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Old 07-13-2009, 11:30 AM   #11
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Gasp. Sometimes there are no words.
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Old 07-13-2009, 12:36 PM   #12
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You are so good to do what you do, Fish. I am sorry about your birds. Hopefully next year will be a good year for them.
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Old 07-13-2009, 01:07 PM   #13
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I too, am saddened by the loss of so many purple martins.

But this event did raise some questions in my mind. The event clearly shows the critical importance of insects to birds. So I went to as many purple martin websites as I could to see what I could learn about insect - purple martin relationships. I didn't find very much; other than some very general info on purple martins feeding on a lot of flying insects.

Here's some of the things I had in mind when I went looking for more information:

1. Which insects are the most important to purple martins? (The only info I found on this is that it is not mosquitoes.) Somebody has surely studied this. It seems that it would be important to know about the insects so that the right kind of habitat could be provided for a good natural supply of insects.

2. What is the feeding range of a purple martin colony?

3. How many acres of good insect habitat does it take to support a certain size purple martin colony?

I don't have any answers to these questions, but it does seem that this kind of information would really help in the management of a purple martin colony. Nothing is going to prevent large losses with a weather event like this year, but wouldn't more information on the management of the insect populations mitigate losses in bad years and produce strong healthy birds in good years?
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Old 07-19-2009, 06:48 AM   #14
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Thanks again, everyone. I'm back from fishing and hope to get a nest check in today. There are some reports of renesting, but I'm just hoping for a "normal" day.

NEWisc,

There was a fellow who had an aluminum stamping factory and when plastics became popular he needed a new product to manufacture out of aluminum. He decided to make purple martin products and in order to promote his products he wrote on every box that:
"Purple martins can eat 2,000 mosquitoes per day"
Well, so can I, but I don't and neither do purple martins. It was one of the greatest advertising gimmicks ever created.

By far, the favorite meal for a purple martin is a dragonfly. Damselfly will do. Butterflies are often taken. If martins are observed at a colony, dragonflies are brought in regularly.

A clutch size is usually a maximum of six young, but seven isn't unheard of. Four or five young is most common. Answering your last two questions is difficult. There has to be enough food, within range, to feed as many young and adult birds as are in a colony. Since purple martins are the largest member of the swallow family, they can get to a food source quickly. The energy to get to and from the food requires more food, so close proximity to water and open fields seems important. In Michigan, our "hot spot" for martins is the "thumb". Saginaw Bay and its marshes probably provide most of the food for the area.

They eat an incredible amount of food. In a day or two, young martins will starve without food. It isn't the lack of food that kills them. It is the lack of the ability to get the food that does. When it is cold, wet and windy, insects don't fly. When insects don't fly martins don't eat. Food supply is adequate in the areas where colonies exist, or they would cease to exist. This was a unique, unfortunate incident. I'm not saying that man has not removed a lot of prairie and wetland that would help martins, but huge losses were reported in some of the best areas for habitat.

Perhaps people who host purple martins have become so close to nature that we have a difficult time understanding it when we see it. The eastern species of purple martins is almost totally dependent upon man for nesting cavities. Natural cavity nesting martins in the east are unheard of. Some nest in signs and bridges, occasionally. When a natural event happens we see it because we are so close to the birds we host. I have seen the damage done by storms, predators, house sparrows, parasites and weather conditions. These are all natural events that would have happened if I was not witness to them.

Perhaps, because we have assumed the responsibility for the continuation of this species, we need to step up to the plate (so to speak). My colony is 40 miles from my home, so I could not begin an artificial feeding program. This can be done if your colony is in your yard and you have the time. Some folks are already arguing against the practice. Artificial feeding changes the behavior pattern of the species and defeats the "natural selection" process.

Now that these birds fly from Brazil to raise their young in North America, in wooden, plastic and aluminum nesting houses, should we feed them, too? If they become totally dependent upon us they will become a long distance, migratory, "pet"? Would they continue to hunt insects in Brazil and return to eat crickets off of raised feeding trays, or would they only eat food that we offer when they really need it? I fear that we are destined to find out.
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Old 07-19-2009, 09:20 PM   #15
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Thanks for all the great info.

Purple martins and healthy wetlands seem to be a good combination. I'm guessing that other aquatic hatches (mayflies, etc.) would also be eaten by martins?

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It isn't the lack of food that kills them. It is the lack of the ability to get the food that does. When it is cold, wet and windy, insects don't fly. When insects don't fly martins don't eat.
Thanks for that clarification.

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The eastern species of purple martins is almost totally dependent upon man for nesting cavities. Natural cavity nesting martins in the east are unheard of. Some nest in signs and bridges, occasionally.
Where did purple martins nest before we (humans) arrived on the scene? I remember when I went fishing along a river as a kid that there were some swallow like birds that used to nest in a cut in a sand hill. They had burrows (horizontally) into the rather firm sand. Would those have been purple martins?

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Now that these birds fly from Brazil to raise their young in North America, in wooden, plastic and aluminum nesting houses, should we feed them, too? If they become totally dependent upon us they will become a long distance, migratory, "pet"? Would they continue to hunt insects in Brazil and return to eat crickets off of raised feeding trays, or would they only eat food that we offer when they really need it? I fear that we are destined to find out.
I have to say that I have misgivings about this outcome too. I certainly hope it's viewed in the purple martin world as only a last resort.
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Old 07-20-2009, 02:22 PM   #16
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Our vanishing wetlands do not help our dwindling purple martin population and they will eat any large flying insects that I'm aware of, other than moths (from what I've been told).

Prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims, some tribes of Native Americans hung dried, hollow gourds, with entrance holes, around their camps for martins. They served to reduce insects and alarm tribe members to anything out of the ordinary. It is believed that purple martins used old woodpecker nests and perhaps rock cliffs with crevices. Wherever they nested would have been in a colony environment. The swallows that you saw were probably cliff or bank swallows.

"Emergency feeding" is occasionally frowned upon by someone in the purple martin community. I have taken a stand for emergency feeding early in the year, when adult martins would surely die without our help. I do not feed at my remote colony. It would be impossible, being 40 miles away. I believe that the few folks who do have the time and ability to watch their colony on a daily basis, know when the birds are hungry, can teach them how to eat “unconventionally” and have the alternative option of watching their birds die; do serve a purpose for northern purple martin hosts. Because people cannot just put up purple martin housing and contribute to the population of martins, most northern states are seeing a steady decline in the numbers of martins as time goes on. Early season die offs can take decades to recover from. Entire colonies for miles around and in many states can be eliminated due to an April or May cold snap. A few landlords who offer supplemental feeding can save a colony that may repopulate an area more easily than one where no supplemental feeding took place. The double whammy of die offs and lack of dedicated purple martin “landlords” is almost a mandate to help martins in any way possible. This recent, late June and early July, die off was a rare event. Seasoned landlords didn’t see it coming. Only those who provide crickets as a natural food supplement all season may have saved the young of the year at their colonies. While this will be a set back for many years to come, I don’t believe that anyone should have been expected to have been prepared or should have gone to great lengths to do anything about it. I am sure that this weather event killed more young birds than just purple martins.

Purple martin hosts face a number of challenges. We walk a thin line between right and wrong. Nest changes are an absolute violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. When I find a damp nest, with five young, healthy martins and the nest material is infested with blow fly, mites and/or other parasites and insects, I forget about the MBTA. If I am providing the housing for these birds and I am monitoring their success by doing weekly, or biweekly, nest checks I am going to fix a problem if I see it. Emergency feeding isn’t natural, but neither is everything else that we do. So, the question becomes “Where do we draw the line?” We could take down all of the housing and the species would become extinct, as nature planned. We won’t do that, so we have a species that depends upon us, totally, for their survival. Do we not feed them because it isn’t natural? Do we feed them because we have accepted that we are their only salvation? Will our good intentions eventually lead to their demise, as nature intended in the first place? Emergency feeding programs are used by wildlife managers around the world. Are we headed toward a world where wildlife is no longer truly wild?
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Old 07-21-2009, 01:39 AM   #17
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"We could take down all of the housing and the species would become extinct, as nature planned." I look at it differently than you. Nature didn't introduce the English House Sparrow and nature didn't do away with our wetlands just like nature didn't do away with their food source... what you're doing is buying time for us to right a few wrongs by creating habitat that can sustain indigenous species. Think positively. Some day all of our efforts are going to pay off. Little by little we restore a tract of land here and restore a tract of land there and homeowners planting more natives help more than they may realize... it will begin to pay off in our lifetime. Just you wait and see and keep doing those nest changes.
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Old 07-22-2009, 10:38 AM   #18
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As an animal, we are part of nature. We have evolved (I believe) to become a somewhat intelligent animal. We have not evolved enough to become intelligent enough to save ourselves.

Michigan is going to give control of wetlands from our Department of Environmental Quality to the federal EPA. We know that the EPA standards are different than ours. The attached photo is of my backyard (after a HUGE rain storm). The Michigan DEQ has told me that if I put as much as a wheelbarrow full of dirt in my yard I could face severe fines. Under the EPA guidelines I will be able to fill everything that is under water in the attached photo up to the normal shore, which is where the purple martin housing, in the distance, is located. I won't do it, but how many people will? We continue to destroy wetlands and will continue to destroy wetlands.

Our Governor has asked our legislature to hand over wetlands to the EPA. I have spoken with my state Senator's administrative assistant about this. We are on the same page. Money is more important than the environment. Don't fool yourself. All of this "green" talk is smoke and mirrors. It makes people feel good that we are doing something about global warming. There may be 2% of the world's population who care about nature enough to do something about it. More may say that they care, but when it comes down to it most things are more important to most people than nature.

I can't tell you how many people have asked me about "those purple MARLINS". The average Joe knows what a Robin is, but wouldn't know that you were talking about a bird if you mentioned an indigo bunting or rose-breasted grosbeak. How many neighbors would give up weed and feed and put up with dandelions? We are in a constant battle over offshore drilling, drilling in ANWR, cap and trade, the Kyoto protocol, old growth forest . . . The deserts are getting bigger and the rain forests are getting smaller. Money always beats good intentions. They now believe that we may not have fish from the oceans available in grocery stores in my lifetime. The fish from the lake in my yard have so much mercury in them that I'm told I can eat one meal per week, safely.

It would be nice to think that we are turning the corner. It simply isn't true. Man is destined to destroy what is left and man will go along with it. It will be the best thing that could happen to the Earth.
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Old 07-22-2009, 06:48 PM   #19
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Quote:
It would be nice to think that we are turning the corner. It simply isn't true. Man is destined to destroy what is left and man will go along with it. It will be the best thing that could happen to the Earth.
I am afraid that I agree with you, fishlkmish, although I wish that it weren't true. Like your Purple Martin story, it is too hard to bear.

Although I try to make the right decisions in my everyday life, try to be a socially and environmentally responsible citizen, and try to point out the obvious to anyone who will tolerate my opinions, I do not actually think that anything I do will make an impact. I can live with myself because of it but that will not make a meaningful difference. Money will trump everything.
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Old 07-22-2009, 07:34 PM   #20
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever does.
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