Where do PM's go when they disappear in the afternoon?

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bootjack farm
Posts: 80
Joined: Thu Jun 02, 2016 9:30 am
Location: Russell, Pa
Martin Colony History: 9 years of trying hard...finally in 2017 I had 3 pair w/ 11 babies. T-14 +4 w/ 4 Troyer horiz. gourds. Troyer Super System 24. Fast forward to 2020... 64 fledged.

Just wondering what they're up to when they disappear each afternoon. Has there been any studies on this activity? How far do they roam? How high? Are they alone or many together? Are they just foraging, playing or what? I'm sure there are many theories/opinions but is there any science on this topic?
Northwest PA
Dave Duit
Posts: 1963
Joined: Tue Nov 25, 2003 2:02 pm
Location: Iowa / Nevada
Martin Colony History: In 2020, 60 pair with 285 fledged youngsters. 83 total cavities available, 58 Troyer Horizontal gourds and 4 modified deep trio metal house units, 1 fallout shelter, owl cages around all units. Martin educator and speaker. President and founder of the Iowa Purple Martin Organization. Please visit www.iamartin.org and join.

Hi bootjack farm,
Yes, they forage for flying insects high in the air; 150 to 500 feet. Once the babies hatch the feeding frenzy really takes off. They can sometimes be seen foraging in groups or on their own.
Mite control, heat venting, predator protection and additional feeding during bad weather add up to success.
Posts: 2175
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.

They are out looking for food & mates. I sit outside a lot & I can hear them way up high calling back & forth. Can't always see them, but I can hear them. They often disappear into the layer of mist way up high we can't see thru. They may come in for a quick check on the houses & off they go again for awhile. They usually fly in small groups.

No idea how far they roam, but I do know the river is about 1 mile south of me & the creek is about 1 mile east of me. I know they go there looking for food. The closest colony is about 20 miles, by car, south of me. As the bird flies about 10 miles south. They could get there in a few minutes.

Once eggs hatch they bring in food every 15-30 minutes several times a day, depending on the size/age of the chicks. In between feeding chicks they often take turns going for food & catching a break. If you watch them some males are better at bringing in food, while the female may be better. It all depends on the bird & how good they are at catching the insects.

Toy in PA
PMCA Member
Posts: 3176
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 8:49 am
Location: Indiana/Henry Co.

I’ve always found it interesting that things can be quiet in the afternoon but if I lower the house to do a nest check they will be back in no time to see what is going on. They never seem to be too far away.
2021 Currently 62 nest 138 babies plus 110 eggs (6-317-21) HOSP count-9
2020 42 nest, Fledged 164 HOSP count-8
2019- 31 Pair over 100 fledged
2018- 15 pair 49 fledged
2017 3 SY pair nested, 12 eggs total, fledged 10. 4 additional lone SY's
2016 1 pair fledged 4
2015 Visitors
2014 Visitors
2013 Moved 6 miles away, 1 pair fledged 2.
2012 30 pair fledged 100.
2011 12 pair 43 fledged.
2010 5 pair 14 fledged.
Posts: 44
Joined: Wed Aug 08, 2018 11:21 am
Location: Alabama

I always just say they're gone visiting. That seems to cover all the possibilities. :lol:
Ed Pace
Posts: 677
Joined: Tue Feb 08, 2011 3:31 pm
Location: NY/Jamestown

Hi boot jack; I have also wondered where they disappear to. I live in south western New York state near Chautauqua lake. Within 2 to 4 miles distance on the lake there are there are several large colonies , and a few miles around yet there are several more. On a good day in the afternoon before nesting starts you can drive around the lake and hardly see or hear any Martin's, also none at the sites away from the lake either. I don't know a lot about the geo-locator's but my thoughts are they put them on in the late summer and remove them to read them when the birds come back in the spring. They are more for migration mapping. It would be nice if they put them on in the spring and remove them before they leave to go south. Maybe they do I don't know. That news may be out there on the Internet somewhere if you care to research it.I bet Louise ,John or Larry would know the answer to that. Ed.
bootjack farm
Posts: 80
Joined: Thu Jun 02, 2016 9:30 am
Location: Russell, Pa
Martin Colony History: 9 years of trying hard...finally in 2017 I had 3 pair w/ 11 babies. T-14 +4 w/ 4 Troyer horiz. gourds. Troyer Super System 24. Fast forward to 2020... 64 fledged.

Wouldn't that be neat to have some way of actually track them during the days activity? I have no idea if a geo-locator could be made to send such precise data. Maybe a radio transmitter with ground based receivers that could triangulate location? Beyond my pay grade.
Northwest PA
Posts: 285
Joined: Sat Apr 15, 2006 4:19 pm
Location: Eganville, Ontario
Martin Colony History: Visitors are rare. On the northern edge of the martins range.

I would also like to see in season tracking of Martin's. I'm way up on the north tip with really only one colony close to me and it's far, 27 miles straight line away from me. When I last saw a purple Martin check out my colony it was 3 or 4 years ago. It would only be there mid afternoon briefly and always disappear quietly back in the same direction as the colony 27 miles away. I'm certain it was staying at the colony as a SY Male. I saw it a few times that year and it was always in the afternoon and it always took off back in the same direction. Pretty amazing distance.

With hopeful landlords in my situation of struggling to attract Martin's in sparse areas, the breeding season tracking would be a critical tool in helping understand the paired and unpaired birds summer season movements.

I think the results would be surprising.
2010- 1 SY male on and off for a couple weeks
2011- 0 visits
2012- 0 visits
2013- 0 visits
2014- 1 SY male stopped by over 2 weeks.
2015- 0 visits
2016- 0 visits
2017- 0 visits
2018- 0 visits
2019- Break-through year. Had a SY Male stop in on June 7th and stay all day, every day until end of June and built a nest. Hoping he returns in 2020 because I'm getting tired of updating this list.
2020 - The male didn't return. I did see an SY male do a few flyovers.
Doug Martin - PA
Posts: 1938
Joined: Thu Mar 25, 2004 10:47 am
Location: Pennsylvania/Fombell
Martin Colony History: First pair in 2009 after 28 years of trying. 3 pairs 2010, 17 pairs 2011 and 35-45 pairs since. Many additional colonies are now springing up around mine in an area once completely void of Martins. I offer 50 compartments at my site consisting of primarily Excluder II gourds on Gemini racks. Also a wooden T-14. I utilize electric fence type predator guards on the base of the poles. Supplemental feeding is crucial in maintaining my colony. I platform feed throughout the season as needed. My site tends to be a stop over point for additional birds as they migrate further north.

It is surprising on cooler days how often they are inside the housing.

Otherwise in nice weather they seem to scatter out in pairs to different areas. I think they tend to not want hawks to know where they live.

Fun to watch them come back home in the evening. I agree that they are sometimes not that far away.
Supplemental feeding plays a major role in western Pennsylvania. Finally got my 1st pair in 2009 after 28 years of effort. 3 pairs in 2010. 17 pairs in 2011. 35 pairs and 150 young in 2012 & 2013. Plus a new 22 pair colony right down the road from me.
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