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Gardening For Wildlife #63 Home News & Purple Martins
March 31, 2008

Tomorrow is the first day of April.

Where did March go?

Even with the days growing longer and we are getting some much needed sunshine,

Winter still refuses to let go, however.

Yes, we still have a day tossed in where we get a few inches of snow.

At least now it melts right away.

This time last year we were having days in the 60's and 70's and we paid for it in mid April with couple of weeks of of real nasty weather.

This cool weather is actually healthier for our yards and gardens, as plants stay dormant.

Last year many things were frozen off and some plants died.

Things are getting busier around here and the garden center as we gear up for warmer days.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) I have the pleasure of seeing a Urologist about my kidney stone issues.

IVP x-rays show a stone 1cm by 2cm.

I'm not about to pass that thing and the pain has been wearing on me something terrible.

Hopefully I can get things smashed sometime soon.

Ziggy the poodle pup still gets into things.

When he is tired of his chew toys, everything else becomes fair game. It's like having a toddler all over again.

His house training is still on going.

He will be good for a couple of days and for no reason, he will go right in front of us.

Next thing I know, he'll try to write his name.... LOL.

It's a guy thing.

The Ziglet and Keet are still in competition.

A fight breaks out and in a split second the jousting becomes playful. That's fine, but to often it happens on my lap.

What is it with these fur kids?

Turkey vultures have ventured this far North.

They were so close, I could see the ugly, red, bald head.

Fewer Cardinals are feeding now, but I do enjoy the songs from every direction.

I watched a flock of Snow geese heading North Saturday afternoon.

The American goldfinches look like a hodge podge of miss, matched colors as they are in full molt now.

Birds molt a few feathers at a time here and there so it doesn't mess with their ability to fly.

I gladly welcome the vibrant yellows they will bring.

Robins are singing and I enjoy them as the hop back and forth looking for food in last year's leaf litter I spread out in the gardens and beds.

Leaf litter not only improves the soil and mulches the plants, it also is home to worms, insects and other goodies for your feathered friends.

It's a win, win situation all the way around.

Keep the dead and decaying foliage on your beds and you will notice some birds use it for nesting materials.

Speaking of which. you may want to offer some small (about 4") pieces of yarn or string. Get some raw cotton and use some pet hair etc for nesting materials.

Place it in a clean or new suet basket, wrap some string around a twig and watch the birds.

The first of the month is always a good time to clean and sanitize your feeders.

At least for me it is.............. it works as a reminder that every 30 days they should get a good cleaning.

Ann from Manton, Michigan asked about Purple martins.

Thanks for asking Ann, I hope this will be helpful.

There is so much to learn and understand about Martins and so little time and space you will be getting a truncated version.

Purple martins (Progne subis)

Purple martins are considered the first backyard bird of North America.

Historical accounts document a special relationship between humans and Martins.

For centuries, Martins were known by American Indians to drive off hawks, crows and vultures from the vicinity, and to give an alarm call at any sign of danger.

Indeed, the American Indians provided gourds houses for these beautiful feathered creatures.

Purple martins aren't capable of excavating their own holes. There was a time when they would use old woodpecker holes and other natural cavities.

It is believed that over the course of time, the birds developed a taste or liking to human offerings.

Add to that the lack of natural cavities and the rest is history.

East of the Rockies they rely totally on humans for nesting sites.

Some Martin populations in the southwest still use natural cavities and old holes, but that too is shrinking.

Purple martins are the largest swallows North of Mexico.

Length is 7 to 8 inches.

Wing span is up to 16 inches.

They have a large head and thick chest.

Males are a shiny bluish black

Females are bluish black on back. Chest dingy gray brown. Belly paler dirty gray. Gray collar around back of neck Immature are Similar to the female, but more drab and less bluish on back, underparts dirty white. Wing and tail feathers brown.

First winter birds of both sexes resemble adult female. Yearling male has whiter belly and some dark blue feathers scattered on chest.

Neo-tropical birds that winter in the Amazon Basin and as far South as northern Argentina, are some of the first birds to reappear in January and February in some of the southern states.

A myth has it that Martins and other birds send out scouts. This implies that once a sight is located they go back and get the rest of the clan.

Birds simply don't do that kind of stuff.

What happens is, more experienced birds migrate sooner to get established. Later on the others will eventually show up.

Once a colony settles in, it can 4 to 6 weeks before mating and nesting.

Nests are constructed of grasses and green leaves. Scientists are sure why, but leaves are added regularly.

Sometimes a mud rim is added to the nest closest to the hole.

Clutches average 3 to 6 white eggs.

Incubation period: 15-18 days.

Mother sits most of the time, but papa will keep eggs warm while she is out feeding.

Nestlings fledge in 28-29 days.

For the next two weeks, they are fed mostly on on the fly.

Purple martins hunt on the fly, they drink and bathe on the fly as well.

Another myth about Purple martins is they eat copious amounts of mosquitoes and that is what some house manufacturers want you to believe.

Fact is, they will eat a few mosquitoes, but their main food is larger insects like dragonflies, wasps, butterflies, stink bugs etc.

Martins often hunt at 100 to 200 feet in the day time.

Where are mosquitoes and when are they most often out and about?

Watching a colony of Purple martins is a real joy.

Seeing them flying around and eating their fast food is something a person must see to really appreciate.

Martin Landlords

You want to be a landlord?

Be prepared.

To be a Martin landlord you need the passion.

There is no such thing as throwing up a house or hanging a few gourds and calling it good.

Ask any successful Martin landlord and they can tell you about the passion and desires it takes.

The time involved in monitoring units.

Keeping unwanted birds like sparrows and starlings away.

Martin landlords monitor for sickness and insects, sometimes the landlord must clean or change nesting materials all together if blowflies are a problem.

Before you become a landlord, read up on a few things and make sure you have the proper habitat or landscape to house Martins.

Purple Martins need at least a 40 foot barrier free passage to and from the nest box.

Why, because Martins are more of a swooping or gliding bird and need room for take off and landing, much like bats do.

No structures or trees above 15 within that 80 foot square.

The pole should be 12 to 15 feet above ground and nothing planted around it.

Purple martins do enjoy human company however, and your new hotel/condo should be within 100 feet from your dwellings.

Near water is preferred, but not a requirement. Open farm land works.

Make sure you have a telescoping pole to easily raise and lower your hotel for cleaning, monitoring and maintenance, and mark the spot where the pole lines up so the birds have the same hole.

Housing units should always be white to reflect the sun and keep it cooler.

Some thoughts suggest that white allows the bird to see the dark opening while coming in for a landing.

Swinging gourds work best as research shows more successful fledges occur from gourd houses.

Expanding a successful colony is easy, you may hang a few more gourds, or put up another hotel close by.

But do it before the tenants show up.

For new wanna be landlords,

Make sure you have the right topography before you spend time and money (sometimes serious money).

Get a book or two on Purple martins.

Talk to a successful landlord. I have yet to come across a bird lover of any kind that isn't willing to share.

There are Martin conservation sites and clubs.

Be prepared for an empty hotel/condo for the first year and maybe for several years.

Mature adults return to the exact same place year after year.

You may get some sub-adults that will start their own colony.

Watching a colony of Martins is a joy, watching them on a feeding frenzy is way to cool.

It's a shame we all can't have Martins in our yards,

Thank the individuals that make time for these very special birds.

As you can see, I just scratched the surface.

As you can see, a lot goes into a successful Purple martin colony just like a lot goes into a working bluebird trail.

With the introduction of European starlings and House sparrows and the destruction of habitat these birds do rely on us for their success.

I haven't had the time to do a Purple Martin section on the web site, but if you are interested in growing gourds and or making gourds houses, than these page will help out greatly.

Well,, it's time to fly.

Your thought for the week.

When you take a risk and step out of the norm, you run the risk and sometimes fail. But, you only fail if you give up.

J. Peterman

Stretching our selves can be uncomfortable or feel odd. But if you stretch yourself and smile at stranger or even say hello, we all win.



Share it with the world.

You know, if you keep it up..............

within 30 days it becomes a new and wonderful habit.

Until next time my friend

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed, Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers. Better yet, have them sign up so they can recieve their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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