I am personally opposed to using Sevin or other chemicals on my property, so I have chosen to do nest changes. I changed my first 3 nests of the season on Thursday, and did an additional 5 nests today.
These are photos of my supplies:
For all my nest checks, I have a small flashlight and a telescoping, angled mirror (from an auto parts store) for inspecting nests. I have a wooden chopstick, for gentle probing into nests to uncover eggs that might be hidden or to separate newly hatched young so I can count them. I have my laminated sheets from the PMCA with life-sized photos of young, in order to age them properly. I also have my digital camera and a pair of gloves so my hands don’t slip on the pulley rope. Finally, I have a data entry sheet, although I usually record my findings on a legal pad and transfer the data after I finish.
When doing nest changes, I add the following: A variety of clean, dry nest materials, including (clockwise from bottom left): pine straw (dry white pine needles), cedar chips, and dry grass clippings from my (untreated) lawn, and a small bucket or a plastic pet food bowl for putting the young birds in while I clean the gourd and replace their nest. When they are older and more active, I will use the green 5 gallon bucket to hold the young, so they can't get out.
I also take along rubbing alcohol, paper towels or clean rags, diatomaceous earth (DE) and a trash bag for old nesting material.
I carefully remove the young from their nest and place them in a container with dry grass or cedar chips, covering it to protect them from the sun while I change their nest. I put all the old nesting material in a trash bag and look inside the gourd for wasps, wet spots, or other problems. I use alcohol to wipe out the insides of the plastic gourds. I don’t bother to use alcohol in the natural gourds, because the inner surface is so rough, mites could easily hide from the alcohol wipe.
When replacing the nest, I put a small handful of cedar chips in the bottom of the gourd, then in the larger plastic gourds, a small handful of pine needles. On top of that, I add some soft grass clippings, forming a nest cup in the back of the gourd, and replace the young. In the natural gourds, which have less room inside, I use grass clippings only.
This group of 5 Purple Martin chicks are undergoing their 10 day nest change, which I did last Thursday. Note the chick in the center of the photo. You can see it looks lighter in color than its siblings. It is the last hatched of the clutch and is 1 to 2 days younger than its nest mates. You can see the feather tracts clearly on the runt and the emerging pinfeathers on the wings and tail of the older chick to its right.
Two of my natural gourds were damp on the bottom, and in those two, I sprinkled some DE before I added the cedar chips. I will tell you that both DE and cedar shavings are very controversial among martineers. DE consists of the microscopic shells of tiny crustaceans, and is purported to cut the soft bodies of slugs, bugs, and other undesirables in the garden. As a “natural” product, its use is recommended by those who are anti-chemicals. The anti-DE crowd says that the fine particles of DE dust in an enclosed gourd or bird house could cause lung disease in the nestlings. I don’t know which is right, which is why I reserve DE for natural gourds that have wet spots only. I figure there will be less dust blowing around this way. Mites are attracted to wet spots, but DE is less effective when wet, so maybe I am not doing any good with this approach.
Cedar shavings are also controversial. The aromatic oils do have some insecticidal properties, but again, might cause lung disease. The PMCA position paper has not found any harm in using cedar shavings, but if I remember correctly, the PMS is against using cedar. I have chosen to use it, but this might be a bad decision. Whatever you decide, remember that “natural” does not always equal “safe.”
People often worry that doing a nest change might cause the adult birds to abandon their nests or might be disruptive to the young. Here is the brood of Purple Martins from the previous photo today, 3 days after their nest change. You can see they are growing and thriving. I couldn't even recognize the runt, although I did not take them out of their gourd for close inspection.
One gourd that had 4 unhatched eggs last Sunday had 2 new eggs on Thursday and 3 more today, for a total of 5 in the re-nest attempt. Originally, this gourd was occupied by an SY (Second Year or Subadult) pair, but during my observations this week, I have seen an ASY (After Second Year, of Adult) male attending this gourd. I don't know if it is the same female or not, they are harder to tell apart, but at least the male is new. I have a Cooper's hawk hanging around, and about a week or 10 days ago, it caught something - maybe that male SY martin.
Here is the re-nest in Gourd #22:
This is a great shot of a martin nest, complete with a mud dam, green leaves lining the nest bowl, and 5 eggs. In this view, the 2 1/4" round entry hole is to the left of the photo and I am shooting through the 4 inch diameter access hole, normally closed with a screw cap, but opened for inspection.
Finally, a non-martin photo:
This is a bluebird nest. For me, finding a bluebird nest isn't too unusual, but there is something extra-special about this one. It is the third nest of the 2007 bluebird season, and marks the first time in 15 years of bluebirding that I will have a third brood in one year. So far, this pair has produced five fledglings from the first nest and six from the second. I saw one of those fledglings just today, along with Papa. I hadn't even noticed nest building, but when I peeked in the box, I found this completed nest. Whoo-hooo! Bring it on - more bluebirds!