Huge Pre-Migratory Martin Roost In Shreveport...Still There?

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Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Huge Pre-MigratoryMartin Roost In Shreveport...Still There?

Though the martin-breeding season in northwest Louisiana is still progressing, the communal roosting behavior of martins at those large pre-migratory roosts will soon be in full swing. In Shreveport, Louisiana which is about 30 miles north of my martin colony, there has been an enormous pre-migratory roost at the Schumpert medical complex. Though the martins have been harassed in previous years because of their fecal droppings, this roost was used in 2004. I am hoping to visit this roost in late July or August of this year to see if the martins are still there.

Here is what we saw in 2004?

On the evening of August 1, 2004 Bob (my neighbor) and I visited Shreveport to witness one of the wonders of the natural world. This wonder was a gigantic pre-migratory martin roost in the heart of Shreveport at the Schumpert medical complex. You would have to see and experience this phenomenon in person to fully appreciate the images of possibly 100,000 martins blackening the sky and then swirling like an avian funnel cloud. I was awestruck and have never seen anything like it. The martins trickled in a few at a time and you have no idea of what is about to happen. Martins continued to arrive from all directions and they appeared to coalesce as if drawn together by an unseen cosmic magnet. There was very little vocalizing while they flew about over the area though I did hear a few martins chirruping. The composition of the flock appeared to be largely dominated by fledglings and possibly SY birds with just a few ASY males. I saw several barn swallows mixing with the martins.

As it got darker, the martins continued to pour in and their flocking behavior became tightened as they flew through the sky. At first you are not sure which trees will be the final roosting place. We wondered if they would choose some Bradford pears down a nearby side street or perhaps some tall oaks near an open parking lot. But when the martins are ready, they start to circle the intended roost in a thick mass like an avian tornado and then in successive waves dive down. The martins were roosting in four or five oak trees, including one magnolia (we believe it is a magnolia) located adjacent to or a short distance from the side of one of the medical facility buildings. Several of the tree limbs, which protruded out over the circular road in front of medical facility had been removed, possibly to discourage the martins.

The martins just poured into the trees and occupied all available ?perching? areas like the top foliage, small branches and even the exposed main tree limbs. The martins continued swirl above the trees in an almost vortex like manner and dove down to claim their roosting place for the night. Over and over again the martin flock descended into the mass of perching martins and surely they were tightly packed in the trees. About 50 feet or so from the trees are power lines and I did see several martins strike them as they flew down. When we departed, it was dark and martins were still trying to find a place to roost. How those thousands and thousands of martins managed to roost together in the limited space is a wonder in itself.

Now the formerly ?silent? flying martins vocalized a sound that sounds like ?escaping steam? when they have settled in to ?sleep?. And when 100,000 martins are doing it, the sound is LOUD. We didn?t hear the usual martin vocalizations that we all hear during the breeding season, including the male?s territorial/mate attracting gurgling call that ends in the ?kriek?.

With so many martins in one location comes another potent phenomenon: odor from fecal droppings. I could smell the odor a good distance from the trees and it was STRONG. It would almost take your breath away! Of course, it is mainly the fecal droppings and accompanying odors that gets martins ?in trouble? with humans at these huge roosts in cities. There was a white SUV parked near the site though not under the trees. I am sure it had a number of ?deposits? over its surface! While we martin enthusiasts appreciate martins and readily accept and tolerate this roosting behavior and associated fecal droppings/noise, other folks who are experiencing it directly do not. It is a most difficult situation at times.

Bob and I did not see any one ?bothering? the martins though several people from the medical building did look up at the imposing black mass of circling and diving martins. While we were watching the martins from front of the medical facility, a man did approach and look up at the mass of birds settling into the trees. He didn?t complain and said that there were probably no mosquitoes around here. The myth lives on! Now, Bob couldn?t resist and said something like, yes, just eating up those West Nile mosquitoes! We chuckled and left for the evening.

I hope everyone who has a martin colony will have the opportunity to visit and observe a huge pre-migratory martin roost. You will be amazed and awestruck by the phenomenon.

Steve
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Schumpert officials are still trying to make the martins leave. What would you suggest they do?
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Hey,

It is my understanding that this pre-migratory roost has been ?moved? several times in the Shreveport area. I believe some martins were killed or injured when a ?bird nuisance? company was hired to chase the martins away.

These huge pre-migratory roosts located in downtown areas where martins, unfortunately, come in conflict with businesses and the public, are a serious problem for the birds and people. Of course, we purple martin fans don?t view these roosts as significant problems, but other folks do. When I was at the roost last year, the medical facility appeared to have shut down part of the building where the martins were roosting nearby. The stench from the martin droppings was quite powerful and apparently had accumulated over several weeks.

Now how can we safely move a martin roost away from one urban area to a location that will not conflict with people! Not an easy problem to solve. Since many of these huge pre-migratory roosts often gravitate toward city environments, business establishments or around bridges over large bodies of water, it seems that there will always be a potential problem. In a city environment, the martins may just move several miles away to another location that conflicts with people.

I read that some businesses successfully ?re-located? huge starling roosts by allowing a falconer to hunt the starlings with his Cooper?s hawk. After the Cooper?s hawk caught a number of the starlings, the starlings fled the area and never came back. These businesses had tried all kinds of other tactics like water cannons, loud noises, and starling distress calls, but none worked. The predator worked. Of course, these starlings may have just moved to another business down the road! However, using a falconer would most likely result in some martin deaths.

A variation on the predator theme would be to use perhaps a tethered great horned or barred owl or red-tailed hawk in the trees. Martins would not roost near this predator and may vacate the area. In this situation, no martins would be harmed.

Schumpert could remove or severely prune the trees where the martins are roosting. But the martins may then just move to surrounding trees in the medical complex.

For small areas, using bird netting to cover the trees may keep the martins from landing in them. However, the netting may not be applicable for large trees or bigger roosts like the one in Shreveport.

Of course, Schumpert could elect to allow the martins to roost and then clean up the fecal droppings each morning until the martins departed south.

I really don?t know if there is a true solution to the problem of huge pre-migratory roosts in urban locations that conflict with people. Each situation is different and perhaps some can be addressed with tolerance for the martins and a daily clean up campaign to prevent an accumulation of fecal droppings.

In fact, some businesses could possibly make some money by advertising about this huge martin roost on their property. Folks who like martins would visit and then perhaps patronize the business.


Steve
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