Sunday, June 22, 2008

On Rules and Rule-breakers

When it comes to martineering, there are rules, recommendations, suggestions, and ideas. There are lots of the last three, but there are only a few hard and fast rules that you have to stick to if you want to be a successful Purple Martin landlord (or lady.)

Monitoring your nesting birds is highly recommended, to keep track of the number of eggs and young, to monitor for parasites, predators, and their over-all health, and to get a sense of the colony's success (or failure) rate. Nest changes when the young are 10 and 20 days old are suggested, for parasite control. Everybody who does nest changes has his or her own ideas about how it should be done.

The one hard and fast rule about monitoring and nest changes is that you don't lower your housing after the oldest young in that set-up are 22 days of age, in order to prevent premature fledging.

I missed the chance to change out the nests of three clutches at 10 days, so today, I did nest changes on everybody who is 8 days old or older. That includes two 8 day old clutches, one of 12 days, one 18 and one 20 days old. There are 4 other gourds with young of 1 to 3 days old that I'm not going to be able to monitor for the rest of the season.

In the two-tier gourd rack, the oldest clutch is 20 days old today, so this is our last look into the gourds. Let's make the most of our opportunity.

Hatching day in Gourd #23

8 day old chicks await a clean nest

12 days old and getting feathers

At 18 days, they look like birds.

20 days old and trying to escape

A real bird photographer came today to get pictures for his portfolio. He took some shots during the nest changes, then spent a couple of hours working on getting photos of the adult birds. He had a couple of cameras, a HUMUNGOUS telephoto lens, and other real photographer stuff. (Notice the gourd on the far left of the photo. More on it below.)

He wanted to get pictures of the birds looking "natural," without artificial perches, houses, etc., in the shot. He brought along a telescoping stand in which he could clamp a branch, and set it up near the housing in attempt to get the martins to land on it for his photos.

I told him that I never saw the martins perch in trees, only on the housing, the TV antenna, or power lines, but he tried anyway. I think he was getting frustrated with them when they wouldn't cooperate, but that is a hard and fast rule of martins. During migration and on their wintering grounds in South America, they will roost in trees, but during breeding season they avoid them. (Don't ask me why.) The only time I see martins in trees is when they are plucking green leaves, and then they don't perch, they flap around wildly trying to pull off the leaves.

Speaking of rules and rule-breaking, I have an active martin nest in a weird place. Although the rule is that martin housing should be
10 to 15 feet high, somebody didn't tell that to the SY pair nesting in this SuperGourd, the one to the far left of the photographer above.

It is only about 5.5" feet from the ground to the entry hole of this gourd. It is also too close to the birch tree by all martineering rules, but apparently its occupants are mavericks. I originally put that gourd there for the Tree Swallows, who used it last year but rejected it for the wooden trap box this season. Tree Swallows are the ultimate rule breakers.

For the longest time, that solo gourd on a short pole contained a bachelor nest. An SY male had made a rough nest and sat for hours on the pole or in the entry hole, singing for a lady friend. I had given up on him ever finding one when I checked the gourd last Wed. on a whim. Two eggs greeted me, and today, a total of four eggs glowed back from the nest cup.

Guess he must have gotten lucky after all. This clutch will be the last to hatch and fledge, and since the nest is so easy to access, I will be able to get a lot of photos of these kids. So, we aren't done with baby pictures yet.

One rule never fails:
Dragonflies are still a favored martin food.


NCmountainwoman said...

What do you mean a REAL bird photographer? Your shots are great! That makes you a real bird photographer. What fun for those of us who don't have the right area for Purple Martins. Thanks for letting us peek.

Mary C said...

Thanks for sharing with us the life of purple martins. That was so cool, Kat Doc.

harmonyhillbill said...

I use DE regularly during the season to protect the young martins from BlowFly infestation. I've found it easier and less treatening than a full nest change.

Thought you'd appreciate this.

KatDoc said...


DE is one of those things I can't make up my mind about. I go back and forth on its use. I have used it before, in bluebird boxes and martin gourds, but this year I didn't. I still can't decide how I feel about it.

Thanks for pointing it out,