Fledging in Progress

by Donna Lewis

These are my ladies in waiting.

For those of you who don’t know what “fledging” means, its when the baby bird takes its first flight.

In purple martins this happens at or after it is 28 days old.  So it is good to know when the very first eggs are laid so you know when this will happen.

If you lower a house down to clean it or look at the nests, young who are close to this age can become scared and jump out. Not a good thing! I have had this happen to me, a long time ago before I was experienced with these birds.

This resulted in a frantic chase by me to catch them all, put them in a container, then replace them in the nest quickly. After that I had to close up the entrance hole with a bandana. Then I tied a long string to the cloth, and raised the house back up. After several minutes, I slowly pulled the bandana out. Luckily the babies stayed in their house.

Right now you can see the mothers and babies who are flying sit on the house and talk to the babies still inside the gourds. They try to urge them to come out and join the rest. They will circle all day and chatter until every young  martin has made it up to the skies.

It’s a wonderful and magnificent sound!  You won’t forget it.

I’m Watching You

by Donna Lewis

I bet most of you have seen these really big toads around your house. They will probably be near a faucet or anywhere it’s wet.  If you make any noise near them they, peak out at you. They are Gulf Coast Toads.

This one is a female, which can be figured out because she is really big. You can tell the Gulf Coast toad species because of the prominent cranial crests on her head, which you can see in Suna’s photo below. 

Gulf Coast toad, photo by SA Kendall

These toads live from Mississippi in the east down through Mexico. They are common in our gardens, and eat lots of insects. They come out at night to party, so those of you who are out late might see them.

I took a photo of one of their babies last year, I think they are so cute. There were lots and lots of them. [Suna’s roommate in Austin reports there were hundreds of babies in their neighborhood last week; the toads are very common near their creek.]

Something Else to Read

For more on fun with these toads, see Suna’s blog post about how a toad shot out of a water pipe and confused her dog.

What Is This Flower?

by Donna Lewis

I am always looking around for nature. This past week I found a wildflower that I had never seen before on our property. I did not know what it was, just that it was new and very pretty.

The pretty new flower

So I called upon two of our own members who really know wildflowers, Suna, and Linda Jo. As I expected, one of them responded quickly with the answer.

The new residents in Donna’s garden

Linda Jo was first to ID this as a Basket Flower or the common name “American star thistle” Centaurea americana. [Suna recognized it, but couldn’t remember the name.]

The flower heads are 4-5 in. wide and are subtended by fringed bracts. The plant looks similar to the thistles but lacks their prickly characteristics… The name “basket flower” refers to the stiff, straw-colored bracts just beneath the flower head, which are divided at the tip into long, sharp teeth.

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Database

I was happy to see a wildflower that I hope will love our place and have a family here.

As Spock would say…Live long and prosper!

We Have a Jumper!

by Donna Lewis

A few days ago I heard one of my baby purple martins screaming. It was on the ground calling to its parents. It either fell out or was pushed out.

Martins are the largest and heaviest of all the swallows. So, while they are excellent at soaring, they are not good at going to the ground. The entire colony got into the rescue attempt. All the adults were flying over the baby trying to get him or her to fly.

How did I get here?

This is the reason I look at the babies as soon as I can. This way I know how old the first set of eggs were when laid. It takes 28 days for a baby to have enough feathers to take its first flight. I guessed that this baby was about 26 days old

So he was close but not quite there. He needed a few more days.

I could not just lower the gourd rack and pop him back in. Doing this when many of the other babies were the same age could cause many more of them to jump out. Then I would really have trouble.

This year five rat snakes attempted to climb the pole and have my Martins for lunch. So, I knew if he stayed on the ground too long, something would eat him.

The first night he was on the ground, I put out a five-gallon bucket with a towel over it and a rock inside. He immediately went to it for protection. The adults saw this and again flew around him. They did not attempt to feed him or give him water. This is tough love.

Improvised bird shelter material

The next morning I was out early, and he was still alive and looking at me. So, I left him alone.

Howdy, Donna

I watched over the next four hours, and he left the area around the gourd rack, flying about ten inches high and started out across our pasture. I knew that was dangerous, for sure.

So I put up an open bird feeder on a shepherd’s hook and set him on it. The adults saw this, and once again tried to encourage him to take that first leap. After four hours, he got his nerve up and jumped, flying low until he gained some altitude, and he was off to the sky.

The launching pad bird feeder

I was so happy!! This usually does not happen. But this day, all was well.

Right now there are many baby birds on the ground. So, be careful mowing for a few weeks until they are in the trees.

Checking the Martins after Five Days of Rain

by Donna Lewis

The purple martins at my property had just started laying eggs the last time I checked them. So I knew they should have babies anytime now.

After the f days of rain, I knew I needed to check to see if water had gotten into any of the gourds. A wet nest can be deadly for birds.

Checking the gourds

The first thing I do is gather everything I might need to clean and replace wet nesting material. You should always clean the site and not throw  anything on the ground. All that does is alert snakes that there is food up the pole.

So, nesting material, recording paper, a sack to put debris in, and clean towels to wipe out the gourd should be taken with you as you go to the housing. You don’t want to have to run back to get something. It’s best to not lower their housing for longer than 30 minutes at best, especially when they are feeding young.

All my material is gathered

As I thought, there were eggs in three gourds and young in the other nine gourds.

New life

YEAH!!!!!  How exciting! I love babies. Sadly one of the gourds with eggs had gotten a lot of water in it.  The nest was wet and not fit for the martins. The eggs were cold. I had to remove everything, clean it and put in fresh pine needles.  It is possible that the martin might lay a second set, but not probable. 

I measured one of the oldest healthy babies to be five days old.  Now I will know when I should check on them again.


A wonderful day.