Purple Martin

All posts tagged Purple Martin

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

If you have a bird box in your yard, you might have seen some action around it lately.  I certainly have.  The feature box in our backyard was the scene of a dispute between an Eastern Bluebird and a House Wren last week.  Feathers were ruffled, there was a little wrestling and chasing, and in the end it looks like the House Wren won.  It has been busy bringing little sticks to the nest since then, with his mate monitoring the progress.

Purple Martin are back at nesting colonies throughout the area.  Later this summer, they will have nests with chicks, like the ones pictured.

Purple Martin are back at nesting colonies throughout the area. Later this summer, they will have nests with chicks, like the ones pictured.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Observing activity at bird boxes is an easy way to peer into the private lives of birds.  My wife and I are Delaware Nature Society volunteers who monitor bird boxes at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve, and we look forward to our rounds each week.  We  already have some nesting Eastern Bluebirds with eggs, a few House Wrens building nests, and Tree Swallows starting to add grass to nests.  We are also keeping tabs on any nest we find along the route, such as the Robin that is now laying eggs in her nest on our shutter.

American Robin start nesting activities in April.  The ones on my shutter are starting to incubate their eggs.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

American Robin start nesting activities in April. The ones on my shutter are starting to lay their eggs. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Recently, the Delaware Nature Society has become a Chapter for Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch Citizen Science program.  As a chapter, we hold trainings on how to find bird nests, monitor nest boxes, and how use the NestWatch database to record data on eggs, young, and nest success .  This is a really fun way to keep track of your backyard bird nests and nest boxes, and contribute your findings to science at the same time.  We report all of our bird nest activities into NestWatch, including wild nests like the Robin in our yard.  You can always access your data to keep track of the status of each nest, and the mapping feature on the website allows you to see all of your nests on one interactive map.  If you like birds, keeping records, maps, science, and helping others learn about birds, this activity is for you!

Monitoring bird boxes and finding bird nests is very rewarding.  Consider monitoring nests around your house or in a local park over the summer and enter your findings into Cornell Lab of Ornithology's NestWatch website.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Monitoring bird boxes and finding bird nests is very rewarding. Consider monitoring nests around your house or in a local park over the summer and enter your findings into Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch website. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

I will be conducting a NestWatch training on Thursday, May 9th, 6pm at Ashland Nature Center in Hockessin, DE.  Anyone can attend.  It is free for Delaware Nature Society members, and $5 for non-members.  Call (302) 239-2334 if you would like to attend.  This training will get you ready to monitor a nest box in your yard, or if you are motivated, to become a volunteer bird box monitor, like my wife and I.  As a matter of fact, we need bird box monitors at Ashland Nature Center and at the Red Clay Reservation in Hockessin if you are interested!

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Programs Team Leader and Bob Strahorn, Delmarva Ornithological Society

On May 27, 2011, I conducted a Breeding Bird Atlas survey with Bob Strahorn and Carol Majors for the State of Delaware.  We walked and drove around block 21, which is south of Newark to find evidence of breeding birds.  After birding around the Cooch-Dayett Mills property along the Christina River, we drove past Glasgow High School and noticed Purple Martins flying around the parking lot.  We stopped and did not see any martin houses, and quickly realized they were going in and out of street lamps.

Purple Martins were seen swarming around street lamps at the Glasgow High School. Photo by Bob Strahorn

The downward-facing glass globes looked like they were broken by rock-throwing teenagers or perhaps angry, venting teachers at the school.  At any rate, the vandals created perfect nest sites for the Purple Martins.  Usually in our area, Purple Martins use houses and artificial nest boxes put up for them.  Historically, they nested in rock crevices, old woodpecker holes, and other such cavities.  Many still use these natural cavities out west, but in eastern North America, they are almost completely found nesting in non-natural “martin apartments”.

Here, a male Purple Martin proudly perches on the nest pole with the female incubating inside. I wonder what happens if the lights still work!? Photo by Bob Strahorn

If you conduct a quick google search, you can easily see that Purple Martins are known to do this on occasion, but none of us had ever seen it, or heard of it happening in Delaware.  The oldest record I could find references Purple Martins nesting in electric arc-light caps in Vergennes, Vt in 1897.  (Auk, Vol. XIV, 1897).  Obviously they figured this out long ago, but it is still really interesting to see how adaptable this species is.  Having trouble attracting them to your property?  Maybe this method will work for you!

Another Purple Martin nesting in a broken street lamp, Glasgow High School, DE. Photo by Bob Strahorn

In all, we think there were four pair at this site, plus a pair or two of European Starling using other broken street lamps.  The Delaware Nature Society will be contacting the school to see if they would consider installing a martin box to expand the colony next year.

By Jason Beale, Manager, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center

Spring is in full swing right now with new birds on territory and migrants passing through.  One of my favorite things about this time of year is the recently returned birds that make their homes around the nature center.  Some species are opportunistic, taking advantage of structures already in place.  Other species may need a little coaxing, but it is well worth the effort to invite a new family into the neighborhood.  Delaware Nature Society staff and volunteers have been working on habitat improvements at the Morton Farm, a former homesite and farm field, located directly across from the nature center, for the past two years.  Every season attracts new attention from the local wildlife and this spring has been no different. 

A pair of Purple Martins perches upon our new Martin house complex

Chuck Fullmer, an accomplished nature photographer and Martin landlord, donated three boxes and gourds in March.  After a few weeks of flybys, we finally have a few pairs that have been entering the gourds on a regular basis.  Purple Martin and other colonial swallow species seem to take full advantage of what humans offer.  Cliff Swallows utilize bridges, Rough-winged Swallows nest in drain pipes along waterways, and Bank Swallows dig into gravel and sand pits.  Barn Swallows will take up residence under porches and eaves – wherever they can find a slight ledge to build their mud nests.

A pair of Barn Swallows nest on this porch every year. Notice the wire on the wall which provided enough "ledge" to build their nest upon.

The Eastern Phoebe, a flycatcher species, is much like the Barn Swallow in its nest site choice.  They line their nests with moss.  American Robins and Mourning Doves will also use ledges, though they typically nest in trees.  Installing a small wooden block under a porch or eave may attract these species right to your house!

An American Robin nests on the side of a stone building. If you place a nest shelf on the side of your house, they may use that too. Eastern Phoebe and Mourning Dove are other species that will take advantage of a nest shelf. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

 The Birder’s Report features a variety of online nest box plans for you to use.  Delaware Nature Society is the local representative of the National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat program which provides a great deal of useful information to make your home wildlife friendly.  Have fun!