Twelve Martins Roosting In Troyer Horizontal Gourd

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Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4339
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

This evening I counted 12 purple martins entering a Troyer Horizontal gourd with a round hole for communal roosting! It was interesting to watch the martins seek out this gourd which has a pre-built nest. One martin would enter, then another, then another and so on. However, some of the martins that arrived a little late this evening didn't see the others enter. Well, these late comers kept flying around my colony and entering various gourds and house compartments. But they would not stay. Then occasionally I would hear some of the martins in the Troyer gourd vocalized. That was all it took and the late comers immediately flew to the Troyer gourd and entered. I believe all the martins in my colony and Bob's are roosting in that gourd as I saw some from Bob's colony fly over earlier and enter the Troyer.

It looks like some of the martins that I saw this morning were probably not members of our colonies and these martins most likely headed north. I believe there were between 15 and 20 martins this morning at our colonies.

This morning a male Cooper's hawk slowly flew over and begin to circle near my colony. These hawks, which have learned to hunt martins, will do this and try to surprise martins that fly out underneath the circling predators. Several male martins saw the predator, bolted and flew away. The hawk did not pursue them since I was already under the martin housing. This hawk has been hunting frequently in our area and as more martins arrive then he may try to catch them.

It will be another cold night and the communal roosting behavior of the martins may help keep them warm. I believe they managed to catch some insects this afternoon though it was cold as I saw the martins hunting over the cow pastures.

But a warm up is coming and that is indeed welcomed news!

Steve
The Olsons
Posts: 3200
Joined: Mon Feb 12, 2007 12:57 pm
Location: North Padre Island, TX

Hi Steve,

About the hawk hanging around....The past two years the hawks showed up at our place right before the martins were supposed to be back, and when they were the hawks were showing up out of the blue. Unfortunately, I/we cannot be here 24/7, but whenever I am/we are, I have used the garden hose to scare them away. My husband told me they do not like the cold water spray so we tried it out. I do not know whether it is a coincidence or actually does work that way. However, they usually do not show up anymore after the second "spray". I know they are protected and we do not intend to hurt them in any way. The water does not even reach them all the way, but somehow has an effect on them not liking this neighborhood too much anymore.
Astrid
John Atteberry

Hello Steve,
I just got home tonight and saw an ASY female and two ASY males go in the Troyer horizontal gourd too to stay together on this cold night! She must of came in today or lastnight because I only saw one ASY male until now! The weather will be warmer tomorrow with the temperature around 62 degrees! I sure hope they make it tonight so I can see how many tomorrow night I have! Question Steve, Does the cold temps kill them or not enough insects kill them! Some told me the freezing temps will kill them because they are not birds to be cold but to be in warmer weather! What do you think? Thanks John!
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4339
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Hey Astrid,

Oh those hawks and martins! We have two super martin colonies and the migratory Accipiters and merlins are always attacking usually from February to early May. Then the resident Cooper's hawks start predating the martin fledglings beginning in late May and continue until the last martins leave in July.

I am retired and spend a lot of time studying and protecting our martin colonies. I try to maintain a visibility and that will often, but not always keep the raptors from making direct attacks in the colonies.

Your water spray method may just be working for you! I have never tried anything like that so far as the hawks are usually high up or coming in like jet fighters.

Thanks for sharing your interesting observations. I hope you have a fantastic martin season in 2007!

Steve
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4339
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Hey John,

Martins can handle the cold fairly well. It is the lack of food that gradually weakens them until they can't fly because their muscles atrophy and then they succumb. Of course, if they are weakend from lack of nourishment, then severe cold no doubt stresses them further.

Though purple martins are neo-tropical migrants, they have been breeding in North America now for thousands of years. This behavior has helped them adapt to colder temperatures to a point. For example, martins will often sleep during very cold nights in the 20s and 30s. The days may gradually warm up to the high 40s or low 50s so that insects are flying. This winter/spring weather may continue for a week or more. Yet, the martins survive the cold because they are still catching insects.

So it is the lack of food that is the main enemy and the cold is secondary to that. If martins are fed by their landlords, then the martins can survive continous cold weather because they are still receiving nourishment. Also, the martin's feathers provide warmth and sleeping in a cavity reduces weather related stress.

Steve
The Olsons
Posts: 3200
Joined: Mon Feb 12, 2007 12:57 pm
Location: North Padre Island, TX

Hello Steve,

Thank you for your response. I think it is great that you are doing all the martin research and are watching out for them the way you do. When I was telling you about our hawks I thought this is the way it always is... our hawks they are actually sitting on our roof, railing of the deck or the sailboat mast , and then I get the garden hose out. I wonder what makes them come so close to our house and the martin housing? Any ideas :?:
Astrid
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4339
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Astrid,

I am amazed at times how the bird eating Accipiter hawks, the Cooper's and sharp-shinned, will use human structures to aid their predatory behavior! Plus these hawks learn quickly to hunt certain prey species and once they develop a technique they stick with it.

In your situation, the hawks may have learned to sit motionless near a martin house/gourd rack and wait patiently for a martin to appear in the entrance, come out on a porch or perch, or fly out. Often the martin will not be aware at first that the hawk is nearby watching. If the hawk is successful in catching a martin under those conditions, then he/she will often repeat the successul behavior.

I have seen these hawks land on gourd racks/house tops and wait patiently for a martin to exit. Under these conditions, the unsuspecting martin will often not fly 20 feet before the hawk nails him/her.

Last year, I would watch a small male Cooper's hawk land on Bob's gourd racks and sit stiffly! The hawk would make his body appear almost like a tree branch and he would be slender. I actually saw martins fly around this hawk and never notice him! I managed to chase him away numerous times and he finally stopped this behavior.

So perhaps the hawks have learned to sit near a martin colony, like yours, on house roofs, deck railings or sailboat masts, and then try to ambush martins. If this hunting behavior has worked previously, then the hawks will continue to use. And if you can keep giving the hawks a good bath, then maybe they will go somewhere else to hunt!

Steve
Dale Hrncirik

Hey Steve,

I have never witnessed communal roosting on such a large degree! That will definitely help them conserve body heat which in turn will save much needed energy due to the fact that fewer calories will be used to keep their bodies warm. I understand that food is the fuel for martin health/energy but the colder it is, the quicker their energy will be drained unless they resort to communal roosting or we help them somehow by supplying a warm nest cavity.

Dale
Dale Hrncirik

Steve,

I forgot to mention but you probably have heard about the incident where a martin died in the entrance blocking/trapping others in the commune. Just something to keep an eye out for.

Dale
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4339
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Hey Dale,

I have seen even more martins crammed into gourds/house compartments at my boyhood colony.

It is probably a combination of lack of food and cold that contributes to a martin's death, but I still believe that lack of food is the primary cause. If a martin can continue to receive nourishment and sufficient caloric intake, then this may over compensate for the cold temperatures up to a point.

Also, factors such as "how cold" and "for how long" are important too. I have seen martins easily survive many freezing night temperatures in the 20s/30s and cold daytime temps of high 40s/low 50s. These martins did not communally roost.

Yes, martins can die in these communal roost cavities and I have found them dead inside houses/gourds. Usually these die inside the cavity and not in the entrance, but it certainly could happened.

There are many unknowns about martin biology and we are only just beginning to unravel these mysteries.

Steve
John Miller
Posts: 4766
Joined: Mon Mar 22, 2004 9:11 pm
Location: St. Louis, MO

Dale...Thanks for your SREH report. I have a copy of a similar report you made, including your crescent methods, from two year ago. It's been very helpful to me.

Steve, Dale, Re: communal roosting. I was talking a few days ago to a St. Louis area landlord who lost 14 birds in one wooden T-14 cavity very late last spring, during a cool rainy spell May 9-11 that sneaked up on us. It's very much something landlords need to monitor, maybe more so with SREH entries. I'd suggest glancing at holes looking in particular for stuck birds during cold spells.

John Miller
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4339
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

John,

Yes, srehs may more likely have stuck martins in a communal roost cavity. I have never seen one in my round holes. However, martins can become "crushed" down when there are so many crammed inside a cavity. I sometimes wonder if these weakened martins are suffocated when there are numerous other martins pressing down on them. I have examined these dead martins inside communal roost cavities. They were always emaciated from lack of food. Their breasts are bony and their weights are light. There is little "meat on their bones".

Steve
Dale Hrncirik

John Miller wrote:Dale...Thanks for your SREH report. I have a copy of a similar report you made, including your crescent methods, from two year ago. It's been very helpful to me.


John Miller
Hi John,

I recall you many times mentioning the fact you use a 'snug fitting film canister' to set your crescent SREs to slightly oversize. It's great to know that it works for others as well as it does for me. I haven't heard of any others doing this but plenty trying new SREs and that's find and dandy if they were having starling problems and still searching for an SRE that works best for them. I think that having nearby round hole nest box traps are the best solution when using any type of SREs cuz starlings just can't resist the easy alternative.

Dale
Bob Flam

Something struck me when both Steve and John said they were communal roosting...in their Troyer horizontal gourd.

Is that just coincidence, or is there more to it than that???

Is that gourd warmer, maybe keeps less draft out because of it's design?

Which direction are these two gourds facing in relation to the wind? I've seen martins communally roost in my trio on the east side, the wind is usually out of the west.

bob
Emil Pampell-Tx
Posts: 6742
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

Bob, the only time that I ever saw a communal roost, they were in a natural double gourd. These 2 gourds were put together, each was about 7in OD, and I had about a 5in hole between the two where they were connected. The direction of the gourd was to the South, we had a cold North wind. These double natural gourds are taken very quickly in the season on all of my racks, I think the martins like the deep horizontal depth. Early in the spring season, those old double natural gourds are chosen about 3 to 1 over any other type of gourd that I ever used. They probably all 13 or so martins easily got into that double gourd.
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4339
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Just a short update on the 12 martins...

This morning I watched martin after martin leave the Troyer Horizontal gourd! Several of the males decided to visit their "true" territory for a few minutes and defend it against any other males. However, most left and headed out over the open pastures to hunt for food. Three females waited till almost 11:30 am before finally flying out of the gourd.

I lowered the rack and checked the gourd and there were no dead martins inside.

It is real windy today, but sunny. The temperature is in the mid to upper 50s and insects will be available lower down over the cow pastures, around the cattle and above the many ponds.

More martins should be arriving in the next few days.

Steve
Guest

Just a comment on the water hose trick for the hawks discussed earlier....I believe it works.

A couple of years ago we had a large moth hatch and the martins were feasting. The seagulls learned to gang up on the martins as they were returning to the nests with their prize and steal the moths. Sometimes they appeared to harm the martins in flight combat, following them in all the way to the gourd entrances. This was too much to see so I drug a power washer to the 3rd level deck and "blasted" at every seagull within range. The gulls started avoiding the airspace around the sprayer and martin housing even when it was not in use!

Sue
City by the Sea, TX
The Olsons
Posts: 3200
Joined: Mon Feb 12, 2007 12:57 pm
Location: North Padre Island, TX

Thank you for your comment Sue. I remember those big moths; we had them out here as well. Some of the martins actually had a problem getting them into the gourds and had to try several times. Those seagulls are something else....bless your heart for dragging that power washer all the way to the 3rd floor to protect the martins :!:
Last year as well as the year before I found a seagull with a dead martin in the beak and I got so furious that both times I would spray that gull until it let go of the martin. Of course, it was too late both times but it seems they do not like the strong blast of water at all. Thanks again for your input :)
Astrid
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4339
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Sue/Astrid,

When I lived in north Florida, there were many small martin colonies located in various beach communities along the Gulf coast. The seagulls and fish crows were major problems for these colonies and often raided the houses, pulling out nestling martins. Many of the houses were Trios and Heaths with the small 6" x 6" compartment sizes. The gulls and crows could easily reach in and grab the nestlings.

Steve
The Olsons
Posts: 3200
Joined: Mon Feb 12, 2007 12:57 pm
Location: North Padre Island, TX

Steve,

I do not know where those sea gulls got the martins. Were the martins injured or dead on the ground before the gulls got them, or did the gulls scoop them off the perches? All our housing consists of Troyer Horizontal Gourds with Crescent entrances and one Colead House with Crescent entrances (converted compartments). We also practice S&S control. I know from a friend in town (Corpus Christi, TX) that he had gulls drag Mockingbird babies out of the nest and killed them. It sometimes is REAL frustrating to think about all the predators for the martins out there....By the way, I read your article on the owls today. You know so much and you write so well....We had this situation here last year which is still a mystery to us. One morning at about 6.30 the end of June I looked out of the window and saw a streak of dry blood coming down on one of the gourds. It was the gourd of our main bird "Arnie". I was terrified and ran outside to find some feathers on the ground. They did not really look like martin feathers but were right underneath the gourd. The martins seemed all fine and not bothered or scared by any means. The night before I was in the living room that has the window closest to that gourd and I did not hear any noise nor did I hear anything early that morning. I know that owls hunt at night but have never seen or heard an owl in our area. I am not awa re of what other predator hunts at night. The strange thing is the martins just went about "their business". It makes me real nervous not knowing what happened in order to prevent for something like to happen this season.
Astrid
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