Here Come the Martins

by Donna Lewis

Believe it or not, the first Purple Martins have already landed in Florida as of December 27, 12021! Wow, that’s pretty early. Whether that is good or bad, I couldn’t tell you.

Ready for cleaning

But, if you are a Martin landlord you need to get your housing in shape and ready. Here are my guidelines:

  • Do not open any apartments or gourds yet.  Block them off or other bird species will go in, and the Martins will be left out in the cold.
  • The housing should be clean, with extra pine needles in them (if you do that).
  • Be ready to raise the housing up as soon as you hear a Martin or February 1, just to be safe.
  • You never open all the entrances at once, just a few at a time.

The Martins here in Milam County have historically arrived around Valentine’s Day. Last year I did not have any till March, however. So, as the earth’s weather changes, wildlife changes also.

I opened my apartment house today to see if it was still clean like I had left it last summer when I closed it for the year. I had taped over the entrance holes for the first time to see if it would keep out the spiders, lady-bugs and wasps. 

It worked pretty good, but there were still lots of spiders near all the corners. The spider webs are difficult to remove. Here’s a tip that I use to get them out easy and fast:

Spider web

Get a stick and twirl the web around it. They come out fast. Then, pitch the stick.

Stick magic

Secondly, I use a wet/dry vac to get anything else out that might be in there. I wipe out anything nasty with a damp paper towel or sponge and let everything dry for a day or so.  You need the apartments to be dry. I will do that later and take photos of it. For now it is so much easier to prep your houses while it’s not cold outside. Much better on your hands.

Time to vacuum!

Our friends are coming!

When Purple Martin Babies Fall Out of the Nest

by Donna Lewis

So, we have a little time until our Purple Martins return, February 2022 to be exact.

If you prepare now, you won’t have to go out when it’s cold to build something. As my friends know, I do not like cold weather. That means that now is good time to brush up on things we might encounter when the Martins are here.

The series of photos show the temporary house for the stranded young bird.

A question I get often is, what do I do when a baby is on the ground? First of all, it’s not a good thing for sure.  But it happens.

I am only going to address this situation if the nestling is in good health but is not old enough to fly on its own. Sometimes they fall out, and sometimes they are knocked out by first-year Martins (teenagers) who like to get into mischief.

This happened to me last year and I was successful in helping the baby fledge (fly on its own).

I put together a makeshift emergency house for it, so the parents could feed it. It just needed a few more days until it could fly. I was not sure it would work, but I gave it a try, since staying on the ground is bad.

I had a feeder a friend made for me, and I added some cedar scraps I had to keep the wind out and protect it. I added some pine needles and a little nest in the corner and put it near the Gourd Rack up on a shepherd’s hook.

I watched for several hours, and nothing happened. Just as I was getting depressed thinking the baby was doomed, one of the parents brought it a bug. YES!!! Some success.

The parents only came once a day, but it was enough to save the baby. It was hungry and after the third day it jumped out and flew.   

The temporary home

I was so happy. So, you see that sometimes you can help a little bit and life goes on.

Purple Martins – Where are they now?

by Donna Lewis

We have not been able to hear the lovely and enchanting sound of our Martin friends since they left in late summer.

Have any of you wondered where they go and what they are doing right now? I thought you might want to know.

Some of my babies

The Martins leave on their migration journey in late summer. They are coming from as far north as the border of Canada.  So quite a journey for some. Others have mated and reside here in Texas.  They might be the smarter ones. Not as far to migrate when the time comes.

No one knows for sure how they decide the time to get going south. Factors such as weather and available food factor into the decision. Martins are highly social birds.   After leaving their nesting colonies where their landlords cared for them, they form communal roosts.  They will sleep at night and wait for more to join them.   

Babies from 2011

Then all of a sudden, they will start to leave a few at a time and head South. They arrive and live amongst the Amazon jungles and South American areas where water is plentiful. They will live in these areas which include Venezuela, Columbia, Bolivia, and the most researched Sao Paulo Brazil till the instinct to return to North America comes over them.

Who returns first?  It is the older males first. This is most likely to obtain the highest and safest housing. Of course, this can be the worst thing if the weather stays too cold or wet.   

Newborn!

The youngest Martins may take 6 weeks to return. So many things can end their journey.   Weather, food, and loss of their housing can result in loss of life. One banded female was confirmed to have made a 4,000-mile trip in 47 days to return to her landlord.

Climate Change is also becoming a factor. When an unexpected freeze occurs here in Texas, the insects that die from it mean no food for the Martins. They do not and will not eat seeds like many other birds. They eat live insects.

Older babies from 2015

Time will tell how our friends can adapt to the changing world around them. If I can help them, I will.

But we also have to remember that we cannot make them pets. They need to stay wild.

Do what you can, where you are.

Closing Down the Martin Houses

by Donna Lewis

So, the sad day has finally arrived for purple martin landlords. Our friends have gone to their winter home in Brazil.  It is so quiet now without their beautiful song and chatter.

The martin houses must be cleaned, closed, and information about what was in the nest after they left recorded.

Normally, I just have poop and dead bugs in the houses. But, surprise, surprise, there was a little more this time (in the apartment house, not the gourds).

Ready for anything.

I opened the first slot that opened four compartments and yellowjackets came flying out at me.  Oh boy. I managed to only let one sting me on my hand, which got really swollen.

So, how do I get the little devils out? First of all, never use pesticides in a bird house of any kind. The residue could hurt newborn babies who have no feathers.  They are pink and blind like baby mice, very vulnerable. What I do is I take tongs and yank out the nest, then run like heck. Well, maybe not run anymore, just walk real fast. Then I wait for the adults to move on.

This year there were two red wasp and two yellowjacket nests in my apartment house. It took me six hours to get them all out.  I will close up the gourd house another day.

I left the apartment house open for now until I can safely clean it out with the wet vac, then wipe it with a wet cloth. I let it completely dry. Then, I put a cover over it till next February, when the martins return.

The main thing is to be careful when you look in the houses, and secondly not to use pesticides .I will miss my friends and hope they survive to visit me again.

Update on My Purple Martins

by Donna Lewis

I could hear the joy of singing this morning inside our house. Outside they were really loud and proud.

The new Purple Martin young are learning to fly, and take care of themselves.  In August, they will fly to Brazil, where they will stay till next February. Right now they are learning how to catch insects in the air and drink on the fly.   

Watching them put on the brakes as they near the gourd rack is very amusing. Sometimes they have to circle several times till they can stop.

Going fast is their thing; slowing down takes practice. I can only imagine how wonderful it must be to fly above the trees for hours.

I shall miss them when they leave.  I wonder if they sing in another language when they are in Brazil?