Training Martin's to take food...how?

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brent
Posts: 502
Joined: Sat Feb 10, 2018 2:43 pm
Location: Raceland, Louisiana

It looks like I'll lose many of my birds to this cold. Found 3 dead in cavities and observed many weak ones. Still two more cold days ahead. I tried and tried to flip crickets, meal worms and eggs to no no success. I want to train them to retrieve the food I flick to them. How do you do it? Tell me how you did it. I really want to be prepared for the next time. How do I get my birds to take the food? I know they're hungry but they're not taking it.
Brent
randyM
Posts: 129
Joined: Thu Jun 18, 2015 2:30 pm
Location: Long Lake SD
Martin Colony History: * 2006 - SY pair, unsuccessful nest attempt, 3 houses = 52 cavities
* 2010 - ASYM + SYF pair - male disappeared after storm, female fledged all 4 young.
* 2015 - Lone SYM stayed month of June...added 8 gourds = 60 cavities
* 2016 - 1 nesting pair (ASYM + SYF) 2/3 eggs hatched 2 young fledged.
* 2017 - 4 nesting pairs, 16/17 eggs hatched, 16 fledged, 16 banded - 2 banded SY returned in 2018 (12.5%), added housing: 11 houses w/gourds, 4 gourd poles = 376 cavities
* 2018 - 10 nesting pairs, 46/52 eggs hatched, 45 fledged, 29 banded - 3 banded SY returned in 2019 (10.3%)
*2019 - 32 nesting pairs, 145/160 eggs hatched, 139 fledged - 87 banded - 12 banded SY returned in 2020 (13.8%).
* 2020 - 35 nesting pairs, 180/199 eggs hatched, 178 fledged - 150 banded - 39 banded SY returned in 2021 (26.0%).
* 2021 - 89 nesting pairs, 363/446 eggs hatched, 355 fledged - 150 banded.

First of all, I'd like to say that I'm sorry to hear of all the hardship folks are dealing with due to the extreme cold weather occurring in our country's south. I'm also saddened to hear how this weather is causing stress and mortality to many of our avian friends. Hopefully conditions will rapidly improve for both people and wildlife alike.

I'll share a few feeding experiences and ideas that I have that hopefully may be of some use. I've had limited success flipping bugs to martins in my colony, but have only tried this technique a few times last year during a cold spell during early migration. I didn't have any crickets or meal worms, but had collected a few hundred June beetles and a few dozen grasshoppers from my rural acreage the year before which I stashed in the freezer. I had about two dozen martins riding out an early spring snow event at my colony and on the third cold day of no birds going out to feed I tried flipping some re-hydrated beetles towards them. I flipped over one hundred beetles with no takers. I then flipped a few grasshoppers, again with no takers. Before I flicked the next grasshopper, I forcefully fanned it's wings out to make it appear more like a flying insect, I tossed it into the air, and BINGO, I had a taker. I did this with the remaining hoppers and three of the martins caught all of the remaining hoppers. I then tried flicking June beetles again, but only a few were caught and eaten before the birds stopped chasing my offerings. If I would have had more winged grasshoppers I probably could have more easily trained many more of the birds. I collected a few hundred grasshoppers last fall, so I'm ready to give it a try if need be again this spring. My thought here is that the more the food you flick into the air looks like a winged insect, the more likely and quickly the birds will be to chase it and become trained to eat other food (e.g., scrambled eggs, crickets, worms) you flick at them in the future.

Another option to offer supplemental food that is often tried is to simply put dead crickets, meal worms or scrambled eggs on a platform and hope the martins will identify the lifeless objects as food. Martins and other aerial insectivorous birds are naturally wired to chase live food that is moving, so it is not too surprising that most martins do not readily take to eating (or are even able to identify as food) dead insects lying motionless in a feeding tray without first being trained to do so. One thought that I had is to try and trigger the natural "chase and eat" mechanism in martins by providing live, moving meal worms or crickets in an elevated heated tray to keep the food alive and moving to entice the birds to eat. The dish could perhaps be warmed from below by a light bulb, or perhaps even be a shallow heated pet's water dish. Hind legs of crickets might need to be pulled off to prevent them from jumping out of the dish/tray and if they can only crawl, they'll be less likely to leave the warmth of the dish and will avoid the cold conditions away from the dish. I have not tried this technique before, but will do so during any cold conditions that may occur at my colony in the future.

One last training idea I have is to provide a supplemental feeding platform periodically during the nesting season. I currently provide two elevated platforms from early nest building through fledging that contain crushed eggshells that are frequently visited by every martin in my colony (including non-nesting SY males). Last year I included some re-hydrated June beetles in with the eggshells and noticed a few had been removed (not sure if they were eaten or just tossed out). I've noticed that if I allow the eggshells in the trays to all be consumed and don't refill the trays for a few days, once I do put shells back into the trays the martins aggressively swarm the trays for an hour or more, until all martins get their fill (and have fed their nestlings their fill as well). This year I plan to add live crickets or grasshoppers to my elevated eggshell trays when I re-fill them. My hope is that when the martins are aggressively visiting the eggshell station during that first high traffic hour, they also eat some of the live insects placed in the tray and learn that this is a place to find food as well as calcium. If they eat the live insects, I will also incorporate dead, re-hydrated insects into the mix during subsequent refilling of eggshells to see if they will consume such offered reconstituted insect food as well. Hopefully some of the martins learn the trays serve as feeding stations, and will not hesitate to feed from them during times of inclement weather in the future.

I'm hopeful that some of these suggestions work to help save a few martins in distress either this year or in future years. I'll be trying some of these ideas myself during this coming season, and will post my results as to how things develop.

Best of luck to everyone!

Randy
Ed Pace
Posts: 677
Joined: Tue Feb 08, 2011 3:31 pm
Location: NY/Jamestown

Hi Brent, let me start off by saying I hope there isn’t anybody on this forum that thinks because of their geographical location makes them less sympathetic of landlords losing their martins through starvation.
Teaching martins supplemental feeding is not easy, not every Martin Will do it even when most are feeding some sercome before they learn. Living in the north we face the problem every year. Here are some of the things I do , I have a 10 foot platform centrally located near my polls, it has four 9 x 9“ cake pans on it. I also have 9 x 9“ cake pans on all my T-14 s between the roof and the perch rods. I have aluminum pie pans wired in the middle of my gourd racks. Knowing that I will have to feed every spring I
set ant traps on ant hills and catch many bottles of ants each summer put them in the freezer to help entice the Martin’s for the next spring, nothing looks more like a bug than a bug. I use these as well as crickets mealworms grasshoppers and eggs to place in the said pans and porches and inside the tunnels as well. I know that the big black ants attract some birds that may be more on the shy side. I also use a collapsible pond golf ball retreiver jpole with a plastic drink cup holder at the top for a fast and easy Way to place the feed on trays and the purchase. Read all you can on the clubhouse site the Facebook site in the PMC forum. For the week birds that you catch put a few drops of water where their bills come together so that it will go slowly inside and not interfere with her breathing tube . Keep trying and don’t give up it will happen for you. I don’t know if you have any crane flies in the south but they make very attractive food for starting in the supplemental feeding. Good luck we are all rooting for you. Ed.
brent
Posts: 502
Joined: Sat Feb 10, 2018 2:43 pm
Location: Raceland, Louisiana

Thank you Randy and Ed. All very good suggestions. I was actually prepared having frozen crickets and meal worms from last season. I went out everyday and tried. For those birds that live I will continue to flick crickets to them. Maybe they'll catch on. We'll see. At this point it's sad to see and hear of the losses. The martins have it hard enough. I never would have imagined this. Thanks for the support.
Brent
paule
Posts: 85
Joined: Mon Nov 09, 2015 2:06 pm
Location: Central Iowa
Martin Colony History: 5 Modified Trios 10 Gourds and 1 B&B
2021 31 Pair ??? Fledged
2020 29 Pair 109 Fledged
2019 24 Pair 83 Fledged
2018 23 Pair 92 Fledged
2017 26 Pair 105 Fledged
2016 21 Pair 99 Fledged
2015 15 Pair 59 Fledged
2014 18 Pair 40 Fledged
2013 16 Pair 30 Fledged
2012 10 Pair 30 Fledged
Started in late 1980's

" I want to train them to retrieve the food I flick to them. How do you do it? Tell me how you did it. I really want to be prepared for the next time."

brent

Breaks my heart what you are going through. Many years ago I lost an entire colony due to bad weather and took seven years to get any birds back. Not wanting to go through that again, I tried to take precautions. I found that the martins would sit on my roof to warm themselves. I could get a few to eat meal worms if I flicked them on the roof. Could not get them to take any on the fly. I tried every thing I could think of. After 3 years I got one male to take crickets that were flipped from a plastic soup spoon. Then it was follow the leader.

I continue to feed them every year as a precaution. I find they don't accept food in the spring unless it is in short supply. However, I have found they readily accept food while feeding hungry chicks. I use this opportunity to keep them trained. I now no longer need to flip as they are trained to take food off the eggshell/oyster-shell and bedding platforms. However I still flip food because I enjoy doing it and it has become a good promotion for prospective young martin landlords.


I now find that martins laying over here before venturing further north are readily accepting flipped cricket and eggs. (Mostly eggs.) I am worried more than usual this year as our martins are more than likely returning or already in the south. Any from my colony are already well trained to take flipped food or eggs off a raised platform.

Hang in there and god bless

Paule
Project MartinWatch participants and supplemental feeding is provided. I also add heat to housing when needed.
flyin-lowe
Posts: 3176
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 8:49 am
Location: Indiana/Henry Co.

I consider myself lucky, I live in a more northern climate and have only had to feed twice in 15 years or so. Just so happens it was the last two years. Both times it was day three for them of not being able to feed. The first year it only took about 10-15 crickets before the first one grabbed one. After that they barely let another hit the ground. For reference the first martin I was trying was on a perch facing north. I was standing to the east of the martin and flipping them about 5 feet in front of the martin from east to west. I tried to get it to arch a few feet higher than the martin as it was passing by. After about 5 or 6 I noticed it was watching the cricket go by. A few more flips and it dove after the cricket. At the time I probably only had about 10 martins back. I think I flipped 100 crickets or so that ate them all. I went in and scrambled some eggs and they never took those. Last year I had to feed again and it only took a couple flips and they were on them again. Last year they must not have been as hungry, I had close to 20 back and maybe only 10 or so ever took any. I think this year if I have to feed again I am going to get crickets and also try to mix in some meal worms, they are a little easier to deal with, just buying a large bag of them. If they won't take them my chickens will.
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.
ToyinPA
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.

brent wrote:
Thu Feb 18, 2021 11:06 pm
It looks like I'll lose many of my birds to this cold. Found 3 dead in cavities and observed many weak ones. Still two more cold days ahead. I tried and tried to flip crickets, meal worms and eggs to no no success. I want to train them to retrieve the food I flick to them. How do you do it? Tell me how you did it. I really want to be prepared for the next time. How do I get my birds to take the food? I know they're hungry but they're not taking it.
Brent
Brent:

I will try again....seems a lot of my posts get removed for some reason.

Every site is different. Mine has lots of power lines close to the houses, so they line up for me. If you have gourd racks & no power lines or your houses are not close to any power lines, then I'd suggest starting about 20 feet away. Set up a chair & a stand for your supplies. Supplies: Crickets or meal worms, a few paper towels to wipe any ick off your face (may or may not happen). Spoons. I use the long handle ice cream spoons. If you have none or can't find any the shorter spoons will do. Anything else you may need...coffee, etc. Assume you will be out in bad weather trying to feed them. I've had to go out in a parka, leg warmers & a blanket to cover my legs with snow or freezing rain coming down. I wear a baseball hat to keep rain & snow out of my eyes.

First they need to be hungry. So after 3 days of temps below 50, rain, high winds, cold, snow, freezing rain, etc. try to flip crickets or meal worms. Note: pinch the heads off the meal worms before flipping, as they have pincers & can attach to their mouth, tongue, throat. Best time to start is in morning or about 2 hours before dark, when they are the most hungry. My martins like to sleep in, so 9-10AM works for me, depending on the weather, & 6-7PM in early spring. You may need to do it earlier.

OK so next you want to get their attention. Talk to them. Tell them you have food. Use a whistle sound or some sound to attract their attention. I whistle a short tune. Adult Males are the ones you want to concentrate on first, as females tend to hang back. Once they are out on your housing place a cricket/meal worm on the tip of the spoon. Hold the spoon in one hand & use the tip of your index finger from the other hand, bend the spoon back. Lift your arms way up, use your whistle sound . Let it fly. Try to aim towards an adult male. Keep your eyes on the cricket as it's flying thru the air. I've recovered many crickets, as I'd see where they hit the ground. Anyway if the male sees it he will watch it fall. Flip another, each time using your whistle sound. They soon relate the sound to food. Try to aim in front & above him. Keep trying & aiming at one specific male. Once he takes one the rest will join in. The point is to get them high in the sky above the martins. Flip away from the housing, so they have room to fly off & catch it. As they learn to catch supplemental food they will dive down right in front of you to catch them. Mine watch the spoon & as soon as I raise it up they take off to grab the cricket before I've launched it. I've felt the breeze from their wings as they zipped in front of my face. If you've gone thru 50 crickets & have no takers, then try again in a few hours. Don't give up, keep trying. Eventually the timing will be right & they will go after them.

Once you get that one male to take supplemental food the other males join in. Try to flip as fast as you can. Get the males fed up & then aim some towards the females. They hang back, because the males are aggressive. It's not easy getting the females fed up. All you can do is try. Eventually an adult female will be hungry enough she will join in with the males. I had one last year that would slam into a male to get the crickets & she yelled at them too. Also if you have the adults supplement feeding the Subbies will learn from them, again sub females will hang back.

I feed the first martin that arrives & keep feeding, if needed, all season. Over the last 10 years we've lacked insects. Fracking, sucking all the water out of the creeks & rivers (many insects hatch out on wet creek & river beds, so dry beds, no insects), heavy pesticide use on corn, seed, soybean farms, etc. I've had to feed during drought, hot weather, etc. They remember each year that I will supplement feed them. The power lines run across my property, right past the houses, to my house. They line up & look in my back windows, letting me know they are hungry. If the weather is bad & I walk into my laundry room they can see me & here they come lining up. I can almost reach out the window & touch them. I have tried platform feeding, but my martins are picky & insist I flip.

May 1, 2016 we had rain & a temp of 48. Lots of storms & cold temps in southern states. I went out to flip at 7PM. My colony was out looking for food. Here they come, along with 11 more martins. They were not part of my colony, but a colony that was heading north, assuming into upstate NY. Most were in bad shape. Soaked, feathers a mess & they were weak & thin. They looked like they'd been thru a war. One male could barely perch he was so weak. They watched my colony catching crickets & most joined in. They spent the night. Sadly 2 females did not make it. The other 9 moved on north the next morning. Us northern landlords have learned that we must supplement feed them or they will not survive. They often arrive weak & thin, due to lack of insects & bad weather in the south.

It will take the perfect timing, weather, etc. for you to train your martins. All it takes is getting one adult male to catch that first cricket or meal worm & you're in business. If you've lost your colony to this cold try with any new ones that arrive, even if the weather permits them to find food, try anyway. They may or may not be hungry when they get here, but try anyway. You'll go thru a lot of crickets or meal worms until you get them taking them.

Eggs are good protein, but they can also cause loose bowl, which can led to dehydration. I know many feed eggs, but I choose not to.

Best wishes,
Toy in PA
PMCA Member
brent
Posts: 502
Joined: Sat Feb 10, 2018 2:43 pm
Location: Raceland, Louisiana

Thanks Toy. I'll cut and paste all the responses so I'll have it in print. Thanks everyone!
Brent
Hanover Bill
Posts: 634
Joined: Thu May 14, 2009 3:10 pm
Location: Pennsylvania/Hanover Township
Martin Colony History: 2009 & 10 - 0
2011 & 12 - Visitors
2013 - 2 pr. fledged 9
2014 - 3 pr. fledged 13
2015 - 7 pr. fledged 27
2016 - 15 pr. fledged 72

Brent; Patience, patience, patience. I didn't think I would ever get my Martins to take supplemental feeding, but patience finally paid off. Just keep trying, as others have mentioned it just takes that first brave soul to make the first move and you're on your way. What a great feeling it is when they start accepting your offerings. Knowing that you can help them through the rough times makes all of the work worth it. Best of luck.
Hanover Bill.
2009 & 10 - 0
2011 & 12 - Visitors
2013 - 2 pr. fledged 9
2014 - 3 pr. fledged 13
2015 - 7 pr. fledged 27
2016 - 15 pr. fledged 72
C.C.Martins
Posts: 1308
Joined: Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:15 am
Location: Corpus Christi Tx
Martin Colony History: 2016- Visitors.
2017- 5 pair. 15 fledged
2018- 18 pair. 85 fledged
2019- 17 pair. 81 fledged
2020- 25 pair. 111 fledged
2021- 28 pair. 118 fledged
Home colony: mix natural, super and excluder gourds, enlarged compartment house. All SREH.
Satellite colony: Oso Bay Preserve: 12 PMCA excluder gourds, 6 room trio mini castle with enlarged compartments.
2019: Visitors
2020: 3 pair, 11 fledged
2021: 10 pair, 30 fledged
PMCA member

training day #1, very well!!! Over the last week iv been collecting those June bugs from the front garage lights. I'll stick them in the freezer, last night I used a 5 gallon bucket, created a cardboard cone and cut the bottom off for a funnel and lined that with tin foil then put a light in it to attract them.
This morning was a good bit in there.
So, got the spoon and started flipping the live June bugs, a few tries but as soon as they took flight the martins went right after them. One ASY started it. Oh so much fun to watch.
Then went to the frozen ones, no intrest in a June bug going straight up and down, but if I open the wings so it pinwheels, great response. Best to remove the hard wing covering and extend the wings, I removed the legs too. Started mixing in crickets and the martins nabbed them. They ate about 100 June bugs and 200 or so crickets.
Many many crickets in the grass and sidewalk but overall went better than I thought.
I'll feed again this afternoon as they are now bringing in nesting material. Have 2000 crickets to get them trained up. Supplemental feeding, here we come!
Tom
PMCA member, believer in nest checks, venting, SREH and pest/predator protection.
C.C.Martins
Posts: 1308
Joined: Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:15 am
Location: Corpus Christi Tx
Martin Colony History: 2016- Visitors.
2017- 5 pair. 15 fledged
2018- 18 pair. 85 fledged
2019- 17 pair. 81 fledged
2020- 25 pair. 111 fledged
2021- 28 pair. 118 fledged
Home colony: mix natural, super and excluder gourds, enlarged compartment house. All SREH.
Satellite colony: Oso Bay Preserve: 12 PMCA excluder gourds, 6 room trio mini castle with enlarged compartments.
2019: Visitors
2020: 3 pair, 11 fledged
2021: 10 pair, 30 fledged
PMCA member

Update: 200 more down the hatch. Couldnt throw them up as it is a sure signal to sea gulls food is around.
Very very happy
Tom
PMCA member, believer in nest checks, venting, SREH and pest/predator protection.
deancamp
Posts: 682
Joined: Wed Mar 16, 2016 9:17 pm
Location: Raymore, MO

Good to hear your having good luck. There is a lot of good information on this thread.
Jeff Dean
brent
Posts: 502
Joined: Sat Feb 10, 2018 2:43 pm
Location: Raceland, Louisiana

Alright! I'm going to give it a try soon, too.
Brent
C.C.Martins
Posts: 1308
Joined: Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:15 am
Location: Corpus Christi Tx
Martin Colony History: 2016- Visitors.
2017- 5 pair. 15 fledged
2018- 18 pair. 85 fledged
2019- 17 pair. 81 fledged
2020- 25 pair. 111 fledged
2021- 28 pair. 118 fledged
Home colony: mix natural, super and excluder gourds, enlarged compartment house. All SREH.
Satellite colony: Oso Bay Preserve: 12 PMCA excluder gourds, 6 room trio mini castle with enlarged compartments.
2019: Visitors
2020: 3 pair, 11 fledged
2021: 10 pair, 30 fledged
PMCA member

As they say, just takes that first one. Made another June bug trap, they really keyed on the spiraling flying motion of those bugs.
Yeah the winter lesson and the info here inspired the attempt. Just have to keep it up and train train train.
Tom
PMCA member, believer in nest checks, venting, SREH and pest/predator protection.
ToyinPA
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.

C.C.Martins wrote:
Sat May 08, 2021 2:19 pm
As they say, just takes that first one. Made another June bug trap, they really keyed on the spiraling flying motion of those bugs.
Yeah the winter lesson and the info here inspired the attempt. Just have to keep it up and train train train.
Once you have them trained they do not forget. Each one that returns the following years will remember. The hardest ones to train are SY's. Also females tend to hang back, as males are more aggressive. Each year take any opportunity to supplement feed to keep them taking it & teach new ones. That way if a bad weather pattern hits you can keep them from starving. You can also work toward getting them to feed off a platform. To do that you need to flip from the platform. Some will take to it, others not.

Toy in PA
PMCA Member
C.C.Martins
Posts: 1308
Joined: Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:15 am
Location: Corpus Christi Tx
Martin Colony History: 2016- Visitors.
2017- 5 pair. 15 fledged
2018- 18 pair. 85 fledged
2019- 17 pair. 81 fledged
2020- 25 pair. 111 fledged
2021- 28 pair. 118 fledged
Home colony: mix natural, super and excluder gourds, enlarged compartment house. All SREH.
Satellite colony: Oso Bay Preserve: 12 PMCA excluder gourds, 6 room trio mini castle with enlarged compartments.
2019: Visitors
2020: 3 pair, 11 fledged
2021: 10 pair, 30 fledged
PMCA member

Ok, thanks Toy
Tom
PMCA member, believer in nest checks, venting, SREH and pest/predator protection.
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