More photos of the Alley Colony

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Scully
Posts: 2008
Joined: Mon Jan 26, 2004 5:35 pm
Location: Texas/San Antonio

I stopped out there this morning. The story behind this colony being that it was apparently maintained for some time by a retired gentleman. The colony lies in an alley or right of way behind some businesses on a busy thoroughfare, said alley running between the businesses and the back fences of a fairly well-to-do neighborhood of private residences.

Here's the three poles from south to north looking towards the business side. The sign says "Garden of Alley"...

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The northmost pole is this Trio Castle. Fatman608 and I lowered and cleaned the sparrow nests out last weekend. I tossed a couple out again today.

Two of the Carrol gourds were attached to a neighboring, non-telescoping pole (barely visible in one pic), the third was laying on the ground, we attached them to the bottom of the Trio as you can see. One gourd is already occupied.

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Another view of two of the poles...

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The middle pole, a decrepit Heath castle. Half the top roof gone and about nine or ten cavities still usable. The thing is it presently houses at least three pairs of ASY martins. We were unable to free up the Carrol pole to lower it last week, I may have a spare pole I can switch out.

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The third pole, a two stack Trio, seen here lowered. At least two pairs of martins in this one.

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Matt F kindly offered to send replacement doors. I ain't consulted with Fatman608 yet, but I'm wondering if it isn't best to maintain these houses in their present state of disrepair. I'd guess that they have lasted this long on account of vandals mostly ignore them. I dunno if it would be a good idea to make them look new again.

Of more immediate concern, note how dried-out the grass is. We are forecast a continuing drought for at least another two months. Based upon my observations of our similarly urban school colony, dry conditions like this does NOT bode well for the nesting success of our local martins this year.



Here's something I had overlooked, on a utility pole at the site; a bat house! Looks like that retired gentleman invested considerable time and effort at one time

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Mike Scully
Last edited by Scully on Sat Mar 08, 2008 8:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Brad-AL
Posts: 566
Joined: Tue Nov 11, 2003 2:00 pm
Location: North AL

Scully, that's a sad sight, and site. Thanks for working on that situation though, the Martins there definitely need someones help. I don't know how they can successfully raise any nestlings with all those Sparrows there. Their best chance might be for the housing to blow down, or be removed so they would be forced to find a new colony. Good luck.

Brad
Scully
Posts: 2008
Joined: Mon Jan 26, 2004 5:35 pm
Location: Texas/San Antonio

Brad, we have located a bunch (50?? my numbers are at school) of active purple martin colonies in my area, almost all of which have starlings and/or sparrows. Most, like this one, have been persisting for years.

I don't know how they do it, but most martins in North America must somehow breed under these conditions. I ain't saying I approve, just that that is the way it is.

Mike Scully
Guest

Mike,

An all new meaning for slumlord!

You are indeed a very good samaritan. Keep up the good work on those neglected colonies.
Brad-AL
Posts: 566
Joined: Tue Nov 11, 2003 2:00 pm
Location: North AL

I know to, that many, probably the majority of Martins do nest in those conditions. I do however doubt that they fledge enough young to overcome the annual adult mortality, at least on a consistent basis. That's probably why sites like that die over time. It may take 20 years for them to die, but I bet they all eventually do become Martinless sites. In conditions as bad as those in the pictures, if nestchecks were done, simply to record egg and fledgling numbers on 10 sites like that, with no interference to S&S, or aid given to the Martins, I'd bet over a 5 year average there would not be enough fledglings raised to replace the parent birds.
RC Moser
Posts: 1537
Joined: Fri Nov 14, 2003 3:25 am

IMO this is typical across the country and even across the street from me. I see this alot no matter where I drive up and down 35 from texas to Missouri as far east as you want to go. I believe that most PM's Fledge from site just like that. Why cause they out number the well managed site a 100 to one. The heath house IMO is better shape than most.

A true Purple Martiner knows what goes on at sites like that, course we don't like it, and hate to see the sparrows right beside PM, but the cold hard true IMO this is the norm rather than the exception. I am surprised there aren't starlings nesting also. Once cavity competition has ended they are more interested in feeding the young rather than killing or booting PM's IMO.

IMO the only reason this type of colony has PM's is the number of cavities available. Meaning more holes than the sparrows use so the PM gets the left overs. Mr. starling take what he wants and the sparrow and PMs gets the leftovers. IMO this is why a single house unattended (other than castles or large number of cavities on a single pole) rarely has PMs cause the number of cavities offered are so few that the Scummers take over them.

I wood be afraid to remove the sparrow nest without getting rid of them cause this might cause the PMs to suffer. I would just fix the missing parts so more cavities may be available for PMs if I couldn't get rid of the sparrows. No I don't like it, but I wouldn't want to enrage the male sparrow if I couldn't illuminate him. Trapping them out would be your only option and that may be hard with too many eyes snooping around. JMO
Matt F.
Posts: 3894
Joined: Mon Feb 28, 2005 9:48 am
Location: Houston, TX

Great work Mike!

If you decide you'd like to add some more round hole doors to that Trio/Duracraft DH-12N, let me know via private message, or e-mail, and I'll get some to you.

Great photos!
John Miller
Posts: 4766
Joined: Mon Mar 22, 2004 9:11 pm
Location: St. Louis, MO

Like RC, I'd be afraid to continuing tearing out sparrow nests much longer for fear of making them meaner. I have long wondered if sparrows are less aggressive in breaking martin eggs and tossing out their young at these unmanaged sites -- I'm not recommending unmanaged sites. But this site might provide an opportunity to study this..perhaps doing nest checks at this point and documenting the impact of the sparrows with no further nest pullouts.

John
Scully
Posts: 2008
Joined: Mon Jan 26, 2004 5:35 pm
Location: Texas/San Antonio

I'm recalling Mary Wilson up in Ontario has reported success with martins up in Ontario where volunteers just pulled sparrow nests every week from golf course colonies as opposed to trapping, the volunteers not willing to practice active S&S control.

Then too, We have found nine active sites locally so far where the owners apparently clean out sparrow nests at least on occasion. I have not heard of any of these homeowners actually trapping and killing S&S.

If just pulling nests CAN work, as Mary has suggested, that surely is not too much to ask of anyone in the store buying martin housing.

In our favor is that this early in the year the sparrows still do not have eggs and young, which I believe is the classic trigger for house sparrow rage syndrome although pulling just nests prob'ly isn't going to make them any nicer.

On the topic of sparrow nests and martin success, several of our active martin sites from last year were in twelve-room houses. The impression I'm getting though from having looked at a bunch of these sites now is that colonies are lost as much as anything through the gradual ACCUMULATION of sparrow nests. Around here sparrows start nesting a bit earlier and continue much later than martins.

If I did not clean them out, we would lose at least two or three gourds out of our forty every year to sparrow nests. No way a martin could get in the following year even in the absence of the sparrows.

Mike Scully
Guest

Hey Mike,
What would be the possibility of finding the owner- if there is one, and seeing if you could relocate the housing to your school or another?Possibly one of your students siblings or another hi school?

jest a thought
Chuck
John Miller
Posts: 4766
Joined: Mon Mar 22, 2004 9:11 pm
Location: St. Louis, MO

I thought Mary Wilson was just removing sparrow eggs as the season progressed. Sparrows are a pain and I agree with pulling out nests early on; but still thinking nest pulling may be more inciteful to males. Mary might clarify.

John
Mary Wilson-SW Ont
Posts: 218
Joined: Tue Nov 11, 2003 6:24 pm
Location: Leamington Ontario

Hi Mike and John, and everyone, congratulations to all who have martins returning, it is such an exciting time of year!

I’ve just recently been able to sign on to the forum again, and would like to clarify our “passive sparrow control”. In the past, I know that many times, the reaction has been that if you won’t / can’t eliminate S+S, then take down the martin housing, so, let me start by saying that I agree the very best approach, bar none, is to trap and eliminate. However, there are times, places, and circumstances where that is not possible, and if not, then removal of the sparrow eggs is the next best thing. Why? You prevent them from breeding.

Mike, I commend you for taking this neglected site under your care. That you have done so indicates you would like it to be a viable site into the future. For it to become viable and productive, the sparrows must be dealt with. So, since you cannot trap and eliminate (which takes time and proximity), then THE SPARROWS WILL REMAINand your only options become:

1) Leave the sparrow nests alone............let them breed.
2) Tear out the sparrow nests.......do not let them breed.

#1) Where I live, sparrows can have 3 or 4 broods, averaging 5 each. If you leave the nests intact, then at end of season you could have 15-20 new sparrows for each pair of resident adult sparrows; not only that, some of the earliest broods can themselves start breeding. Since they seem to remain fairly local, the majority would be around next year when the martins come back, and there will be less cavities available, and more sparrows to harass them. A couple of more seasons like this, and your martin colony has died.

#2) Do not let the resident sparrows breed. Tear out their nests and eggs, and eliminate the potential 15-20 sparrows per resident pair from ever being hatched. Again, since they seem to remain fairly local, some will become prey, and some will die of natural causes. Either way, less sparrows will be there when the martins come back, and there will be more cavities available, and less sparrows to harass them. A couple of more seasons like this, and your martin colony is steadily growing.

There is a lot of fear regarding sparrow retaliation, but, after “doing martins” for many years, I am certain that sparrows do not need the incentive of a ruined nest to viciously attack other birds’ eggs. That will happen anyway. And keeping in mind, that if you are not going to trap the sparrows, leaving them there to nest and breed will simply increase the problem exponentially and you may as well say goodbye to any potential martin colony. Sometimes the sacrifice will be a few martin eggs, but the payoff is many less sparrows, not only for this year but for years to come.

For a brief history of why I believe tossing eggs is worthwhile: The colony we began so many years ago (1990?) at our local golf course, started with the installation of 32 Trio Grandpas on fixed poles scattered throughout the course to which we carried a 10 foot stepladder to reach and monitor every week. We didn’t know much, but we knew sparrows had to go, so we tossed eggs, because the logistics of trapping were impossible. That first year, we counted 900+ sparrow eggs tossed. (Obviously we could not have left these sparrow nests alone because of fear of retaliation! Yes, we did have sparrow retaliation, but the alternative, since we couldn’t trap, would be to let 900+ sparrows hatch ) In each subsequent year, we had fewer and fewer sparrows to contend with – we simply had not allowed them to breed. This “passive control” is still the way our volunteers control their birdbox trails (I trap when needed in the martin houses), but when you are at a public site and having volunteers take part, I can assure you they don’t mind tossing eggs, but the program would grind to a halt if killing birds became a part of it.

The housing has changed over the years, and with modifications from small to larger compartments we actually offer less now, but we still host over 100 pairs, and none of the successful years would have been possible without sparrow control, and if you cannot do it the ultimate way (ie. Trap and eliminate), then do it this way – it is still extremely beneficial not only to martins but to all other native birds. Just consider what you accomplish down the road when you prevent a single pair of sparrows from hatching any eggs in a single season.

Mike, I think your “alley” site looks very good – obviously the martins like it, and apart from potential vandalism, there’s probably no predator threats. If you keep the sparrow numbers down this year and every year by not letting them breed, I bet you’ll end up with a growing and very productive colony there. My very best wishes to you.
Guest

Mike,

I can certainly understand your concern regarding revenge syndrome.

I don't know how often you can get by the alley colony, but if you can get by once a week or so, here is something you might try.

After the sparrows finish laying, addle the eggs and then replace them in the nest. This should keep the adults busy for at least 3-4 weeks sitting on eggs that won't hatch. It also seems like you wouldn't upset the male HOSP causing him to go on a rampage.

Last summer I tried this with a sparrow nesting under some flashing on my neighbors house. I took the eggs out of the nest and sprayed them down with PAM cooking spray, wiped them up a bit and replaced them.
The adults eventually abandoned the nest. It was pretty late in the season so I doubt that they re-nested.

I don't usually monkey with the "PAM" nest because it is a sure kill shot from my place for any sparrow foolish enough to try and nest there. It's good for at least twenty a year. But I was curious so I tried the addle thing out. At least in this case, it worked.
John Miller
Posts: 4766
Joined: Mon Mar 22, 2004 9:11 pm
Location: St. Louis, MO

Mary

Glad you are back. I guess I'm hard headed but when you said "toss the eggs out" I thought you meant just the eggs. From your more detailed description I see you are also pulling nests.

I'm still intrigued by the possibility that even more passive control, just taking the eggs or addling or spraying with Pam -- I wonder if Bruntdog asked his wife's permission -- would be less likely to set off revenge, but as you say the male sparrow may just get bored and go around breaking martin eggs anyway. I think it's his way of claiming more compartments.

I did have a horrible experience as a teenager -- pulled out sparrow babies and set off the male sparrow on such a tantrum that he plucked a patch of feathers from the back of male martin to the point that I found the martin wounded on the ground..so I know these sparrows, which have powerful beaks, can turn pretty mean.

John
Lhawk
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri May 28, 2004 10:23 am
Location: Tennesse,Memphis
Martin Colony History: Started tying in 2001 finally got 3 pair in 2003. Since then I had a steady increase to the 34 pair I now host in 2 Watersedge Suites 1 Trendsetter,and 12 plastic gourds.

Scully,
I would like to respectfully add a third option to Mary's list. That would be to leave the nest and let the HS lay eggs, then addle the eggs. This can be done by shaking the eggs very hard,, and then coating them with oil. You can use vegtable oil, mineral oil, or whatever is available. This keeps the eggs from hatching but does't upset the HS. They will keep trying to hatch the eggs for several weeks. I have used this method with good success a our Ample Acres site, where we are not able to monitor on a regular basis. After about three or four weeks we tear out the nest,and the HS just abandon the site. Last year a SY pair took over the compartment immediately after we tore out the HS nest.I think the main advange is no chance of sparrow rage plus no increase in the HS population. I think it may be worth a try. Lots of luck.
Lee
Tenth year as a landlord. Started with 9 pair the second year housing was up ,2004. Now have 32 pair here in town, and 38 pair at the farm. Life is truly good
Lhawk
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri May 28, 2004 10:23 am
Location: Tennesse,Memphis
Martin Colony History: Started tying in 2001 finally got 3 pair in 2003. Since then I had a steady increase to the 34 pair I now host in 2 Watersedge Suites 1 Trendsetter,and 12 plastic gourds.

Oops,
I see burntdog posted nearly the same thing while I was slowly two fingering my post. Any way it may work.
Lee
Tenth year as a landlord. Started with 9 pair the second year housing was up ,2004. Now have 32 pair here in town, and 38 pair at the farm. Life is truly good
Mary Wilson-SW Ont
Posts: 218
Joined: Tue Nov 11, 2003 6:24 pm
Location: Leamington Ontario

Hi John, thanks. I too am intrigued by this other possibility. The goal, I guess, in lieu of trapping, is to prevent the sparrows from breeding, with as little potential of retaliation as possible. I had heard of ‘addling’, but never by means of a cooking oil. (I know too of the powerful beak of the sparrow – one clamped hold of my finger once when I was retrieving him from a trap, and wow, did I ever feel that – they are really strong and it is no surprise that they can inflict the damage that they do.)

Lee and Bruntdogg….I had never heard of this before. In previous years I have tried “addling” eggs by shaking vigorously (they hatched later, so that didn’t work). I also tried piercing with a needle – at both ends, and deeply – and to my considerable shock, some of them hatched also, so I have been a bit skeptical about “addling”. But there are certain situations where I cannot, or prefer not, to trap, and I will certainly be giving this new method a try this year. Thanks.
Guest

Mary

Please forgive my bad manners. It is as John says, indeed good to hear from you again.

And John, I don't have to ask for my wife's permission all the time. Just on those days of the week that end in Y.

Later, Tim
zoefluf
Posts: 586
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 5:51 pm
Location: Bush, Louisiana

I know this post is about the Alley Colony and I commend Scully for doing all he can in such an awful situation, BUT, just seeing those stupid sparrows has my blood boiling.

You see, I have a sparrow pair that has managed to evade all of my attempts to oust them from my Coates house. Removing the nesting material from one cavity doesn't bother them at all. There are 15 other cavities to move into. Even when they have a lovely nest all finished, when I put the universal trap in - they abandon that cavity and choose another. AARRRGGGHHH!! I hate them!! I haven't been able to shoot them cause they seem to know the MOMENT I put the gun in my hand.

Most of the Martins choose the gourds, but just today, I have two that are interested in the house and I am terrified that the sparrows will harm them. I guess my only recourse is to leave them alone until they lay their eggs and then try to trap them again. Is that a good plan? Or should I just keep pulling out the nests? Of course, the PMs are not nesting yet.
Jeanne
"Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap, yet your heavenly Father feeds them."
Scully
Posts: 2008
Joined: Mon Jan 26, 2004 5:35 pm
Location: Texas/San Antonio

Well I'll have to consult with Fatman608, but I would like to routinely pull the sparrow nests at least once a week (Mary! Welcome back 8) )

In most cases this would mean pulling the nests before the eggs have appeared, although in some there would be partial clutches.

One factor in our favor is that, even this far south most of these martins will not begin to lay eggs until the second or third week of April, a whole month away. Five or six successive nest pull-outs sure sounds like it could be a lot even for a house sparrow. Although I expect many of these sparrows to be especially persistent as they have presumably bred there before.

Our kids presented our martin housing data this weekend in competition (they are advancing to State 8) ) . Since they are still in contention I cannot post their graphs and such here yet, but suffice to say, extrapolating upon our data there could easily be something like 5,000 housing sites across this city about 40% of which in our own particular area had at least some martins last year, perhaps explaining why purple martins are still considered common here.

I feel certain that very few of the people who buy this housing are willing to start up a full-time campaign of S&S elimination, especially not at first. Doesn't seem like it would be too hard though to get them to clean out nests from their housing once a week.

Since fortune has provided this colony in a situation where it is difficult to do more than that, I am curious to see if it would work.

With regards to martin colonies failing from becoming clogged with sparrow nests, Fatman 608 and I had a dramatic demonstration of that last week.

No sooner had we cleaned out and put back up that Heath house, I mean like inside of a minute, what had been only one pair of martins in residence suddenly became three pairs, coming in right over our heads, a male serenading a female from inside a cavity right over our heads that a short while before had been totally stuffed with straw.

It sure seemed like those particular martins were very familiar with that house, in any event, it was a dramatic demonstration of how a sparrow nest can exclude martins.

Mike Scully
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