enjoy your bird watching.
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
ToyinPA
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.

JSmitty2005 wrote:UPDATE
After anxiously watching the PMCA scout arrival map fill up with reports near me and then north of me, I started to become discouraged that the martins weren't coming back to this site. Then right at 1100AM this morning, four adult males showed up, checked out my two racks for a few minutes, and then left. Now I don't know what to think. Were they the ones returning from the previous owner? If so, did they leave to go feed and they'll be back later? Or did they abandon the site since the housing was unfamiliar and the entrances aren't round? Or were they simply passers by heading somewhere else? I'm not sure if I should report this on the scout map. Are we to report our first Martin sighting or just our first tenants?
Congrats on getting Martins :). Yes you should do a scout report.

Often a few will show up, leave, come back, leave, etc, before they settle down & stay. Some may stay, some may not. The first few back go off looking for a female or other males. Safety in numbers.

Early in the season they are off feeding most of the day, returning just before dark to roost. They land & scoot in so fast you may not see them. Pay attention to the sky, way up high, above your location. You may see them flying around. They are feeding on tiny gnats, beetles, etc, way up there. If you have good hearing you will hear them calling back & forth. I am blessed with exceptional hearing & can hear them even when they are so high I can't see them. Once, they find a mate, then nest building will begin a few weeks later. When you see a pair staying, put out crushed egg shells for them. The female will eat it for the calcium for strong eggshell formation. Males eat it too, but the females really need it. Eggs will be laid soon after they bring in green leaves. When the eggs hatch you'll see the parents coming & going a lot to feed the chicks. It's important to do nest checks every couple days to count eggs, later check for mites & blow fly larva, do a nest change, etc. Tap the pole to let the adults know you are going to lower your housing. Then quickly check each cavity & do your recording. They will hang around & wait until you are done.

Start a daily journal. I record how many of each ASY Male, ASY Female, SY Male, SY Female daily. SY Males usually come around the time the ASY's have built nests & are ready to lay eggs. SY Females will pair with a ASY Males & can arrive early in the season. They will have a light vent (under tail) area. I also record the daily weather temps & conditions. Later I record eggs laid, eggs hatched, how many eggs were bad, chicks survived, died, fledged, etc.

We'll all be anxious to hear how your site developes.

Toy in PA
PMCA Member
Chris B
Posts: 378
Joined: Sun Jun 01, 2014 4:10 pm
Location: AL/Toney

Congrats! I am sure that with those 4 visitors you will have a season. Is there open (ie not surrounded by trees) water nearby? They love having a place to drink, bathe (they splash on the water while flying), and eat skeeters.
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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