I’ve inherited Martins! How to do the right thing?

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susanw77
Posts: 30
Joined: Sat Jan 25, 2020 11:39 am
Location: Radford, VA
Martin Colony History: Lucky to have inherited an established colony in a lakefront Heath house, 18 units. 2020 was my first full season, mostly observing. Still learning how to be a responsible landlord.

Dear Martin people, I could use some advice. Please pardon my ignorance. I purchased a rural home with an existing Martin house on a simple pole last winter. In googling, I think it is a Heath house. The sellers told me it had been there many years, and no, never cleaned. I’m quite up in years, but the men helping me move kindly took it down, disassembled it, and cleaned it. It was filthy, and all the safely rails plus one floor had gone missing so an 18 unit had become a 12.

In the spring, dozens of cheerful, dark birds moved in. Early on, I counted at least thirty perched, with more trying to land. My visiting veterinarian said yes, they were Martins. After the chicks began to fly, they all left and the units have been empty ever since. I decide this year to purchase a bigger Heath house since the birds were so plentiful. Only then did I learn how complicated this issue is, in part from this website. I believe properly caring for Martins will be more than I can take on at my age. Should I remove the house altogether? That seems cruel.

I’d planned to replace it with a new 24-unit Heath house so they wouldn’t be so crowded this year but it seems the Heath houses are inadequate houses with small rooms and bad doors? But it is what this flock is used to. Does that matter to Martins? Would it be better to put up a house with bigger rooms and better doors but not as many units? I realize there is some urgency in making this decision because your map says Martins will arrive in my location by mid March. My grandnephew will be visiting in two weeks and I am sure he will help me get the old house down and put a new one up.

But again, if professionally managing a colony is beyond my physical ability, should I really be encouraging them? Thank you all so much, and thanks to those of you who are clearly working so hard to help these birds. I feel ashamed that I knew so little about them all of my life.
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.

Susan:

It sounds like you inherited a well established colony. Many martin landlords try for years to get them. Many martin landlords are middle age & up, even into their 80's or 90's. I'm now disabled, have major balance issues, but I keep caring for my colony & will as long as I can. It's a job that's for sure. However it is also very rewarding & an addiction to most of us that do it. They are magnificent birds. They can keep you entertained all day long.

I checked the Scout Map & see there are (or were) possibly a few martin colonies not too far from your location. Not all landlords report a colony, so there may be more. If you decide to take the house down they maybe able to move to those locations. They will return this spring, to your property, looking for the house they used the year or so before. Purple Martins rely totally on human housing.

The hardest part is keeping the "rat birds" out of your housing. English sparrows & European Starlings are the 2 birds that are not native to the USA & are very harmful to martins & other song birds. They destroy their eggs, kill the chicks & adults. Many of us trap or shoot them, which is legal by Federal Law, since they are not native birds. Some luck out & don't have much trouble with them, where others do. It all depends on location.

A house with bigger (deeper) rooms, starling resistant entrances, on a 3 inch square aluminum pole, with a stainless steel cable & winch is the best way to go. Expensive to start, yes, but if you buy a good one it will last for many years. Pull out nest trays are a good option as well & they make cleaning & nest checks much easier. Place the house at least 20 feet or more away from the closest tree. They like human presence, so you can place it 20 feet from your house, some have them closer. If yo put up a new house you may want to make it look a little used, by smearing some mud around the entrances & just inside the entrance. They like the used look.

Cleaning the houses out is usually done in the fall, after they have be gone a few plus weeks. Scrape/dump out the nest, hose it, spray some bleach on it, wipe & rinse. They do not have to be perfectly clean. Most will pre-nest in early spring, before they arrive, with dried white pine needles (also known as pine straw). Some use wheat straw. The martins will build their own nests, but pre-nesting helps the early arrivals to have a dry warm place. You can gather the white pine needles in the fall (usually late October early November) from state parks or neighbors trees, if you don't have any. A good handful in each nest cavity is enough. They also sell pine needles/straw in bundles from the PMCA store, or some Lowe's may have them.

Many of us supplement feed meal worms or crickets during bad weather, which is below 50 degrees, rain or snow. Often the martins arrive in northern states & then we get a snow storm or a lot of rain. They only eat insects (mostly flying insects like dragonflies, bees, moths, beetles, etc), so if the weather is bad they can't find food. After 3 days with no food they can become too weak to fly & find food. It's not hard to train them to supplement feed, from flipping meal worms or crickets from plastic spoons or placing them on a raised platform. We also put out crushed egg shells for them to get enough calcium. Supplement feeding is rewarding. Once trained (best to start trying during bad weather) they will line right up to feed. I've had them peeking in my windows watching & waiting for me to go out & feed them. Some will fly right up to me & grab a cricket as so as it leaves the spoon. FYI they will only take food when it's scarce & during bad weather. Otherwise they prefer to go find their own food.

It all sounds a bit overwhelming, but I'd suggest, if you think you are physically able, you put up a house & give it a year to see if you can handle being a martin landlord. If not, then take the house down at the end of the season.

Best wishes,
Toy in PA
PMCA Member
susanw77
Posts: 30
Joined: Sat Jan 25, 2020 11:39 am
Location: Radford, VA
Martin Colony History: Lucky to have inherited an established colony in a lakefront Heath house, 18 units. 2020 was my first full season, mostly observing. Still learning how to be a responsible landlord.

Thank you for the encouragement. I am in such a rural area, I would hate for the birds to arrive and have no house. I don’t mind spending time on them, and to a certain extent, spending money. But I am shopping online for a new house, and the big, nice ones run toward $700 and up.

It seems large rooms and SREH is necessary. But this will cut down on the number of birds I can accommodate. Right now I have twelve units, and it appeared all were occupied. I will try to get help lifting the pole down and make sure all had nests. If by chance a sparrow was living with the Martins, will the nest look different? Will I be able to easily discern the difference? Trying to anticipate how many “tenants” this new landlord will have.

I did see a company that made white and red barn-shaped houses that could go two side by side which seemed ideal, but close up they looked so cheap. Plastic I think. And the roofs were black, which seems hot. I would like plain, white aluminum. And I’d like as many chambers as possible. For the pole and house(s) I would like to spend under $500. Is this even possible? I assume my old pole will be incompatible with a new house, and it doesn’t telescope. It’s just. . . .a pole.

Thank you again.
PMDavid
Posts: 415
Joined: Wed May 16, 2018 8:50 pm
Location: Boyce,Louisiana
Martin Colony History: Second year trying to attract martins. This year I am getting rid of the wooden house and showing something they are used to seeing.
Offering 2 trio grandpaws w/2natural gourds under each and C.Abare gourd rack w/16 natural gourds. And one rehabbed 16 compartment Coates original with two natural gourds.Lots of lookers,a few overnighters and daily activity cruising and looking. All gourds have a rain canopy and wire perch.2019 7 pair moving into 2020 almost double pairs from 2019. Still have most of the month of March to go for new arrivals and April.Here late in season seemed to have as many as 18 Pr of nesting birds. Huge upscale in birds from 2019. Will also have a 20 gourd satellite rack prepared for the 2021 season.

Susan ,toy is soooooo right. People do wait many years sometimes to receive the blessing of martins. You seem to have quite a good batch of them,lucky you in my book! Maybe consider leaving the house you have since they are obviously doing well and add another trio type brand house(way less than 700) for now . At the least it would double the housing you now have. If know any of your neighbors don’t be bashful.......ask for their help to put in a pole and another small house. You’re truly blessed to move to a place that came with an established Martin colony! And the sparrows......well just a guess,but if you have that many martins I’m gonna say you must not have a sparrow problem. Good luck ......and help the martins.
David.
C.C.Martins
Posts: 814
Joined: Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:15 am
Location: Corpus Christi Tx
Martin Colony History: 2016- didnt know anything about martins, put up an all wrong house in 2016 and had two come by and inspect all the cavities. Left soon after not to return. Learned what i could on PMCA made adjustments and next year was successful.
2017- 5 pair. 15 fledged
2018- 18 pair. 85 fledged
2019- 17 pair. 81 fledged
2020- 25 pair. 111 fledged
2021:
Home colony: mix natural gourds, enlarged compartment house. All SREH.
Satelite colony: Oso Bay Preserve: 12 gourds: PMCA excluder gourds, 6 room trio mino castle with enlarged compartments.
2019: Visitors
2020: 3 pair, 11 fledged
2021:
PMCA member

Susan,
You are in the right place for help, we all help one another in the care of martins especially the new folks. Toy has been a resourse for me too. I liked David's suggestion of leaving the old house up and placing another nearby. Helps to keep down wear and tear on the body and another house near the original will certinally be a draw to them. Id suggest a trio house. Easy to maintain, raising and lowering a breeze. Fairly inexpensive. Quality.
You are very lucky to have martins, lots and lots of folks still waiting. If you need assistance putting the pole up properly we can help but reach out to your neighbors for assistance in digging etc😀
It can be a chore cleaning and preparing but after the season is over you have time.
Please let us all know how its going and ask, ask, ask!
Reguards, Tom
Tom
PMCA member, believer in nest checks, venting, SREH and pest/predator protection.
deancamp
Posts: 412
Joined: Wed Mar 16, 2016 9:17 pm
Location: Raymore, MO

The Martin nest and Sparrow nest will look completely different. The Martin nest will most likely appear minimal and the Sparrow nest will be packed full with grasses and feathers. You sound like a perfect candidate for the mentoring program, I don't know if there are any mentors in your area, but they could help you find a good house (maybe even a used one for little money) and help educate you on what will need to be done going forward. Don't worry about providing a house for all the Martins that show up. If your housing fills up the others will move on to another location. I would say that is a good problem to have.
phldave
Posts: 513
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2012 2:44 pm
Location: Iowa/Pleasant Hill
Martin Colony History: Started trying in 2012 and still trying

Susan,
Sounds like you have inherited a gold mine. My hopes are, some of us that live near by, can come to your aid. If they can get your system up to snuff, so that it's easy for you to take care of your wonderful colony, you'll have years of enjoyment. I'd give anything to be in your shoes. Take it step by step and I have faith that you'll get there. Reach out to nature groups in your area. You have a valuable natural resource that deserves to be taken care of, and maybe some wildlife rangers can help.

Dave
2012 late start
2013 nothing yet, lots a lookers
2014 Bust again
2015 Bust again
2016 Bust again
2017 Bust again
2018 April 14 a group joined me, but moved on after a week
2019 Had SY male seriously check me out but didn't stay
susanw77
Posts: 30
Joined: Sat Jan 25, 2020 11:39 am
Location: Radford, VA
Martin Colony History: Lucky to have inherited an established colony in a lakefront Heath house, 18 units. 2020 was my first full season, mostly observing. Still learning how to be a responsible landlord.

Wow, thank you all so much for your help. Believe it or not, a kind delivery driver saw me studying the pole late this afternoon, and lifted it down for me!!! I was flabbergasted. Interesting discoveries ensued. Most of the bottom six units were empty! These would be the units with tall ceilings because of the missing floor above. I gather Martins do not like high ceilings. I have a call in to Heath to see if they can supply six of the triangular green aluminum floor platforms.

But it may not matter. Sad news on the top compartments. Of the six, all had nests, but two had dead birds. I nearly cried. I couldn’t tell you if the remains were Martins or not, but I guess they were, and starlings killed them? Is that a fair conclusion? If so, then a better house is probably in order. But I might not need as many compartments as I thought. I have been reading about wing entrapment and it scares me. If I go to crescent doors, I will have to have a winch, right? Or at least a telescope pole? Because you have to free them if they get caught? And make a commitment to watching the house often through the day. It is all daunting to me. I commend your collective commitment to these birds.

I am looking at the Lone Stars and wondering if I can afford one. They are the right size and have the crescent doors. No 90-degree turns, which seems apt to trap a bird to me. I like the Trios better but the doors appear too round? Maybe there would be less entrapment in a Lone Star?

Again, thanks to you all.
susanw77
Posts: 30
Joined: Sat Jan 25, 2020 11:39 am
Location: Radford, VA
Martin Colony History: Lucky to have inherited an established colony in a lakefront Heath house, 18 units. 2020 was my first full season, mostly observing. Still learning how to be a responsible landlord.

Also — there were twigs in some of the nests! One was almost a stick. I hope I didn’t have a whole house full of starlings last year. That’s a horrifying thought. I am just beginning to what Martins look like. My visiting vet SAID they were Martins but maybe he just saw a Martin house and leapt to a wrong conclusion. They seemed to have a pretty song and weren’t the least aggressive. But until three days ago, I was clueless . . .
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.

Susan:

It's hard to tell if the martins were killed by starlings. Some just die due to age, illness, etc. Martin males sing beautifully. Starlings do not. So if the birds were singing a pretty song you had martins.

Martin use twigs in their nests. The nest is usually dried material like grass, straw, twigs, leaves & some make a mud dam to the front. They add green leaves to the nest just before they are ready to lay eggs. They cover the eggs with the green leaves later. It's believed the green leaves provide the proper moisture/humidity. They also hide the eggs using the green leaves.

Yes you should have a pole you can lower or a house attached to a pole you can lower via a telescoping pole or a pole with a cable winch system. It looks like all of the houses have door options of round or crescent openings. I'd opt for crescent openings.


Toy in PA
PMCA Member
~Ray~Gingerich
Posts: 2121
Joined: Mon Jan 05, 2004 10:24 pm
Location: Delaware/Dover

Have you considered building your own house, a T-14 or T-10 would be a good option. Another option would be gourd racks which are very popular with martins, you can use natural gourds for a cheaper option. If you change housing types leave the original in place until martins migrate to the new housing on their own.
Ray, Dover De
~Ray~ Gingerich
1999 1pair, 2006 2 pair, 2008 2 pair,
2009 23 pair, 2010 39 pair, 2011 67 pair,
2012 115 pair, 2013 160 pair,
2014 152 pair, 2015 174 pair, 2016 178 pair
2017 187 pair, 2018 200 pair, 2019 171pair
2020 233 pair
BillieJR
Posts: 677
Joined: Tue Apr 11, 2017 11:39 am
Location: Monroe, WI

If you're going to get something new but still keep your current house, perhaps you would like to try some gourds on a gourd rack.

I just switched to a gourd rack with a winch last year - it makes it so easy to raise and lower. I am getting up there in years, too, but I have no problem with the winch. I think you would love it.

Good luck - your purple martins are so lucky that their new owner is willing to have housing for them and take care of them. I envy you.
Billie from south central Wisconsin
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.

Guys....appreciate your suggestions.....however....she's a lady, up in her years, with physical limits. She stated that in her first post. So she needs it to be as simple as possible. I think gourds would be too much for her to deal with & she can't build a house.

What would be ideal for her would be a new pole, cable & winch set up & a 12-14 room house. Her funds are limited, so she is trying to figure out what she can afford.

Toy in PA
PMCA Member
susanw77
Posts: 30
Joined: Sat Jan 25, 2020 11:39 am
Location: Radford, VA
Martin Colony History: Lucky to have inherited an established colony in a lakefront Heath house, 18 units. 2020 was my first full season, mostly observing. Still learning how to be a responsible landlord.

Thanks, Toy, from the old lady. I really do feel the years lately. But I do appreciate all suggestions. Building would be beyond me, but it does seem someone needs to design a new, more affordable house. I was really considering putting the old house back up, but those poor, dead birds are haunting me.
susanw77
Posts: 30
Joined: Sat Jan 25, 2020 11:39 am
Location: Radford, VA
Martin Colony History: Lucky to have inherited an established colony in a lakefront Heath house, 18 units. 2020 was my first full season, mostly observing. Still learning how to be a responsible landlord.

Though my skills are definitely limited, Ray’s post did give me an idea. See if someone else was making better houses. There are loads, most unacceptable so far as I can tell. But this one caught my eye:
https://www.etsy.com/listing/689310107/ ... se-12-hole
The apartments are 7” deep which isn’t ideal. But the doors look right and it would be easy to clean. I guess you’d screw it to a metal platform. I wonder if the entrances would be rough and catch wings?
Gauxt
Posts: 80
Joined: Wed Apr 20, 2011 12:03 pm
Location: Louisiana/Prairieville
Martin Colony History: Started 2007
2013 1 Pair
2015 2 Pair
2016 4 Pair
2017 12 Pair
2018 15 Pair
2019 15 Pair

ADMINS..…. Could you possibly set something up where willing members could donate $ to buy and ship this lady a new house or gourd rack??

Also, if someone is in her neck of the woods that could lend a hand on set up etc.... please shout out.
2010-0
2011-visitors
2012-visitors
2013-1 pair
2014-0
2015-2 pair
2016 4 pair
2017 12 pair
2018 15 pair
susanw77
Posts: 30
Joined: Sat Jan 25, 2020 11:39 am
Location: Radford, VA
Martin Colony History: Lucky to have inherited an established colony in a lakefront Heath house, 18 units. 2020 was my first full season, mostly observing. Still learning how to be a responsible landlord.

No, thank you so much. You are so kind, but I will buy the new house. Just trying to decide which one, and best bang for my buck.
phldave
Posts: 513
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2012 2:44 pm
Location: Iowa/Pleasant Hill
Martin Colony History: Started trying in 2012 and still trying

Susan,
If you are going to go that route, try to find something with compartments closer to 12" deep.
Dave
2012 late start
2013 nothing yet, lots a lookers
2014 Bust again
2015 Bust again
2016 Bust again
2017 Bust again
2018 April 14 a group joined me, but moved on after a week
2019 Had SY male seriously check me out but didn't stay
susanw77
Posts: 30
Joined: Sat Jan 25, 2020 11:39 am
Location: Radford, VA
Martin Colony History: Lucky to have inherited an established colony in a lakefront Heath house, 18 units. 2020 was my first full season, mostly observing. Still learning how to be a responsible landlord.

I am thinking the a Trio Castle system with winch will be my best deal. I wish it was all white to keep the heat down and look less glaring, but it can be adjusted to 12 large cabins. Can’t tell if it comes with plugs for the other 12 holes or not. I have an email in to my nephew to see if he thinks he can get the old ground stake out. It looks to be a 2” pipe about 4” tall, and set in concrete so it might be very hard to do.

Assuming we can do this, have I made a good choice? It will cost $600 approximately. Thank you all again for guiding me.
Whippy
Posts: 598
Joined: Thu Jan 19, 2017 11:15 pm
Location: Plano, Texas
Martin Colony History: 2016 - late to put up, many visitors
2017 - 1 pair, 3 fledged
2018- 2 pair, 12 fledged
2019 - 4 pair, 21 fledged
2020 - 15 pair, 67 fledged

Susan,

You can actually order the parts you need for you your Trio systems.

https://www.purplemartin.org/shop/127/t ... cessories/

One thing I am not sure of, so you might want to send a question to whomever you purchase from, is can you order the Trio Castle with the parts you want? Instead of getting door plugs can you order blank doors? And so on.

I acquired a Trio from my neighbor who did nothing with it. I was able to refurbish it with all new parts from the manufacturer. It is now up and ready for tenants. They will have available interior walls with the holes already cut so you can expand your cavities by doing nothing more than changing the walls. Trios are very easy to work on. I ordered my parts from the manufacturer:

https://naturehouseinc.com/index.php?ma ... =235_88_66

Again. When you plan to order ask questions and hopefully you can get one set up the way you like it to prevent having to do a whole lot by yourself.

This community is quite large and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if you find someone here who is close to you and will be willing to lend a hand. We love doing this stuff. It's a passion.

Good luck to you.

Coolwhips
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