My Purple Martin Colony
2003 & 2004 Seasons
This page was last updated on: June 3, 2005
I was watching the martin nestlings being fed on June 8th, 2003 and had set up my scope and digital camera (digiscoping) to try and get some photos. The nestling on the left was given a huge dragonfly, but it was too big for the young martin to swallow, so it just sat there and then fell asleep with the dragonfly still in it's mouth. After a couple of minutes the dragonfly fell out on to the porch and disappeared later - it was probably eaten by a parent.
We had been monitoring the nestlings in all the compartments, as problems sometimes occur and as martin landlords, we can help to fix them. Occasionally, as the nestlings approach fledging day, one or two will get out of the nest and wander around the martin house and then get back into the wrong nest. The B1 compartment, in the photos above, had originally held 6 nestlings, but while observing the antics of the young, I noticed that there appeared to be 1 or 2 older nestlings looking out through the entrance hole. If you look closely at the two nestlings in the photos, you will see that one on the left is more developed than the one on the right. As many of the nestlings in the martin house, were so close to fledging, we did not take it down to try and move these nestlings back to B2 where they should have been. The older nestlings might have flown out prematurely and then we would never have been able to get them back in the right place!
The young in B2 fledged 2 days later (June 10th), and the ones in B1, finally fledged on June 16th. We think that the 2 older birds that had mistakenly been in B1, fledged a couple of days later than their siblings in B2, as a nest check done on June 12th showed only the original 6 nestlings left in B1. From June 8th-16th, there were young birds in and out of compartments all the time. For instance, on June 9th, I watched a nestling get out of B2, move around the martin house and then get into B6, which was empty, and an adult male martin went and chased it out! When the young go into an empty nest compartment, their parents will not feed them, even if it is right next door. On the June 19th nest check we found that B5 was missing one nestling - it had wandered around and got itself into B2, so we put it back in the correct nest, and all 5 successfully fledged a few days later.
Summary of nesting success for the year
8 active nests
44 eggs laid
36 eggs hatched
32 young fledged
Although a total of 44 eggs were laid, 8 were broken or disappeared in attacks by House Sparrows, attempting to take over compartments B4, T2 & T3. In order to protect the martins, all sparrow nests were removed and house sparrows were not allowed to breed at our site.
The 2004 season was a very disappointing one, for a couple of reasons. The first problems were due to constant attacks from house sparrows. On one nest check on May 2nd, we found 7 broken eggs, some still in the nests and some on the ground. This problem seems to be worse when the martins first begin to lay, as they do not stay in the nest to incubate until the full clutch is laid, but at that time, the established nests where martins were sitting, had not been attacked. The photo of T5 (below right) was taken on April 30th and had not lost any eggs on the May 2nd attack, but unfortunately by May 19th all these eggs were gone, without a trace. We do not know if the same pair of martins re-nested, as sometimes they will abandon the site when their eggs disappear, but on May 25th we found 2 new eggs hidden under the brown leaves that the martins like to put in their nests, and by May 30th, there were 5 eggs. When we did the nest check on June 13th, 4 of these eggs had recently hatched and the 5th had gone.
Martin eggs from several nests, damaged by house sparrows on May 2nd, 2004
A full clutch of 6 martin eggs in T5 on April 30th, 2004
The second problem to hit our martin colony was the terrible weather in late June. We had already had some heavy rain in the middle of June and had to rescue a couple of nestlings that got out of their nest too early. We found one of them on June 18th, below the martin house on the grass, wet and being bothered by several green blowflies, so we put it in a shoebox for a little while before putting it back in B1. Two days later, one of the nestlings from B1 was out again (couldn't tell if it was the same one!) and this time, was further across the lawn, against our patio. We were actually alerted to the fact that there was a problem, as the parent birds were flying over very close to our kitchen window (on the 2nd floor) and then one of them actually perched on the bird feeder pole on the edge of the deck, which they had never done before. It was almost like he was saying "Help us". We lowered the house and removed the other nestling, putting them both in the shoebox (see photo below), while my husband added some extra nesting material to their nest. Both the parents were subadult (SY) birds and this was their first time building a nest, so they hadn't made a very good job. They had originally laid 4 eggs, but only 2 hatched.
On June 21st, we had to leave for a 17 day trip to Canada, returning on July 7th. While we were gone it rained continuously for about 10 days, in fact the month of June turned out to be the 2nd wettest on record here in southeast Texas. 18.33 inches fell, just short of the highest record associated with Tropical Storm Allison which flooded a large part of Houston in June of 2001. When we returned we found the martin house deserted. We had expected to find that most of the young ones would already have fledged, but on taking down the house, we found, much to our horror, that many of the birds had died. In the compartments and on the porches, there were the skeletal remains of about 10 birds, although it was difficult to get an accurate count. After about 3 days of continual rain, martins begin to starve, because there are no flying insects for them to catch. It is quite difficult for landlords to offer supplemental food, as the martins catch their food on the wing. Some landlords toss crickets up in the air for the martins to catch, with some success. Unfortunately, we were gone and couldn't even try to help them.
So all in all, a very sad end to our martin season and we don't even know if we had any succcessful fledgings at all. The young from the re-nesting in T5, were only about 10 days old when the bad weather began and would not have even begun to get their feathers, so they didn't really stand a chance.
Two premature fledglings from B1, waiting to be put back in their nest
Replacing one of the fledglings in it's nest on June 20th