Purple Martin News From Northwest Louisiana

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

Purple Martin News From Northwest Louisiana

Our two personal purple martin colonies in northwest Louisiana, mine and my neighbor Bob, are flourishing at this time. We have never seen so many martins around our colonies at the end of April like we are seeing this season. Our colonies seem to be INFESTED with martins this year!

Here is some news about our martin season for 2020…

During the last week or so of April I have lowered all my gourd racks/houses because of the threat of bad weather at least four times! I guess I just should have left them all down the first time! This April has been one of the stormiest one I have ever seen. But thank God we haven’t had any high winds or hail!

The purple martins don’t even miss a wing beat coming back to their nests and the martins even seem to know the routine as I have done it so many times recently.

The weather reports were forecasting almost “end of the world” storms for the night of April 28 in our area but we just got lots of rain.

My gourd racks/houses are on poles between 13 and 14 feet tall. I usually lower them another foot or two or even more and the lowest gourds are about seven feet from the ground. Every foot you lower your system, you reduce the stress on the pole just above the ground stake. When a pole bends, it often bends just above the ground stake.

Recently many SY males and females have been trying to move into the few remaining vacant cavities but they are being dominated by aggressive ASY martins. I’m even seeing a few single ASY males looking for cavities, too. These ASY males may have lost their previous cavities due to storms or they have been overrun with starlings/sparrows so these males are looking for new territory. Vicious battles are occurring daily with fights continuing on the ground. The SY males are persistent and must keep up the pressure on these ASY male tyrants to finally succeed. There have been some success stories and I always enjoy seeing a new pair take over a dominated cavity from these tyrants!

This season I am offering 380 cavities on 17 systems: 15 gourd racks and two Trendsetter houses. I have 352 gourds and 28 house compartments. I am using Troyer Horizontals with cling plates and with tunnels/porches, Troyer Verticals, PMCA Excluders, and Super Gourds.

I have been trying to arrive at a reasonably educated estimate of the number of martin pairs I have as of now. Based on close observations of various gourd racks and houses, I estimate that I have between 320 and 340 pairs of martins in residence. So there may be between 40 and 60 possible vacancies for all these new SYs and some ASYs to take.

There are scattered vacancies so new martins, particularly SY males, have to “test” various gourd racks/houses and look for possibilities. This does place them in conflict with the existing permanent pairs, resulting in severe fights on the outside and inside the gourds/house compartments. It’s amazing that they can even find one of the empty cavities among all these gourds/house compartments.

My neighbor Bob’s martin colony is doing very well too. He is using five Trio Castles with 12 compartments each, three 16 room Lone Star Goliads, three gourd racks with 24 gourds each, including Troyer Horizontals with cling plates and with tunnels/porches and Troyer Verticals, one multi-purpose pole with two of his eight room houses, and a single six room house. His total cavities this season is 202. I believe he has 175+ pairs at this time and his martins are fighting the newly arrived SY males, too.

This season has been the “mildest” one I have ever seen for starling issues. I have only shot three starlings, but have trapped about eight beginning in November of last year. We don’t have much of a starling problem anyway and I have been able to easily control them with a ruthless shooting/trapping program.

House sparrows are almost non-existent each season, but I did trap and shoot several males this year. Most years I don’t even see a sparrow around our yards.

For the 2020 season I have been recording every attack I have observed by migratory Accipiter hawks and merlins on our martin colonies and this year I have seen the fewest ever. Since February and continuing through April 29 (had a failed merlin attack), I have witnessed only four Cooper’s hawks, five sharp-shinned hawks, and eight merlins make attacks and most of these were on the many martin decoys I have on poles around both our colonies. I usually see MANY MORE attacks than this. The decoys have done a good job of deflecting raptor attacks AWAY from the real martins which managed to escape high in the sky. So far I have observed only one successful kill by a female sharp-shinned hawk on a female martin that was ambushed near the edge of a pasture outside our colonies. However, the hawk dropped the martin in some tall grass and I was able to retrieve her, but she was dead.

The resident Cooper’s hawks inflict the greatest raptor mortality on our two personal martin colonies by predating many martin fledglings during June and July. Most of the kills are not directly at the colonies but “at a distance” when the martin fledglings are perched in trees or on power lines. We usually see this predation every season so that unfortunately will probably start in in June.

I have not heard nor seen any great horned or barred owls around our colonies so far this season. We usually have at least one great horned owl that preys on any martins that try to roost out in the open on the house porches or on dawn singing males that are singing on the gourd racks/houses. None so far that I can tell! The greatest number of owl attacks occurs when hundreds of martin fledglings return to roost all over the gourd racks/houses during June and July.

I caught my first rat snake on April 23 in a net trap made from bird netting and this was a most unusual capture. The snake was apparently caught in the afternoon, which has never occurred before, and this was the earliest I have ever caught one at my current martin colony. It was a Texas rat snake and the gray head was the key identifying characteristic. The snake was a medium size one and between three and four feet in length. We catch black, Western, and Texas rat snakes in our traps.

Bob and I have five satellite martin colonies in this area and we have been monitoring them regularly. Bob started all these colonies years ago and I have been helping him. The colonies are comprised of various aluminum houses, both commercial and ones Bob built and Super Gourds. There are 234 cavities and it looks like this season a great many will be occupied by martins. We always have some problems with house sparrows, but this season Bob discreetly shot most and I trapped some also and it appears that the sparrows have “become extinct” for now! Plus when the martins arrive in force they do a good job of keeping many of the sparrows at bay though there are always a few aggressive ones that require our ruthless attention.

As our martin season progresses I’ll share more news.

I took a few photos of my lowered gourd racks and houses the other day. The martins were back at their nests within minutes of my lowering the systems.


PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season
Posts: 71
Joined: Wed Mar 25, 2009 3:22 pm
Location: Texas/Katy

I noticed the Trendsetter house in your colony pic. Very impressive setup, BTW.

Is that a TS16? If so, I was wondering what the approximate dimensions are for that house. I am looking into a replacement house for my relic. Think I am at end of the life of my current house due to corrosion and fatigue. Several repairs in past 6 seasons. Currently offering 13 cavities (6 x 6 and 6 x 12) and want at least the same or some extra opportunities for the birds. Would love the TS18, but seems pretty bulky - not sure the HOA would not show an interest. Am leaning toward the TS16, but cannot find dimensions anywhere. Waiting for call back from Martin Market Place.

Hope your season has been successful. Most of mine have fledged, but looks like 1 or 2 2nd nestings happening in my THG's.
Thanks ii advance,
Bill Banks, Katy, TX
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