Cold weather feeding lesson

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randyM
Posts: 118
Joined: Thu Jun 18, 2015 2:30 pm
Location: Long Lake SD
Martin Colony History: 2006 - SY pair, unsuccessful nest attempt, 3 houses = 52 cavities

2010 - ASYM + SYF pair - male disappeared after storm, female fledged all 4 young.

2015 - Lone SYM stayed month of June...added 8 gourds = 60 cavities

2016 - 1 nesting pair (ASYM + SYF) 2/3 eggs hatched 2 young fledged.

2017 - 4 nesting pairs, 16/17 eggs hatched, 16 fledged, 16 banded - 2 banded SY returned in 2018 (12.5%), added housing: 11 houses w/gourds, 4 gourd poles = 376 cavities

2018 - 10 nesting pairs, 46/52 eggs hatched, 45 fledged, 29 banded - 3 banded SY returned in 2019 (10.3%)

2019 - 32 nesting pairs, 145/160 eggs hatched, 139 fledged - 87 banded - 12 banded SY returned in 2020 (13.8%).

2020 - 35 nesting pairs, 180/199 eggs hatched, 178 fledged - 150 banded.

I have a growing 5-year-old PM colony in northern SD and birds arrived at my site ~two weeks early this year (April 2) during warm conditions (70's), but now the weather has turned cold over the past 5 days with daytime highs in the 30's and 40's (overnight lows in the teens and 20's), with cold and wind in the forecast for another 5 days. Normal daytime high for this time of year is near 60 degrees. I currently have 5 martins at my site. After being tucked in their houses during two days of cold rain and snow the birds ventured out at noon on day 3 to try and find food. Temp was only around 44 for a high, it was cloudy and the wind was blowing >15 MPH. The birds came back about 1.5 hours before sunset. Wings were drooping and they looked exhausted. I tried flipping some June beetles I thawed in warm water that I had gathered a few summers ago. (These beetles were attracted to my yard light in early June and my driveway was covered with them and I thought they might make good emergency food for martins, so I started collecting them each night for about a week and filled a gallon ziplock bag and stashed them in a chest freezer). These beetles are about the size of a small tootsie roll candy (~1" x 0.5"). The martins would not try to chase or catch any of the beetles I flipped (100+ in 1/2 hour). I then put some eggshells and beetles in an elevated feeding platform I had put up the year before which the martins would frequently visit for eggshells last summer. One martin landed on the platform, but did not eat any of the 10 beetles I placed with the eggshells. It was already below freezing around sunset and all 5 birds went into one compartment for the night. At 9:00 the next morning, the martins had not yet come out of their house as it was 25 degrees, breezy and overcast. I tapped on the pole to see if any birds would come out. They did, but they all looked pretty lethargic. I again tried flipping some June beetles with no takers. Things looked pretty bleak as the weather was not supposed to improve for days and I thought my martins would soon starve to death. I then remembered I had gathered a small number of dragonflies and grasshoppers from the grill of my vehicle last summer and froze them specifically to be used in such an emergency situation at my colony. I thawed them in warm water and went out and tried flipping the largest dragonfly I had. No takers on my first flip, but I noticed one bird watched the dragonfly until it hit the ground. I could only flip the saturated dragonfly about 5 feet above my head, compared to the 15 feet for the flipped June beetles. On my second attempted flip of the dragonfly, one martin swooped in and caught the offering. I then tried flipping a grasshopper....no takers. I picked up the grasshopper and forced open it's wings and twisted them so they would remain open. I then flipped the grasshopper and another martin immediately caught and ate the grasshopper. I flipped the remaining 10 dragonflies and grasshoppers with spread wings and all were caught and eaten without one hitting the ground. I then tried flipping another June beetle...no takers. I then spread and forced open the wings of a June beetle and flipped it....bingo, a martin caught and ate it. I did that to another 10 beetles and all were caught and eaten by martins. I then flipped a beetle without forcing it's wings open and a martin caught and ate it. I flipped another dozen such beetles and all were eaten by martins. I again flipped beetles without opened wings at noon and at supper time that day. Each time the birds caught and ate about 3 dozen beetles. The birds went into separate compartments for the night, even though weather conditions and temps were the same as the evening before when they all crammed into one compartment - they were obviously feeling much better than the day before (as was I!). I flipped 3 dozen beetles this morning and again at noon - all were caught and eaten without hesitation. The birds circled and swarmed above me when I walked out at noon today with my container of beetles. The weather today is cloudy, breezy and cold (~40 degrees) but their behavior has changed from yesterday. The martins have not left my colony today, but have been singing and flying from martin house to martin house and again looking happy and healthy.

For those landlords that have not had success getting their martins to accept flipped crickets or other such offerings during harsh weather conditions, perhaps it might be worth obtaining (catching and freezing until needed) some "bigger" winged insects and try flipping such offerings to your birds when weather conditions warrant. Perhaps your birds will be more readily willing and quicker to accept flipped winged offerings from you compared to starting out with flipped wingless objects (crickets or scrambled egg pieces). Martins at my site were initially much more willing to catch and eat insects I flipped that had exposed wings, perhaps they would be at your site as well. Once my PMs accepted the flipped insects with exposed wings, they quickly adapted to accepting flipped insects without exposed wings. I believe flipped insects with exposed wings more closely resemble the live flying insects PMs are accustomed to catching and eating, thus they more readily identify such flipped offerings as food compared to wingless crickets being flipped. Once rapidly trained to catch flipped winged insects, I believe they will more readily catch flipped crickets, thus saving landowners much time, effort, stress and money tossing hundreds of crickets trying to train their birds to take such offerings.

On a side note, I tried flipping June beetles to my martins last year during a short cold spell. I flipped over 100 beetles without folding out their wings and martins did not chase or eat any of them last year. Luckily the cold spell lasted only a few days and the martins survived without supplemental feeding. I plan to train any future arriving martins this year to take flipped offerings now that the first arrivals are trained and can show new arrivals by example how it's done. That way if nasty weather hits my occupied colony again next spring or later this year, most martins at my site will be experienced to accept flipped insects without having to be trained. Nonetheless, I will have a few frozen dragonflies on hand for next spring just in case.
brent
Posts: 410
Joined: Sat Feb 10, 2018 2:43 pm
Location: Raceland, Louisiana

Great information Randy! We had extreme cold weather earlier this season. I had frozen crickets and meal worms from last season and tried my best to get the birds to take them but none did. I get a lot of June Beetles here too so I will collect them and freeze them like you did. I'll try before the season's end to flip some to them. Thanks for sharing your experience!
Brent
deancamp
Posts: 622
Joined: Wed Mar 16, 2016 9:17 pm
Location: Raymore, MO

Good information and makes sense as well. Thanks for sharing your experience in training your birds.
No Regrets
C.C.Martins
Posts: 1014
Joined: Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:15 am
Location: Corpus Christi Tx
Martin Colony History: 2016- didnt know anything about martins, put up an all wrong house in 2016 and had two come by and inspect all the cavities. Left soon after not to return. Learned what i could on PMCA made adjustments and next year was successful.
2017- 5 pair. 15 fledged
2018- 18 pair. 85 fledged
2019- 17 pair. 81 fledged
2020- 25 pair. 111 fledged
2021:
Home colony: mix natural gourds, enlarged compartment house. All SREH.
Satelite colony: Oso Bay Preserve: 12 gourds: PMCA excluder gourds, 6 room trio mino castle with enlarged compartments.
2019: Visitors
2020: 3 pair, 11 fledged
2021:
PMCA member

Well done! Very well done. You saved those martins. Will you keep offering the feeding platform? Sounds like you have saved the martins and sounds like you and your birds are well prepared for the weather now. Must have been very rewarding watching them come around.

Last year we had those June beetles, I got a bunch by putting out a 5 gallon bucket under our front house lights. I tried flipping, no takers but if I got a live one and when tossed it took flight one martin learned to watch and grab it up. Just the one.
Tom
PMCA member, believer in nest checks, venting, SREH and pest/predator protection.
cabin man
Posts: 84
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2012 11:55 am
Location: New Jersey / Tinton Falls
Martin Colony History: Got my first SY pair in 2017. Fledged 1, but died due to wing entrapment. 2018- changed all entrances and got one ASY pair. Fledged 3

Great information, Randy. Thanks. If the 17 year locusts come out as predicted, I will grab a bunch of them. :)
mwren
Posts: 138
Joined: Tue Mar 17, 2015 2:43 pm
Location: OH/Athens
Martin Colony History: I have had my martin colony on the dam of one of my ponds for nine years. The colony has grown each year, but I am now concentrating on helping friends and acquaintances who have shown interests in martins. My colony consists of three T-14's with 8 Troyer gourds attatched to each T-14, a Troyer gourd rack with 12 gourds, and another gourd rack with 18 Troyer gourds for a total of 96 nest cavities. I am having serious predation issues with hawks and owls and am experimenting with various hawk guards and "screens". Established successful supplemental feeding the last few seasons and have had a blast flipping mostly meal worms and some crickets. Faculty from Ohio University are using my colony as a research site to study parasites that target cavity nesting birds. In exchange for access to my bird trail nest boxes and martin housing, they are banding all birds involved in their study.

Randy,
Interesting that your birds would not eat the beetles you flipped to them if their wings were not exposed. Have you ever tried to flip meal worms?? Much easier than collecting beetles, and hungry martins do not miss seeing wings and they will be after them quickly if they are hungry and have been without insects for two to three days. I am keeping both cricket and meal worms on hand until our weather warms up. We will most likely have a couple more weeks of up and down weather here in southeastern Ohio.
I have only ASY adult birds in my home colony so far this spring. I have been flipping meal worms and crickets at least once per day, and more often twice per day as we have weather that has pretty well grounded insects.
Keep up your efforts to supplement the feeding of your birds!

Mike
Mike "Bird" Wren
randyM
Posts: 118
Joined: Thu Jun 18, 2015 2:30 pm
Location: Long Lake SD
Martin Colony History: 2006 - SY pair, unsuccessful nest attempt, 3 houses = 52 cavities

2010 - ASYM + SYF pair - male disappeared after storm, female fledged all 4 young.

2015 - Lone SYM stayed month of June...added 8 gourds = 60 cavities

2016 - 1 nesting pair (ASYM + SYF) 2/3 eggs hatched 2 young fledged.

2017 - 4 nesting pairs, 16/17 eggs hatched, 16 fledged, 16 banded - 2 banded SY returned in 2018 (12.5%), added housing: 11 houses w/gourds, 4 gourd poles = 376 cavities

2018 - 10 nesting pairs, 46/52 eggs hatched, 45 fledged, 29 banded - 3 banded SY returned in 2019 (10.3%)

2019 - 32 nesting pairs, 145/160 eggs hatched, 139 fledged - 87 banded - 12 banded SY returned in 2020 (13.8%).

2020 - 35 nesting pairs, 180/199 eggs hatched, 178 fledged - 150 banded.

Tom - I tried putting thawed beetles in a tray on a feeding platform a few times last year with eggshells and watched a few martins pick up some beetles and toss them from the tray to the ground. None were eaten, as I know how may beetles I put in each tray and was able to account for all of them at the end of the day when I removed the bugs. I made such offerings last year when most pairs were feeding young and thought the adults would feed some of the beetles to their young as they were carrying eggshells from the trays to the nest to feed to their young. In the past if I allowed my feeding trays to run out of eggshells for a few days, when I filled them again, the martins would rapidly flock to the platforms eat some shells and also make many round trips from the tray to their nests offering the eggshells to their young. To try and train martins at my site to feed from a platform, this summer when my eggshell tray is empty for a few days, when I restock the tray with shells I also plan to immediately put live grasshoppers or crickets (with hind legs removed) in the tray with the shells. In past years, within a minute of me resupplying the trays with eggshells, the birds landed on the platform and started eating eggshells. My hope is that they will find live crawling insects in with the eggshells, eat them, and learn that these trays are a source of eggshells and insects for food. I will also add dead insects (beetles, meal worms, etc.) with the live ones in hope they learn to take live an dead insects. If they do, then I will shift to all dead insects going forward.

Mike - I have not tried flipping mealworms or crickets before - maybe if I had more than 5 martins here now other individuals may have been more accepting of mealworms or crickets rather than initially taking only winged offerings. I'm kind of self-sufficient, and don't mind catching bugs for my martins. However, I will be getting some dehydrated mealworms to have on hand for a backup plan if I run out of "homegrown" insects. I've only been feeding 5 martins for about four days and they've consumed about 20% of my June beetle supply....if I was feeding a few dozen martins, my stash of "homegrown" bugs would be gone in short order!

I also had about a dozen tree swallows 10 days ago....I have not seen one of them for 7 days now. I hope they are doing okay and have been able to find some insects or berries somewhere nearby. Three more days of wind and cold here, then the forecast calls for highs closer to 60 degrees.
Dave Duit
Posts: 1908
Joined: Tue Nov 25, 2003 2:02 pm
Location: Iowa / Nevada
Martin Colony History: In 2020, 60 pair with 285 fledged youngsters. 83 total cavities available, 58 Troyer Horizontal gourds and 4 modified deep trio metal house units, 1 fallout shelter, owl cages around all units. Martin educator and speaker. President and founder of the Iowa Purple Martin Organization. Please visit www.iamartin.org and join.

Great info everyone,
I flip crickets during times when they are in reelatively healthy condition. If my martins wings are really drooping, I place the crickets right on their housing porches. In placing them on the porches they use less energy than flying for the flipped crickets and can store that energy to help them survive.
Mite control, heat venting, predator protection and additional feeding during bad weather add up to success.
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