Mike McCormick Explains Purple Martins

by Carolyn Henderson

Mike McCormick, considered the largest houser of Purple Martins in the area, shared his wealth of knowledge with the El Camino Real chapter of Texas Master Naturalist on Saturday, June 18. McCormick lives south of Buckholts in Milam County with thousands of Purple Martins and a few family members. He has been housing the birds for more than 40 years and has grown the number of seasonal residents steadily every year.

Purple martin house with adults waiting for fledglings to fly

There are approximately 65 Purple Martin houses at his place – all made by him. He’s also helped many others get started with some extra houses. 

Up close of the three fledglings that haven’t decided to fly, yet.

ECRTMN visited at the optimum time. All the babies are starting to fledge. Members learned how to house them and keep them coming back. McCormick also clarified some untrue facts about the migrating birds. For example, a 6-foot-tall martin house works as well as a 12-foot-tall house.

Martins in flight

Thanks also go to Donna Lewis, organizer of the event, and Ms. McCormick, sister to Mike, who fed us and kept the cattle herded.

Hot Weather

by Donna Lewis

I think everyone can agree it’s hot!  It’s looking like this is the new norm and will get hotter in the years to come.

We humans can go inside and enjoy a nice glass of iced tea or whatever.

But what about everything that lives outside?  Yes, they were born outside, but not in this kind of weather. So, can we help them a little without taming them?

I think so.

I just put up some heat shields on my Purple Martin Gourds. I could feel the difference it made on my face as I installed them.  Just a little help.

Cooler birds

I make sure that the many water stations I have for the birds are filled several times a day. The bees are also drinking from them. Water is so important for everything right now.

So do just a little for the wildlife we love.

Happy Trails!

Purple Martins Are Still Arriving in Milam County

by Donna Lewis

This morning (March 20) I heard a lot more singing going on outside. I was delighted to count 14 Martins on my Gourd rack.  YEAH!!

Sadly, my Apartment Rack in the front of our house still has no Martins for three years now.

We had a very large Rat Snake climb over the baffle and get all the babies. I was very upset about it. Since then, I use the netting system to prevent any snake from getting to the birds. The bad thing is that it will kill the snake either on its own or you have to do it, so it does not suffer. I hate doing it, but it is the only thing that keeps the gourd rack safe from the snakes here. All life is important to me.  But it’s twenty babies or one snake.

I cannot understand why I still do not have Martins in the apartment now. I have cleaned it several times, added new bedding, everything I can think of. Prior to the snake, it was occupied every year. It has twenty-six apartments.  A mystery.

But we have 14 Martins to look at and listen to their beautiful songs. I am hoping more will arrive.

Come on in…free room and board.

They’re Back

by Donna Lewis

This past Monday (February 21st) the first purple martin called out as he was flying oner me. What a glorious sound that is to a martin fan!! I recognized it instantly and started to scan the skies for my friend. He circled around my gourd house as they do when coming down to land. Yes, he landed on the top perch and checked it out.

There he is!

I have been watching and waiting for their return. Weather has a huge impact on their arrival time. Cold and wet can kill them in about five days. They must have live flying insects to eat. So, no bugs, no food. As is usual, we are expecting cold and wet weather for the next several days.

Do I worry? Of course, I do. I just have to wait and know that they will likely be OK since the weather is scheduled to clear up shortly.

I have not seen them this morning, they are probably in the woods or searching for food somewhere.

This is just the meet and greet they do when finding a mate for this year. Nesting will happen for a month or more. How appropriate that it’s close to Valentines’ Day.

So now I wait and watch to see if my colony will grow and prosper in 2022.

Finally, the mesmerizing martin song will be heard again.

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!