Frustrating year

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

Steve,

I remember you have always had a successful martin colony and usually posted some of the earliest scout reports from your area in Florida.

I know it is frustrating trying to understand what may be happening when your once thriving martin colony seems to be no more. From what I have observed over the years some kind of predation is often the reason for successful martin colonies to decline or even disappear. In our area of northwest Louisiana and where I previously lived in Florida, it was rat snakes, Accipiter hawks or barred/great horned owls.

If you have 3/4 netting properly installed on top of your cylinder guard, that netting should catch any large rat snake that defeats the guard. It is best to have the netting fluffed out, not matted tightly and without any gaps to allow a snake to go under the netting. Unfortunately, the cylinder guards, particularly metal ones, have been defeated by large rat snakes and there have been photos on Facebook showing this. But some of the landlords were wise and had net traps above the guard and the snake was caught! So if your netting is appropriately installed on top of the guard, then maybe rat snakes are not the problem. I will ALWAYS have a net trap on any martin gourd rack/house pole!

I have for many years studied barred and great horned owl predation on my various martin colonies in Florida where I previously lived and now in northwest Louisiana and owls usually leave some kind of "calling card" when the predation has been intense and ongoing. I usually find a discarded owl feather under the gourd racks/houses as owls often lose feathers when they grab a gourd/house porch or fly against a rack or house. I may find plucked martin feathers scattered under the housing and more often under nearby tree limbs or around posts. Owls typically take a martin to a "butchering platform" to tear the martin apart and eat it. You may even find blood around a gourd entrance hole and martin feathers stuck to it. Have you found any owl or martin feathers in the area?

Accipiter hawks, the Cooper's and sharp-shinned, are notorious martin hunters and will stake out a vulnerable martin colony and slowly decrease the martin numbers over time. These hawks often attack martin colonies using stealth/ambush strategies and may catch a martin and be gone in a few minutes. Probably the vast majority of martin kills by Accipiter hawks are never observed by human landlords as the landlords are not there at the time. Accipiters hunt well in the dim light conditions of early morning and at roosting time. In your area, you would have wintering Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks that probably would leave by the first of April and year around resident Cooper's hawks. Cooper's hawks are now nesting all over Florida; sharp-shinned hawks are most likely just migrants.

You said you have a sharp-shinned hawk around. This hawk may be catching returning martins while you are at work and you don’t see the predation.

When martins have been under intense daily Accipiter hawk attacks, the martins often manifest what I call is “hawk fright behavior”. Your martins undergo a dramatic behavioral transformation and are terrified to socialize around the colony, quit nest building, often leave early in the morning and seem to disappear, and return late in the evening, sometimes almost at dark to roost. They may circle high overhead and make short dives toward the colony, emit alarm vocalizations, and pull up rapidly high in the sky. Finally they then crash down on the colony and try to enter their nests as quickly as possible. You literally have a “ghost colony” and you may feel your martins are going to abandon the site. Several of my last Florida colonies experienced extreme hawk fright behavior because of daily Accipiter hawk attacks. I wasn’t retired at the time but witnessed the hawk attacks in the evenings or weekends when I was there and observing my martin colonies.

If you noticed any such behavior in the past, then an Accipiter hawk may have been terrorizing your martins and the same or another hawk may now be attacking any martins that are trying to return to your present colony. Could you still have martins in your colony but they are experiencing significant hawk fright behavior and are gone during the day and only returning late in the evening to roost? Do you usually watch your martins return to roost in the evenings?

And finally could there be an overall decline in martin numbers for your specific area? Do you know of any other well managed martin colonies in your area? If you do, perhaps you could check with the landlords and see if they, too, are experiencing a decline in martin numbers.

Hopefully the mystery of missing martins will be solved soon and your colony will return to normal.

Steve
PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season
steve r
Posts: 349
Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2004 8:16 am
Location: Antioch/Plant City Fla

Steve, I’ll try the game cam. For years after I noticed the owls hanging around on near by light poles I started playing loud music through a pa speaker.
steve r
Posts: 349
Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2004 8:16 am
Location: Antioch/Plant City Fla

Steve,

Last year we had a resident sharp shined hawk chasing the birds. I have also noticed it here when I’m home during the weekend. I have installed a game cam close to see if there coming in late like you said.
LoisG
Posts: 11
Joined: Sat Apr 29, 2017 8:30 pm
Location: Warwick,RI
Martin Colony History: New - just set out gourds today, May 4th, 2017. We had several purple Martins looking over the place this morning then left in the afternoon. Why?

Snakes and hawks
Thank you for the posting about snake netting. I will be setting up the colony on Church grounds.
I am a new landlord in Naples Florida.
The colony will be set up about 50 ft from very tall pines and garden club church members have reported a good populations of snakes so I have purchased a guard and will now get some bird netting to.
Still not sure what to do about hawks.
The colony I purchased is from the purple Martin Conservation Association with 6 gourds.
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

mwren wrote:
Fri Mar 06, 2020 9:22 am
This topic of "Frustrating year" is a great advertisement for the importance of routine nest checks. Most all of the questions raised here could be answered by nest checking.

Bird
Agree. Keep a closer eye on your Martins (nest checks, record keeping, snake nets) might have shed some more light into your mystery.

For a guaranteed returns (unless your martins got killed somehow during the SA stay, or during migration), you need on average at least 10 pair established in order to have a pretty good chance of return the following year. You've had way more than 10 pair, so something happened to your Martins without your knowledge. Hard to tell what it could be. Sorry this happened to you.

JUST DON'T GIVE UP.

tor
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
steve r
Posts: 349
Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2004 8:16 am
Location: Antioch/Plant City Fla

Thanks for all the reply’s. Still none showing up.

NOT EVER GONNA GIVE UP
Ransom Graham
Posts: 31
Joined: Fri Mar 09, 2018 9:13 pm
Location: Newton, NC

I believe you said you had snake netting above your PVC pipe so I seriously doubt this was a snake issue!
steve r
Posts: 349
Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2004 8:16 am
Location: Antioch/Plant City Fla

I’m thinking the hawks. Both sharp shinned and Coopers.
steve r
Posts: 349
Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2004 8:16 am
Location: Antioch/Plant City Fla

Well still nothing. I’ve sat out every night looking nothing. I have a game set up to watch th3 gourd racks nothing. VERY 😞
SMJohnson
Posts: 133
Joined: Wed Feb 19, 2014 11:06 am
Location: IA/Ottumwa

What type of openings do you have on your housing? Several years ago I found blood around the
Connelly 2 opening on a T14 house. The parents were not to be seen again but the eggs remained
in the nest site that was attacked. There were other nests with missing eggs and chicks all from
housing that didn't have Troyer Tunnels. Since that incident I have installed Tunnels on all of
my housing and have not experienced similar losses. Do you have any protection on your housing?
Tunnels guards or cages.
2012-13 Pair 2013-52 Pair 2014-65 Pair 2015-85 Pair 2016-80 Pair 2017-93 Pair 2018-87 Pair 2019-102 Pair
148 compartments 72 Troyer Horz. 24 Troyer Vert. 52 Wooden
SMJohnson
Posts: 133
Joined: Wed Feb 19, 2014 11:06 am
Location: IA/Ottumwa

If you don't have Tunnels Guards or Cages on your housing I suspect
your Colony could have been the target of a Great Horned Owl.
2012-13 Pair 2013-52 Pair 2014-65 Pair 2015-85 Pair 2016-80 Pair 2017-93 Pair 2018-87 Pair 2019-102 Pair
148 compartments 72 Troyer Horz. 24 Troyer Vert. 52 Wooden
steve r
Posts: 349
Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2004 8:16 am
Location: Antioch/Plant City Fla

A picture of my site. The trees look closer than they are 75’ away.
steve r
Posts: 349
Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2004 8:16 am
Location: Antioch/Plant City Fla

ABC76B71-34E2-46E2-929F-74833D1CCBAE.jpeg
ABC76B71-34E2-46E2-929F-74833D1CCBAE.jpeg (39.5 KiB) Viewed 1752 times
SMJohnson
Posts: 133
Joined: Wed Feb 19, 2014 11:06 am
Location: IA/Ottumwa

It's a little difficult for me to see very clearly but it appears like 2 of the racks have gourds with round
opening and no tunnels. And 1 rack with Troyer Gourds with tunnels. If that's the case the gourds with
round holes, no tunnels, no owl guards or cage could be very vulnerable to Great Horned Owl attacks
2012-13 Pair 2013-52 Pair 2014-65 Pair 2015-85 Pair 2016-80 Pair 2017-93 Pair 2018-87 Pair 2019-102 Pair
148 compartments 72 Troyer Horz. 24 Troyer Vert. 52 Wooden
steve r
Posts: 349
Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2004 8:16 am
Location: Antioch/Plant City Fla

https://YouTube/r7pdafmMu8U A video of my colony Jan 2017 before nothing this year :-(
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

steve r wrote:
Tue Mar 17, 2020 1:41 pm
https://YouTube/r7pdafmMu8U A video of my colony Jan 2017 before nothing this year :-(
Steve,

Check the link. It's not working for me. Perhaps it works for someone else but I can't see it. I clicked on it as well as copied into a new browser.

Thanks,

Coolwhips
steve r
Posts: 349
Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2004 8:16 am
Location: Antioch/Plant City Fla

Sorry it’s not working. It shows about 25 birds at my colony Jan 28th 2017. Now this year none.
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