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.

Soon It Will Be Time for Purple Martin Scouts to Arrive

by Donna Lewis

I’ve been out all last week taking advantage of the warm weather to get the housing ready to open for the returning Purple Martins. Martin Landlords everywhere are getting excited and waiting for that first magical song of the first scout seeking this year’s home. The scouts are the older birds who want first pick of the accommodations.

The first photo is the Gourd Rack. It has the gourds and owl guards attached now, and I have plugged the entrance’s with cloth. I will not raise it nor open any gourds until the scouts start arriving. Then I only open a few at a time, hopefully preventing non-martins from taking over the gourds. House sparrows, blue-birds, starlings, barred owls, and snakes would like to get in. Most will eat or just kill the martins for their nests. Only the sweet little blue-birds are just there looking for a home.

Ready to accept new friends, repelling all enemies.

I will also have to install the racoon baffle, the decoys and the snake guards soon.

Yes, it’s a lot of work.  Our friends the martins are on just about everyone’s menu.

The second photo is of the plastic decoys used to make the martins think their friends are there also. I call the decoys Heckle and Jeckle. They also serve as a target for owl attacks.

Heckle and Jeckle, all ready to attract friends.

The third photo shows one decoy attached.

That must be Heckle.

The last photo is the apartment rack. It is lowered for adding the nest boxes with fresh pine-needles and again blocking the entrance holes off till the martins arrive.

All cleaned out and ready for new tenants.

The houses were cleaned at the end of the year and plugged. I used the wet/dry vacuum to get any spider webs or other insects out.

I’ll raise the house as the scouts arrive. How exciting!

How do I know when the scouts are here?  They fly around the structures and call. Anyone would know when they have arrived.

It’s a wonderful event.

How Glorious to Be Able to Fly

by Donna Lewis

Recently I had several clutches of Purple Martins fledge out into the world.  There are more to come soon.

Newly hatched babies.

When they fledge, they make their first flight and leave the nest. A big step that must be successful the first time.  Talk about pressure.

Getting close to fledging.

Right now they still perch on the gourd rack, but are out in the new world learning to fly, hunt, and socialize with their friends. They sing so loud and often; I know they must be laughing at the pure joy of it all.

Singing their songs

How I have dreamed of flying and looking at the earth from above. I think many of us have that dream.

The Martins will be here in the US for about another eight weeks or so. Then they start to gather in huge roosts, waiting till their instincts tell them it is time to fly to their winter home in Brazil. They have dual citizenship.

In Brazil, they live in the trees until winter is over, and once again they return here to have their babies. It will be the only time they live in gourds or other man-made houses.

A very full nest box

Their song is beautiful and one of the reasons they are so loved. It is so silent after they leave.  I count the weeks till they return.

Donna Lewis 
Proud Purple Martin Landlord

Babies Everywhere

by Donna Lewis
(with additional photos by Sue Ann Kendall)

This is Suna’s Phoebe mom, eating sunflower seeds and amaranth, or waiting on a fly.

Anywhere I look I have baby birds right now, which is a wonderful thing for a naturalist. Who could be bored right now with so many little creatures to look at?

On our front porch we have a nest with five tiny Eastern Phoebes. They are fly-catchers and love things with wings.

This morning mama tried to force a giant beetle down her youngest daughter and I thought for awhile I might have to preform the Hine-lick procedure…

Donna’s Phoebe babies taking a nap
Suna has a phoebe nest atop an old swallow nest.

Then in my Blue-bird houses I have five babies in one house and six babies in another. Again, bugs are on the menu.  This year the Blue-birds decided to run off the Purple Martins so they could use their perch to look for predators near their houses.

Over in our barn I have a nest of baby Carolina Wrens in a bucket that was hanging on the wall. If you have never seen a wren baby you would not believe how tiny they are. They are the cutest little things ever. There are only three babies.

Up in the oak trees about 18 feet high we have some Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Now talk about a tiny house. You can barely see it. It is wrapped in moss and is very concealed.

I love this quote.

There are ton’s of Cardinal nests everywhere. They eat bugs and from my feeders. I have them year round.  They are regulars here.

Then at last my beautiful Purple Martins, who came very late this year, are starting to lay their eggs finally. That unfortunately will cause the babies to mature during the hottest time of the year. 

I have seven nests with eggs and more that have not started yet.  I have the fewest Martins than ever at this site.  There are many potential reasons for this, and it’s hard to determine for sure.

But the ones I do have sing to me, and it’s all worth the trouble.

Nature is everywhere you are.  All you have to do is look.

Heaven on earth.