Be patient, persistent, and don?t give up

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ken buker
Posts: 71
Joined: Thu Nov 20, 2003 9:51 pm
Location: Washington/Silver Lake
Martin Colony History: Started backyard colony at Silver lake in June 2004 with single pair of SY martins. Built a nest, no eggs, they left by late July. Returned 2005 and colony grew to three pair successfully raising and fledging 15 healthy young. In 2018 this colony was 110 pair strong and thriving. Managed a small colony along the lower Columbia river west of Longview, WA for a few years prior to starting my colony at Silver Lake.

As a novice martin landlord in the Pacific Northwest, I would like to encourage all those want to be landlords, not to give up.

First of all, thanks to all forum members who take the time to post and respond. Though I have done very little posting, I thoroughly enjoy reading them and have certainly learned a lot, and have seen some interesting points of view.

Now I'd like to take a little time and share my experience as a martin enthusiasts.

From my early childhood, around 6 or 7, I knew I had an admiration for the swallow family. Our cow barn was full of cliffies, our back porch was home to barn swallows, and my first experience with tree swallows was in our paper box nailed below the mailbox. My granddad and I made my first real birdhouse and it was immediately occupied by violet green swallows.

But I was 9 years old when during summer break while swimming in the farm pond with cousins that I was first introduced to purple martins. I remember a single pair swooping down to drink from the pond as we swam, and their size and vocals captivated my attention and from that time on the've held a special place in my heart.

After reading about martins in the school library, I was determined to have them nest in our neighborhood. Little did I know that Western martins behaved much differently than Eastern martins. So my dad and I constructed a multiunit house from plans included in the library book and I think both of us were very proud when we put it up the following spring. Unfortunately, for years the only residents of the 10 unit house were tree swallows and eventually starlings.

I do remember however, while playing little league baseball observing a pair of martins nesting in the school building near the ball park, and also in some old snags with abandoned woodpecker cavities along the Toutle River.

Many years passed between those childhood years and my new introduction to the preservation efforts of the Western Purple martin. Unfortunately, due to fierce competition from European starlings and house sparrows for natural (and unnatural cavities like the eve of the school building), martin populations suffered a severe and serious decline for over three decades from the early 60s well into the 90s. Thanks to the gallant efforts of individuals like Dave Fouts of Portland, Oregon and Stan Kostka of the Seattle / Puget sound area, along with numerous others, the introduction of nest boxes and gourds from California to northern British Columbia has had a dramatic positive impact on increasing martin populations.

For over thirty years I have provided housing for bluebirds, swallows, wrens, and nuthatches around my rural farm at Silver Lake, Washington. I am located roughly 1 mile north of Silver Lake. I have heard an occasional martin overhead but have not located a nesting site in the local area since those childhood years, but always hoping they would return. In 2002 after a couple of summers scouting the lower Columbia River, observing a couple of colony sites established by Dave Fouts, and reading my quarterly publications of the update magazine, I decided to try my hand at being a landlord. The site I discovered was 26 miles from home, but there were active pairs of martins competing with starlings for cavities in old pilings along the Columbia River. I started with four natural gourds. I hardly had them up before martins were flying around my head interested in what I had to offer. Needless to say I was delighted with the first year results, so the following year added 12 more gourds for a total of 16. It is now a thriving colony and I?m sure could stand to have additions made to the available accommodations so I will probably add more next year. Like most Western Landlords, I had to be content checking on the colony two or three times a week, but because of its? location in proximity to my work commute and my home, that was the extent of my involvement, until.., June of 2004 and now it gets better..

While at home trimming my wisteria on the morning of June 12, 2004, I heard a purple martin overhead. I quickly ran down planning to turn on the dawn-song since I'd been using it for a couple of years trying to attract martins to my back yard. As I got closer to the shop where it was located, it became apparent to me that the martins weren't overhead, but checking out a small cluster of gourds (3) that I had set out, one of which was already occupied by a pair of tree swallows. I quickly put up an additional two gourds a short distance away from the original three. To make a long story short, a pair of SY martins built a nest in one of the gourds, however never laid eggs. I was disappointed, but yet ecstatic with the experience I'd had with them in my back yard. The female stayed around until mid July, finally leaving for the summer.

Knowing there was a chance now that they might be back the following year, I spent the winter planning and preparing a special place for them. I'd keep my swallow and bluebird housing some distance form the new planned colony site. I would also wait until later in the season to put up the gourds, hoping other birds would already have selected a site before the martins returned, if they did return. It was a well executed plan and should work.

This spring (2005) as the swallows, blue birds, and wrens, began showing up, I patiently awaited the arrival of the martins. You should know, that come late January and early February, I truly watch the arrival dates in the south because I know they are on their way north. I put up the gourds at the Columbia River colony site in late April, but waited for a later date at my home in Silver Lake to help prevent early occupation by birds other than martins. On May 15th knowing that there were martins at the Columbia River site, I decided to put up my small clusters of gourds for the martins. One cluster of 3 gourds the other of 2 gourds. I closed the entrance holes with clothes pins to prevent swallows from nesting until I was sure there would be martins in the area. On the morning of May 25th while taking a day off from work and working in my yard, I was this time playing the CD martin chatter. I was enjoying the sound of the CD when to my surprise, there circling my small gourd clusters was a pair of purple martins. Of course I was certain it was the same female that stayed until mid July the previous season, though I really had no way of knowing for sure. No matter, I hurriedly got the ladder and removed the pins from the entrance holes.

To end my story since it has become so lengthy, I had three pair stay, nest, raise and fledge 14 young martins this season. The first time ever here at home. Their last night returning to the nest was August 13th. On the evening of the 14th as I was mowing the lawn near the colony site, a single female circled one last time as if to say Thanks, and we'll be back next season. I did see and hear them for a couple more evenings in the trees and high in the sky but they did not return to the gourds. It was truly a dream come true for me and I treasured this season like no other. The colony along the Columbia River also was successful this season, but the real enjoyment and pleasure was in my own backyard. The moral of this story is that if you are patient enough, persistent enough, and try hard enough, eventually they will come, and when they do, it makes it all worth working for.
Last edited by ken buker on Sat Nov 23, 2013 2:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Posts: 2216
Joined: Thu Jan 08, 2004 1:58 pm
Location: TX/Alvin
Martin Colony History: Erected 1st house in 1997. Birds were checking it out before Mike got down from the ladder. Six cavities had a little colony 1st year. Grown to 88 cavities all gourds with near 100% occupancy. Most important factor for success is rain = bugs.

Hello Ken.

Thank you for posting your story. It touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I am so-o happy for you. Congratulations on your success.

Are you ever there in the morning? Work takes me away from my home during the week, but on the weekends I would see the PMs come in to the housing for a few hours each morning. They are truly gone from the housing now, but even yesterday, I saw a large group of around 50 Chimney Swifts and there among them were four (4) Purple Martins. They were all feeding on "something".

Please stay in touch and keep us posted on the events at your colony. Best wishes to you for continued successes each season...
Sharon - Central TX
Posts: 643
Joined: Sun Feb 08, 2004 9:20 pm
Location: So. Central TX
Martin Colony History: All Troyer Horizontal Gourds with Conley Entrances
PMCA Member since 2004

Your story is so inspiring! Like Laverne, I had tears by the time I finished reading it. Congratulations. After so many years and so much persistence, you deserve the joy and happiness you now have with what would seemingly be an impossible task. Hopefully there will be other Western sites erected due to your testimony. Is there any way you can get publicity locally? I also think this would be a wonderful article for the Update. Louise, or anyone else with PMCA, what do you think? I live in TX which is a Martin magnet and he inspired me :-).
Emil Pampell-Tx
Posts: 6743
Joined: Tue Nov 11, 2003 1:26 pm
Location: Tx, Richmond (SW of Houston)
Martin Colony History: First started in Gretna, La in 1969 with a small homemade house, have had martins ever since at 2 different homes in Texas

Ken, what a nice story. It really is great if you & others can attract the martins back to your area. This may be the beginning (the early days) of their return to your area. I am happy for you, and I hope that more people will try to attract them, they are such a joy to have at your home.
PMCA Member, 250 gourds, 6 poles, 2traps
Bernie Nikolai
Posts: 402
Joined: Tue Nov 11, 2003 7:44 pm
Location: Edmonton, Alberta

Ken, Great story!!! I'm very interested in the western martins using your gourd rack. I could never figure out why the western martins didn't use traditional eastern housing, but my suspicion is that they are very few in number (until recently with a bit of a population increase), plus they are not conditioned to do so, plus very few, if any, are offering this type of housing to the western martins. But they are highly adaptable, and clearly you have proved they are starting to use "eastern" housing.

To get their population up in the west, I think this is essential. While they can make some population increases in drain tunnels under bridges as in Sacramento, I really think they need to be in monitored colonies immediately next to people as they are east of the Rockies. Swinging gourds as you have are probably the best choice, if round entrance holes are to be used. Up here, starlings and sparrows shun swinging gourds, but do nest in them as a last resort, but only after all fixed wooden housing is used (assuming they are not dealt with). Large compartment housing with SREH, or a "chalet rack" with chalets instead of gourds (with SREH), might also work. I know of a fellow in central Alberta who is moving this winter to Victoria, BC, on southern Vancouver Island. His new retirement acreage is very open and near the ocean, and there are already nesting martins in nest boxes in the nearby harbour on pilings. He is bringing his Buskas North Star, in my opinion the very best of the large compartment wooden apartment style houses available, with him. He is fully committed to his idea of getting the western martins to nest in eastern style housing, and the North Star has been very successful for him in Alberta. Because of the SREH that come on all North Stars, he does not anticipate problems with starlings, and he will elimanate all sparrows.

So the positive trend of getting western martins to nest in eastern housing is/has already started! I know some have mixed feelings about this, and may prefer the "natural" nesting sites, ie tree snags, woodpecker holes, lava tubes, etc. My feeling is to offer excellent eastern housing as well, and let the martins decide. Hopefully in a few years the western martins will be making major increases in population due to eastern housing, and folks in the west can enjoy these wonder birds in much the same way those of us east of the Rockies can.
He who harbors the nesting bird shall have health and happiness all the year
Posts: 52
Joined: Mon Feb 09, 2004 2:08 pm
Location: Minnesota/Brainerd

It would be a honor to shake your hand. Great job.

Posts: 1889
Joined: Wed Jan 28, 2004 11:04 pm
Location: Texas/Katy

Great story. You got me all choked up! That is great. You waited a long time and finally you have them. Keep up the good work, they'll be back soon. :grin:
I'm a "nestcamaholic" Is 18 hours a day a bad thing? (I have 2 this year, luckily I have 2 eyes!)
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

That is great news! We don?t often hear about success stories with the western purple martin in human supplied housing. Your persistence surely paid off.

Since martins out west often nest in natural cavities, particularly woodpecker holes, your success with gourds is understandable. Natural gourds provide a rustic interior, seclusion and darkness. You can also create natural gourd cavities that maximize vertical/horizontal depth. These factors may be attractive to the female martin which actually selects the male and his territory.

I hope you will continue using gourds for the martins to increase the martin population in your area.

Continued great success and keep us posted.

Posts: 407
Joined: Thu May 20, 2004 6:38 pm
Location: Kentucky/Murray

What an inspiring story! Ken welcome to the forum! Your story brought tears to my eyes too. Good luck to you next season, and keep us informed. ... :) ..... Pat
Posts: 52
Joined: Mon Feb 09, 2004 2:08 pm
Location: Minnesota/Brainerd

For those who may have missed this last Aug.


Many TNX :grin: :grin: :grin:

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