A Promising Start

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FarmerHarv
Posts: 9
Joined: Fri Jul 06, 2018 1:18 pm
Location: Saskatchewan

A Promising Start

Postby FarmerHarv » Wed Jul 11, 2018 8:10 am

Seeing as I was keeping notes and taking lots of pictures about my foray into becoming a Martin (and other swallows) landlord, I thought I'd start a blog about it. And then I discovered I knew nothing about setting up or hosting a blog, and that nobody would find it even if I did. So if nobody minds I'll use this thread to keep track of my journey, and with luck it might even be a source of entertainment and possibly some useful knowledge for someone.

The Early Years:

1995 - It all started in 1995 when my wife and I moved to the farm. There were always barn swallows nesting along the front of the house, and these provided quite a bit of entertainment as they swooped and fluttered around while we watched from the other end of the deck. Reading up on swallows led to learning about Purple Martins, and I thought I should build a Martin house some winter and see if I could get some to nest.

2016 - So 20 years later there was still no house, but I actually saw my first Martins over the yard in 2016, and did a lot more research thanks to the power of the internet. I came across Bob Buskas’ website, and ordered both sets of plans he had available for his house designs. I cleaned up the shop, gathered my tools and got ready to start building as soon as winter settled in.

2017 - Well, I didn’t get the martin house built yet. They were kind of forgotten as we spend most of our time on the back deck by the trees, and enjoyed watching the birds that came to the baths and feeders. I had never really paid too much attention to birds until now, and was surprised by the variety we actually had. There are Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Catbirds, Vesper Sparrows, Pine Siskin, Robins, Orioles, Goldfinches, House Finches, Brown Thrashers, Mourning Doves and of course house sparrows, blackbirds and the occasional grackle, crow and magpie. It was fun identifying them all, learning what they preferred to eat and which type of feeder they liked, and we were always trying different things to attract more and different birds all the time.


To be continued...

FarmerHarv
Posts: 9
Joined: Fri Jul 06, 2018 1:18 pm
Location: Saskatchewan

2018

Postby FarmerHarv » Wed Jul 11, 2018 8:11 am

June 1 - Move ahead to 2018, and the Martins were still without a home here. And the barn swallows also. After building a new farm house, moving off the old one, cleaning up the yard and getting rid of all of the old granaries and sheds, I realized the swallows had nowhere to nest. I ordered some nest cups and built them a shelter at one end of the shop, and while watching a pair check things out a Martin landed on a power post, which reminded me that I still had some unfinished building to do. I dusted off the house plans, looked at the mess I had turned the shop into and went and found something easier to do.

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As an aside, I did finally join Procrastinators Anonymous, but we never got around to having a meeting so it didn’t really help.

June 26 - Facing the fact I was probably never going to actually build a house, I contacted Bob about simply purchasing one, and drove over (about 500km) to his place to pick one up. And are we glad we did! Actually getting to see his setup, watch the Martins, and learn about nest checks and see some nestlings at different stages firsthand was well worth the trip in itself. Bob has been a great help since, patiently answering all of my questions and offering lots of great advice.

By pure luck and chance, it turns out that where we had placed the new farm house left an excellent area to place a martin home. The clear area was 75’-100’ away from the house, shop, trees and quonset, and being right in front of the verandah allows us to have an excellent vantage point from inside or outside the house.

June 28 - Once home I had the pole cemented in and the house up in a couple of days, and watched in dismay as the first sparrows started hauling grass into most of the compartments almost immediately. However, the first time I lowered the house to clean this out I had my first Martin come for a visit! He flew around chirping merrily, and then went and sat on the flagpole chatting all the while until I was done. As soon as I raised the house he flew right over and perched on it, and called away until 5 more Martins came over also. They all circled around for a couple of minutes and then flew off, but there were usually a few coming by once or twice every day after that.

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Last edited by FarmerHarv on Wed Jul 11, 2018 8:33 am, edited 2 times in total.

FarmerHarv
Posts: 9
Joined: Fri Jul 06, 2018 1:18 pm
Location: Saskatchewan

2018

Postby FarmerHarv » Wed Jul 11, 2018 8:12 am

June 29 - Started on my sparrow control regimen, which consisted of shooting them at bait sites I had set up, and almost immediately realized this was simply not going to work. Like many people I had never really paid any attention to HSOP, and once I really started looking I estimate there are a couple hundred around here. I started ordering traps (funnel, repeating, nest box), and let the sparrows build in the martin house so I could trap or shoot them once they established themselves in it.

July 2 - While waiting for the sparrow traps to come in the mail, I built a ladder trap that I remember seeing at a neighbours years ago, hoping to get started on HSOP removal right away. I had no luck at all with the sparrows, but did catch a hapless cowbird that drew the unwanted attention of a sharp shinned hawk. How the hawk managed to squeeze down to 2” and get into the trap is a mystery, but the cowbird didn’t survive to tell the tale.

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July 5 - Realizing that after we had taken down all of the overhead power lines there were very few places for anything to perch on, so decided to raise a 50’ long perch wire near the martin house. Went over to the old scrap machinery pile to get some big steel wheels to use as bases, and discovered at least 3 pairs of tree swallows had set up house in some old grain augers over there. I’ll definitely have to build some tree swallow boxes and set them up, as those augers will either be really hot or really cold depending on the weather and time of day.

After spending most of a day setting up the wire, sure enough the Martins came by to check it out. One sat on the wire, a couple on the house and two went and stood on the flagpole light. As the flagpole is quite a bit taller than the house or the wire, I added some 4’ dowels to it and it became an instant hit with everyone, and makes me wonder why I bothered with the wire. Oh well, maybe next year more will use it.

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Last edited by FarmerHarv on Wed Jul 11, 2018 8:37 am, edited 1 time in total.

FarmerHarv
Posts: 9
Joined: Fri Jul 06, 2018 1:18 pm
Location: Saskatchewan

Percy's Place

Postby FarmerHarv » Wed Jul 11, 2018 8:32 am

July 6 - I notice that one (I’m guessing it’s the same one from the first day, I still can’t tell them apart) Martin is coming by very often every day, and sits on a porch and chirps and calls whenever he sees another of his group. When they’re out of sight he just sits quietly, but as soon as he spots another his tail jumps and he sings as loud as he can until they fly over. Sometimes he’ll fly out and try to lead them back, but mostly he just fills the yard with his chatter. I’m wondering if he’s getting enough to eat, being that he spends so much time sitting at the house.

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As he was the only one that spent any time at the house I saw that he never actually went inside any of the nest boxes, but just went as far as his shoulders and then backed out. I thought the holes were possibly too small, but Bob assured me they would go in when they were ready and not to worry.

This morning I was finally able to get a bead on the male HSOP that had nested in the house while he was sitting on a porch, and right after I fired the martin popped out of one of the holes. Turns out he could fit after all, and was maybe even spending the nights here. As soon as he was out he started singing away, and raced off to his group as soon as he saw them.

July 7 - I have named the lone occupant Percy, short for Persistent, as he spends almost his entire days trying to bring other Martins over to “his” house. And it’s been working. There were 10 overhead today, with 2 being the very very dark purple over all of a mature bird. When I was walking past the house to check the sparrow traps the whole flock started circling and chirping only 20 feet up, and unfortunately I was too slow to get a video of the performance. They have all spent most of the day over the yard, and a pair of them even buzzed the back deck where we were sitting a couple of times.

July 8 - Looks like the tree swallows have fledged out, as there were close to a dozen cruising around and over the yard today. The little ones would land in the trees in groups, and I had an adult try to take my head off as I was getting close for a photo. Also had a pair of barn swallows stop in for a short visit, and hopefully they checked out their new shelter while they were here.

July 9 - Apparently Percy’s bedtime is 9:00pm. For the last few evenings he has gone into #11 before 9, looks out the hole for a little while and then disappears for the night. He also brought a few short twigs and some green leaves over to the house today, but I didn’t see him take any into the nest compartment. Just practicing carrying stuff perhaps? Had a dark purple Martin at the house for quite a while today also, but Percy only seems to get really excited when the younger ones are nearby.

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flyin-lowe
Posts: 2292
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 8:49 am
Location: Indiana/Henry Co.

Re: A Promising Start

Postby flyin-lowe » Wed Jul 11, 2018 8:58 am

To be that far north and get some visitors that quick is a great sign. Keeping up with the HOSP will be a chore but is a battle toy can win. They have a home range and you can impact the local population. My first colony was located in the middle of farm country with a cattle and feed barn less the 200 yards away. As you can imagine the grain and straw really drew them in. The first year I got rid of over 100 of them. Each year after that the number got less and less and after about 8 years I was only catching/shooting 5 or so a year. I am fortunate enough that I can just walk out my door with a shot gun and get them as they fly off.
2018- Currently 14 pair nesting, 35 babies hatched and 15 eggs (6-22)
2017 3 SY pair nested, 12 eggs total, fledged 10. 4 additional SY's stayed all summer but never paired/nested.
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 (11 that nested), 43 fledged.
2010 5 pair, 21 eggs, 16 hatched, 14 fledged.

Dave Duit
Posts: 1225
Joined: Tue Nov 25, 2003 2:02 pm
Location: state:Iowa / town:Nevada
Martin Colony History: In 2017, 54 pair with 202 fledged youngsters. 73 total compartments available, 48 Troyer Horizontal gourds and 4 modified trio metal house units, owl cages around all units. Martin educator and speaker. President of the Iowa Purple Martin Organization. Please visit www.iamartin.org and join.

Re: A Promising Start

Postby Dave Duit » Wed Jul 11, 2018 10:15 am

Welcome and thank you for posting this great thread. Super pics and nice information. I wish you the best in the years ahead.
Mite control, heat venting, predator protection and additional feeding during bad weather add up to success.

FarmerHarv
Posts: 9
Joined: Fri Jul 06, 2018 1:18 pm
Location: Saskatchewan

Re: A Promising Start

Postby FarmerHarv » Wed Jul 11, 2018 6:59 pm

Yes, this HSOP battle is definitely going to be a grind. I've trapped over 30 females in funnel traps, but not a single male. Picked off 10 males, but they don't sit in one spot for long so it's a matter of patience and then quickness. Quite a challenge actually, but I have an insanely accurate Savage .22 that definitely helps. It puts SK Subsonic through the same hole at 30 yards, and shoots SK Match hollow point ammo inside an inch at 100 yards. It's expensive ammo, but worth it as it's almost like having a laser beam on a calm day. :)

I've ordered a couple of the Uncle Blaine's Repeating traps, and a bunch of Van Ert traps to install in some tree swallow boxes I'm hoping to build (yes, it may not actually happen) this winter so that should help take the pressure off before the martins arrive next year.

We live on a grain farm a mile from town, so there's probably going to be an endless supply of sparrows for as long as I live. With any luck most of the ones in town will stay there, but if I'm prepared I should be able to handle a few imports if I can get the numbers here down to something manageable. I might even try the shotgun...be like a round of skeet with very small fast unpredictable targets. Too bad I've always sucked at skeet.

TheSmiths
Posts: 237
Joined: Mon May 12, 2014 1:02 pm
Location: Western KY
Martin Colony History: Trying to attract PMs since 2004; began a more ernest attempt in 2014. Modified Trio M12K at 15' w/3 gourds beneath; multi-rack w/8 gourds mounted at 20'.

2018 — finally have 1 ASY pair & 1 SY pair in the Trio & 1 SY pair in a supergourd on the multi-rack. :D

Re: A Promising Start

Postby TheSmiths » Thu Jul 12, 2018 3:20 am

Good read. Kudos for providing housing for so many types of birds! It can be addicting! If you're not careful you'll find yourself building houses for Chimney Swifts, Carolina Wrens, Northern Flickers, flying squirrels, butterflies, bees, and on and on.

If you decide to build a box for Tree Swallows the "xbox" is an excellent design. Tree swallows will also use plastic gourds. SuperGourd makes a nice large gourd with a 1.5"/3.81cm hole. I don't recall seeing it in PMCAs shop so you may have to purchase it directly from SuperGourd.com if interested. There's lots of good tree swallow info on here.

FarmerHarv
Posts: 9
Joined: Fri Jul 06, 2018 1:18 pm
Location: Saskatchewan

Re: A Promising Start

Postby FarmerHarv » Thu Jul 12, 2018 8:50 am

Thanks for the links! That Xbox looks pretty good, and quite simple also. Might have to make it a little bit bigger for the tree swallows and then they'll really have some upgraded housing.

And you're probably right about trying to attract more birds. I was on NestWatch and am amazed at all the different birds that will use different box types.

So it looks like the perch wire was a failure, probably because it was too far from the house and too close to the big trees. The kingbirds used it constantly, but the martins very rarely. I took it all down and simplified it to a single base with only 14' of perch wire, and moved it over to about 10' from the house. Now everybody uses it, including the little vesper sparrows. Percy still mostly sits on his porch all day, but will sit on the wire if there are other birds there.

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Speaking of Percy, he is practicing nesting after all. He's hauled a few leaves into #12, although I think he still uses #11 as his bedroom at night.

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Ryan
Posts: 199
Joined: Sat Apr 15, 2006 4:19 pm
Location: Eganville, Ontario
Martin Colony History: Visitors are rare. Two SY males seen in 7 years.

Re: A Promising Start

Postby Ryan » Thu Jul 12, 2018 9:53 pm

Great story and thread. Keep it going next year, I’m sure you’ll have a pair or two to post about.

I’m so jealous that you had one landing in the yard before you had a house up. Damn, that’s a good sign. I take it you have a colony or two fairly close by? I’ve only seen two martins in eight years here while playing the dawnsong loud seven hours a day. None in the last four years.

Nice house and yard. Keep it all going, you’ll have some pairs soon. You’ll probably be at capacity in 2-4 years.
Home site: 12 cedar chalets - Plus two satellite sites which are also empty.
2010- 1 SY male on and off for a couple weeks
2011- 0 visits
2012- 0 visits
2013- 0 visits
2014- 1 SY male stopped in here and there for two weeks.
2015- 0 visits
2016- 0 visits
2017- 0 visits

FarmerHarv
Posts: 9
Joined: Fri Jul 06, 2018 1:18 pm
Location: Saskatchewan

Re: A Promising Start

Postby FarmerHarv » Fri Jul 13, 2018 7:55 am

Ryan wrote:
Thu Jul 12, 2018 9:53 pm
Great story and thread. Keep it going next year, I’m sure you’ll have a pair or two to post about.

I’m so jealous that you had one landing in the yard before you had a house up. Damn, that’s a good sign. I take it you have a colony or two fairly close by? I’ve only seen two martins in eight years here while playing the dawnsong loud seven hours a day. None in the last four years.

Nice house and yard. Keep it all going, you’ll have some pairs soon. You’ll probably be at capacity in 2-4 years.


That's something I was thinking about the other day...where are these martins coming from, and why are they here? Might be that my place looks nice and open compared to town, or maybe they have poor housing or landlords, or overcrowding and are looking for an alternative? I think the golf course has a few houses up but don't know how many or how well they're maintained, and it's only 3-4 miles away, and there are probably a few houses up in town that's 1-2 miles from here. We're only a half mile from the town sewage lagoon though, and it probably provides and attracts an endless source of different insects for martins and other swallows.

I definitely won't complain though, and I can't imagine the feeling of trying to start a colony and having no luck for year after year. Here's hoping next year will be better for you.


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