Success Based Largely on Geography

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Hanover Bill
Posts: 617
Joined: Thu May 14, 2009 3:10 pm
Location: Pennsylvania/Hanover Township
Martin Colony History: 2009 & 10 - 0
2011 & 12 - Visitors
2013 - 2 pr. fledged 9
2014 - 3 pr. fledged 13
2015 - 7 pr. fledged 27
2016 - 15 pr. fledged 72

The more I read the Forum and educate myself about Purple Martins the more I realize that success and failure appear to depend largely on your geographic location. It appears that it is much easier to establish a colony in the south than in the north and in my particular case I seem to be in an especially Martinless county (Beaver), in my home state of Pennsylvania. In fact Doug from Fombell in Beaver County answered one of my posts and stated that he thinks he may have the only nesting pair in this county. I am wondering is this just a result of a lack of people trying to establish colonies or is this some sort of geographic anomalie. Beaver County is a largely rural county with ample water in the forms of lakes, rivers, farm ponds, etc., and to my knowledge there are no signs saying "Purple Martins Stay Out". I am curious as to the reasons for the lack of Martins and would appreciate any input or comments. As always thanks for the great feedback and information.

Hanover Bill.
2009 & 10 - 0
2011 & 12 - Visitors
2013 - 2 pr. fledged 9
2014 - 3 pr. fledged 13
2015 - 7 pr. fledged 27
2016 - 15 pr. fledged 72
John Miller
Posts: 4775
Joined: Mon Mar 22, 2004 9:11 pm
Location: St. Louis, MO

Some folks from PA will know more, but Hurricane Agnes in 1972 -- I've only read about it -- killed most of the population of martins in wide spread areas of your state -- days and days of rain. The population has rebounded in some areas.

Mountainous areas in the East have fewer martins because there's less wide open space. Sometimes there's fewer martins because of waining tradition of erecting housing. Some areas are decline for unclear reasons -- but I suspect it mostly has to do with tradition and changing demographics of people...the latter is something I'm curious about, but don't have real answers. I suspect many small farms and towns used to host martins, but today's big agricultual operations don't have time for martins; and small town life maybe too is less connected to nature than when I grew up in the olden days.

John M
Last edited by John Miller on Mon Apr 12, 2010 8:24 am, edited 1 time in total.
Emil Pampell-Tx
Posts: 6743
Joined: Tue Nov 11, 2003 1:26 pm
Location: Tx, Richmond (SW of Houston)
Martin Colony History: First started in Gretna, La in 1969 with a small homemade house, have had martins ever since at 2 different homes in Texas

Your best hope is to provide a wide open location, keep the housing away from the trees, and have good housing, protect the (would be) martins from snakes, owls, and racoons, and hope that some will come.

It may take years to build up the population again, and its bad when a hurricane wipes out such a large area.

Again, your best bet is to have the ideal location, with no nearby trees.
PMCA Member, 250 gourds, 6 poles, 2traps
Scully
Posts: 2008
Joined: Mon Jan 26, 2004 5:35 pm
Location: Texas/San Antonio

Here's a general population distribution for the purple martin from the USFW Breeding Bird Survey

http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i6110id.html

Image

Certainly a far more common bird in the South. Certainly, even down here, the vast majority of people who buy houses just put them up with little afterthought.

But, without housing there will be no martins at all. My observations indicate that this soon may be a serious problem in my immediate area as older housing comes down, not to be replaced.

It has been too long since I lived in New York, such that I cannot recall how common martin houses are up in that area. Do they sell martin houses in the big chain stores like they do down here?

The other factor has to be weather, our martins are somewhat less likely to be hammered by cold snaps and as far as hurricanes, most young here are fledged by early June, before the brunt of hurricane season.

Mike Scully
...if the gentlemen of Virginia shall send us a dozen of their sons, we would take great care in their education, instruct them in all we know, and make men of them. Canasatego 1744
ToyinPA
Posts: 2149
Joined: Mon Apr 10, 2006 6:07 pm
Location: PA/Avis
Martin Colony History: The 1972 St. Agnes flood wiped out all the Martins in my area. One day, in 1997-98, 5 or 6 Martins landed on the power wires crossing my back yard. I had no house for them. They kept coming back day after day. We got a martin house a few weeks later & they have been coming back every year since. I average 12-15 pair per year.

Bill:
The Agness flood in 1972 wiped out the whole martin population in PA. It not only killed the adults & chicks it also killed their food source. It takes many years for those things to come back, if they ever do. Areas can be drastically changed by flooding & storms. My area was very martin populated pre Agnes. I'm the only one with a colony in my area, according to the county bird club.

Many old time landlords have passed on. Houses were taken down by new property owners & due to the lack of martins.

Had it not been the fact that I'm an animal lover & my neighbor, who told me what those birds were that kept coming back to my yard over & over looking for housing, I wouldn't have my colony. They would have moved on. My colony started with 5-6 birds looking for housing in 1999-2000. Last year I had 12 pair.

Don't give up. I'm sure they'll find you eventually. I do my best to add more each year :).

ToyinPA


[quote="Hanover Bill"] It appears that it is much easier to establish a colony in the south than in the north and in my particular case I seem to be in an especially Martinless county (Beaver), in my home state of Pennsylvania. In fact Doug from Fombell in Beaver County answered one of my posts and stated that he thinks he may have the only nesting pair in this county.
landonn
Posts: 282
Joined: Thu Aug 20, 2009 7:50 am
Location: Indiana/Logansport

Mike,

There are many unmanaged houses in my area, but none of them have a martin. I believe that the martins up here are more attractived to places that are managed and that have deep compartments. Yes, some stores do sell martin house, but mostly they are farm stores.

Landonn
bwenger
Posts: 1048
Joined: Thu Jul 14, 2005 7:24 pm
Location: Pennsylvania/Espyville/Pymatuning Reservoir Area
Martin Colony History: Taking care of 11 active public colonies and trying to start two more in northwestern PA. Also attempting to restart another one in southwestern PA, in Collier Township's Hilltop Park. In 2017, not sure what happened but the ASY male returned and then a couple of weeks later he was gone. It could have been weather related. No other birds showed up. I had a starling nesting at the Public site that I had trouble getting rid of.
In 2018, we fledged 629 martins at all of the sites.

Hi Bill,

John Miller and Toy are correct, Hurricane Agnes wiped out just about every martin in western PA. I remember as a teenager seeing martin houses in northwest PA that appeared to be filled with martins, all with round holes and small 6"x6" cavities.

I wasn't into martins at that time, so I really didn't know the impact of the hurricane. Today, some of those houses are still barely standing, most falling apart, and are now just providing housing for sparrows and starlings.

It was mentioned that the old timers who cared for these martins have passed on, and most of their children appear to have neglected the colonies, or after years of no martins, just gave up the fight.

There are a good many martin colonies around, but most have good distances between them.

The Portersville and Butler area is a hot spot, with some large colonies around there. A little further southeast from there, around Natrona Heights, there are some nice colonies as well, thanks to the efforts of Duke Snyder, Ken Kostka, Roy Bauder, Jeff Hunt, and Bob Allnock.

Last year, we started the Lakeland Area Purple Martin Association, with most members being from the Conneaut Lake and Pymatuning areas, but some from Erie and Portersville area. We just had a meeting on Saturday, so let me know if you want included on the emails.

The big part of attracting martins is having wide open areas, good housing, having some gourds as part of your housing, and keeping your housing free of any other type of bird. Using the dawnsong and daytime chatter as attactors.

Other than that, we have to rely on the martins themselves.

If you're ever interested in seeing some of these colonies, let me know and we can arrange it.

Bill
Emil Pampell-Tx
Posts: 6743
Joined: Tue Nov 11, 2003 1:26 pm
Location: Tx, Richmond (SW of Houston)
Martin Colony History: First started in Gretna, La in 1969 with a small homemade house, have had martins ever since at 2 different homes in Texas

bwenger wrote:Hi Bill,

The big part of attracting martins is having wide open areas, good housing, having some gourds as part of your housing, and keeping your housing free of any other type of bird.
I totally agree with that. So often, people think that they have a good site, but actually, they do NOT have a good site, their area is not wide open, it often has too many trees. When you see tree encroachment and martins still stay at the housing, then you are seeing an old established site. That is totally different from starting a brand new colony, you need the open site to start a new colony.
PMCA Member, 250 gourds, 6 poles, 2traps
Don~VA
Posts: 391
Joined: Fri Mar 13, 2009 11:01 am
Location: Virginia/King George
Martin Colony History: Had a colony many years ago which dwindled over a couple of years and then did not return. Kept trying each year for almost 20 years and finally had a small success in 2011 with two pairs nesting. Colony has grown slowly each year with 22 pairs in 2015. In 2016 my gourd rack of 18 gourds filled up so I added 4 more gourds and then put up a small rack of 6 gourds. All of those were claimed within a few days so I believe I have at least 25 pairs this year.

Hi Bill, You sound exactly like me when talking about attracting martins! I also think it must have something to do with location and I feel like mine must be part of a No Fly Zone for PM's. In another post you said your county must be the most barren martin place in PA, well mine is the most barren in VA :) My county is also completely rural with a lot of large ponds and bordered on three sides by rivers, plenty of marsh land, and large open fields. Still I have not seen a martin in many years except for two visitors last year for a few days. I have driven all the back roads for a 100 mile radius and seen only a few martin houses, so I believe ToyinPA hit the nail on the head when he says the old timers have passed on and new landowners are just not interested. You will probably be like me and just keep on trying regardless of the results. It's still fun! Good Luck this year.
Don~Northern Neck of Virginia-PMCA Member
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