Monday, July 28, 2008

This is why we do nest changes

Feather mites!

click on photo to enlarge, if you dare

Ugh! When I opened up SG 25 on Saturday for my Day 20 photo, I found them, or rather, they found me. From under the rim of the lid to the 4 inch access hole, feather mites instantly began crawling on my hands. I knew my martin babies were infested with them, but I was in a hurry that day, so I promised them a nest change for the next day.

On Sunday, I fulfilled my promise. When I peeked in to see the birds, I could see the tiny pests crawling ON THEIR FACES. Gross, gross, gross! Ignoring the ick factor of dozens of mites, each smaller than a pinhead, covering my hands and arms, I quickly moved the nestlings to a clean, grass-lined 5 gallon bucket. Before removing the old nest material, I looked in to see this:

The creepy little things were swarming all over the inner surface of the gourd. I dumped out the old nest material and swabbed down the entire plastic Super Gourd with rubbing alcohol, paying particular attention to the peak of the gourd and the rim of the access hole, including the lid. Mites like to hide in crevices. This is one advantage plastic gourds have over natural gourds; they are easier to clean.

Once I was done with my chemical warfare, I lined the bottom of the gourd with a generous handful of cedar shavings, made a bed of pine straw, and topped it off with some dried grass. I put the young birds back quickly, although not quickly enough. One agitated chick gave a loud "squawk" of protest and an adult bird responded by dive-bombing my head. It was a near miss, but I got everyone back in safely.

Three week old Purple Martin nestlings in a fresh, clean bed.

I did take a moment for a hands-on photo op. This is the guy who squawked his complaints and got me in trouble with the adult birds. But, how could I handle him and not take the time to appreciate his beauty?

click to enlarge and see a mite on my hand

Isn't it amazing how this gorgeous birdlet has emerged from the oogly, naked hatchling he was just 21 days ago? And, in about 7 to 11 more days, he will transform into a magical creature of the air as he takes his first flight.

Only a couple of more pictures to go before the photo series is complete. I can't disturb the nest after the young are 24 days old, so I will get final pictures on Monday and Wednesday.


Susan Gets Native said...

With my only successful TRES nest, I did a nest change and it was probably the grossest thing I have ever experienced. I got undressed at the back door (giving Geoff and the neighbors a big thrill) and ran upstairs to shower. Eew.

Mary said...

I'm itching all over. Good job, Kathi.