Sunday, April 5, 2009


While I was outside this afternoon, doing maintenance on the Purple Martin housing (Yes, I know I'm late!) my next door neighbor called me over to the fence. He wanted to talk about bird houses, specifically what kind of house he should put up for bluebirds.

This is the guy with what I privately refer to as the "slum house" or the "POS house" for Purple Martins. He put it up several years ago, and promptly attracted martins. This hacked me off to no end, since I had spent four years reading, researching, acquiring "proper" martin housing, keeping out starlings and sparrows (S&S), coping with Tree Swallows, even playing a tape of the martins' dawn song at 4:30 every morning to entice them in. I was doing it all right, he was doing it all wrong, and yet he had martins and I didn't.

What did my neighbor have that I didn't have? Round holes, a magnet for martins. I was using SREH (Starling Resistant Entry Holes) and the martins were having none of that. Round holes they wanted, and round holes was what he gave them.

The next year though, I was vindicated, as his house was mounted on a fixed pole, with no way to lower it or even open it for monitoring and maintenance. When his martins came home, they found their house full of House Sparrows, which defended their turf vigorously. Evicted, the martins moved next door - to me. His loss was my gain. Since then, I have had martins (and bluebirds) and the POS house keeps churning out generation after generation of House Sparrows.

I have thought about pointing his problem out to him, but didn't want to offend. Some people are happy to have any bird nesting in their bird house, and don't want to hear about controlling the S&S population. When he asked me about housing today, I saw my opportunity.

"I just love bluebirds and purple martins," he said. "I used to have martins in that house over there, but they are gone." I gently explained that the house had been taken over by sparrows, and that unless he was able to remove them and keep them out, he wouldn't get martins. I talked to him about telescoping poles and pulley systems, and told him how the houses opened for cleaning. I told him that it wouldn't scare the birds away if he monitored his boxes, and that I even looked in on the babies in the nest.

I didn't want his house to look like this.

I brought a bluebird box (empty), and plastic Super Gourd, and one of my modified natural gourds over to the fence to show him, and talked to him about basic requirements for bluebirds and martins. I stressed the importance of controlling sparrows and starlings, and explained how they would pierce the eggs and could even kill the adult birds. He didn't know.
He said, "Well, maybe I should just take that old house down, since I can't keep the sparrows out of it."

The next thing I knew, he did it! No more HOSP factory! In gratitude, I gathered up some old magazines and a catalog from the PMCA (Purple Martin Conservation Association) and downloaded their instructional handouts. I copied a flyer from the Sialis website for bluebirds, and put everything together with two booklets from Bird Watcher's Digest: "Enjoying Purple Martins More" and "Enjoying Bluebirds More." I'd had the bluebird one for many, many years, and only recently realized it was by Julie Zickefoose. It was a bit of a wrench parting with it, but I want my neighbor to do right by bluebirds.

I leave you with a conversation I overheard between an adult female Purple Martin and an adult male during today's disruption.

"What the heck?""I know there were gourds here."
"Hey, honey! What happened?"
"Didn't there used to be good
nest sites right below me?"

"Yeah, babe, it's our lazy landlady.
She'll get her act together soon."

8 gourds, cleaned, repainted, renumbered, and rehung.

With two ASY males already staking claim.

Isn't it nice to have neighbors?


Mary said...

Katdoc, I'd give my eye teeth to have neighbors who would talk to me about birds and our house sparrow problem... HOSP are living in their attics...not mine.

You done good, girl!

Love those martins...

Susan Gets Native said...

Hooray! The HOSP Hotel is officially OUT OF BUSINESS!

NCmountainwoman said...

What a great story! The photographs are wonderful. Here's hope the HOSPs are gone for good.

Kyle said...

I'd give anything just to have some neighbors that were even interested in birds at all! Glad you were able to steer yours right on the S&S's, though.

And to part with a Zick-let? That's going above and beyond! ;-)

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Yay, Kathi!
Sometimes the timing seems like it's slower than we'd like--nevertheless, it's happened.
Great of you to take the time (although I bet talking Martins and Bluebirds was a joy for you!) to teach him all you've learned over the years.

I think I have chickadees again, but Bluebirds are somewhere--they're feeding close by in the yard.