2020 Purple Martin Journal

The photo above is my original martin house erected in 1979
2020 Purple Martin Journal
Ken Kostka
American Swallow Conservancy

This is my journal for the 4 colonies I manage in southwestern PA. Abbreviations: WH=compartment in wooden house or porch. All my housing is T-14’s, some with gourds hanging from them. I have underlined entries of note, and plan to publish an article about the 2020 cold weather, martin-killing event at a later date. I fed well over 500 eggs to the martins at my 4 colonies between April 10th and May 12th, 2020. While the number of martins grew, as the journal entries indicate, I estimated the amount of egg consumed at an average of 1/3 egg per martin per feeding.

514 = 514 Painter Ave., Natrona Hts., PA. This is my backyard, home colony. It consists of a T-14 with only 9 compartments open. I had 8 breeding pairs in 2019
HH = Harrison Hills County Park colony at ELC (Environmental Learning Center) in Natrona Hts., PA, is 1.8 mi. north of 514 and had 35 breeding pairs in 2019
Saxon GC = Saxon Golf Course colony, 1 mi. south of Saxonburg, PA, is 7 miles northwest of 514 and had 22 breeding pairs in 2019
CC = Crooked Creek State Park colony in Ford City, PA is 12 miles north east of 514; had 2 pairs in 2019 (new colony)

March 25 514 ASY-M swoops around vocalizing loudly at 514 !!!! earliest ever by a week! (I think)

Mar 26  514 I did not see ASY-M in AM.
9:45 AM a friend, Daniel Kisiel, who visits HH frequently, messages me that he has seen a martin at the Harrison Hills County Park colony (along with 2 Barn Swallows).
7:18 PM ASY-F on WH-14 at 514

Mar 27 514 8:00 AM ASY-M and F on WH-11 and WH-12 (porches)

Mar 28 514 still one pair at 11 AM. But at 5:30 PM there were 2 ASY-M and a female

Mar 29 74 sunny windy. 514 2 ASY-M in AM. 3 martins in afternoon. 4 martins at 6:00 PM

Mar 30 514: 6 martins at 11 AM. (2 females) All ate 2-3 pieces of egg. 5:15 PM 7 martins – had to roust out to feed. Har. Hill: Daniel Kisiel reports a martin flying VERY CLOSE to him “as if it were saying hello”. I told him it wanted fed!

Mar 31 45 degrees. cloudy, damp. 514: 7 martins (5 male, 2 female) ate intermittently all day. I chased pair out of WH-8 to feed.
Harr. Hill: 1:00 PM 3 martins. I think all ate some egg, but not as much as I thought they would. Met Daniel and showed him how we feed.
Crooked Creek 3:00PM NO MARTINS PRESENT!
Saxon Golf Course 5:00 PM NO MARTINS PRESENT! Checked wooden pole and it seems very solid.

Apr 05 62 sunny. 514 Eight martins!

Apr 06 65 sunny. 514 Eight martins; Harr Hills: 12-14 martins (per Dan Kisiel)

Apr 07 65 sunny, rainy. 514 12:30 PM – 10-11 martins; 6:00 PM – 12 martins. Fed (tossed) egg on and off all day.

Apr 10 hi 44 windy cold 1″ snow overnight! 514: 17-18 martins! ; Harr Hills: 25-30 martins;
Saxon GC: 8 martins; Toss and tray fed at all 3 sites.

Apr 14 hi 44 cold. 514: 19 martins (8 female and 11 male) ; Harr Hills: 25-30? martins; Saxon GC: 5 martins (there were 8 4 days ago so several must have just been passing thru); Toss and tray fed at all 3 sites. Crooked Creek: 3:00PM ZERO martins present. It is supposed to be hi 40’s for the next three days!

Apr 15 hi 49 sunny but chilly and somewhat windy.

Apr 16 hi 45 cold. 514: 21 martins! ; Harr Hills: about 25-30? martins;

Apr 17 hi 43 cold snow rain. 514: 21 martins at 1:00 PM but 23 martins at 6:40 PM !!! (13 of these 23 were female) Harr Hills: 25-30? martins; Saxon GC: 11 martins at 12:30pm!!! So during this 4 day cold, martin-killing weather event, Saxon GC went from 5 to 11 martins !!!

Apr 18 hi 40’s still chilly. 514: 30 martins at 9:00 AM !!! Where are these extra martins coming from? Harr Hill? Surely these martins are not migrating in this chilly, 40-degreeish weather! There were 23 again at 11:00 AM. This number includes 6-7 martins found communal cavity roosting in WH-14! I flushed them out before feeding. Harr Hills: 25-30 martins but it seems more showed up when I was feeding…could they have moved from 514 Painter, less than 2 miles south???
It is at this point (30 martins at 514) that I decided to focus my supp/emerg feeding efforts at HH, since I was getting so many martins at 514. I assumed that since I was feeding most often and heavy at 514, martins were coming from HH to seek out food, and I grew worried that 514 was becoming a feeding station – WHICH I DO NOT WANT !!!! (because my neighors have complained about droppings in the past) I’m OK with HH being a feeding station. It would only take a martin about 3 minutes to fly from HH to 514. (at 32mph). So I started feeding at HH FIRST in the AM, and always made sure there was food on the trays THERE before putting any food on trays at 514. In fact, I no longer tray feed at 514, or rarely….and ONLY if there is food on HH trays. This strategy seemed to work as I am not getting more than usual number of martins at 514 and there are TONS at HH.

Apr 19 hi 57 mostly cloudy wind 10-20 514: did not feed in the AM (all martins were out by the time I returned from Harr. Hills) but found 2 dead martins in WH-14, one male and one female, each weighing 33 grams. 2 dead martins despite me feeding at this site at least twice a day for the last 5 days!!! ??? These must have been untrained martins that arrived underweight and were just passing thru??? Martins began returning for the evening at 6:15 PM and ate quite a bit. There were 13-14 martins that started landing on the house at 8:00 PM, so 7-10 of the 23 martins (2 of which died) were either passing thru or visiting from other sites. Harr Hills: ~30 martins ate quite a bit around 10:30 AM. Found a dead ASY-F stuck in a door which weighed 60 grams!! Toss-fed again around 7:00 PM and the martins ate quite a bit!

Apr 20 hi 57 sunny. Martins ate heartily at both HH and 514 in AM. Also ate heartily in PM at 514 (I did not visit HH in PM)

Apr 21 hi 48 cloudy. some sun. winds 20 mph. occasional lite snow!!! Martins ate heartily several times in AM and early afternoon at both HH and 514. 40+ martins at HH. 14-16 at 514. When I returned to 514 from big feeding session at HH, there were only 2 martins at 514 at 12:15 PM. Could some have gone to HH to feed?? When I checked comps at 514 at 2:15PM, there were about 5 martins already hunkered down inside comps (different comps), so I flushed them and re-fed (toss-fed), but will not disturb them again today. HH is exactly 1.8 mi. north of 514 and I am convinced the HH birds were visiting 514 to feed, so I have made it a point to make HH the primary feeding place, because I do not want to get a lot of “feeding visitors” at 514 (neighbors have complained about dropping in the past). So I cannot afford to have 514 become a big feeding station! But HH would be OK. Fed heavily again at 5-6 PM at both HH and 514. Found dead ASY-M stuck in door at HH. Weighed 52 grams. Second stuck martin at HH during this cold spell tells me there a possibly a significant number of martins “passing thru” that are not familiar with excluder entrance hole.
It occurred to me that it was a good thing that Lock 4 housing never got opened since I would have been unable to go there with the Covid-19 restrictions. These birds are surely hunkering down at HH or 514, where I am feeding heavily. I hope that any early returners from Crooked Creek are at HH, where they will learn to take egg. I think it possible that early returners to smaller, newer colonies might hang out at larger, older colonies during cold snaps anyways….perhaps to get into communal cavity roosts?….but can learn to take supp. feedings there! Perhaps even early arriving ASY-Y’s from older but smaller colonies might gravitate towards large colonies for this reason – and to feed where they know supp feeding may be occurring.
Why not keep smaller, newer colonies closed early so early returners from those colonies are forced to congregate at one large, centrally located colony where they can be fed more efficiently in case of a cold snap. I wonder if any ASY’s will return to Lock 4 if I am able to reopen by early May?

Apr 22 hi 48 (36 in the AM) sunny breezy. Martins were very hungry in AM, very hungry in afternoon, and moderately hungry in evening. Fed tossed egg at HH & 514 all day, and Saxon GC at 1PM. There were 7 martins at Saxon at 1:00PM. 15 martins at 514, and 40 or so at HH. I think some of the martins at 514 went back into their comps after the morning feeding, because I counted 5-6 (in different comps) about an hour after feeding (I did not flush them because it was very cold), but all comps were empty by 4PM when it started getting towards 50 degrees. I found another dead female at 514 in WH-14. She weighed 36 grams

Apr 23 hi 63 (47 at 11 AM) sunny. rain after 3pm. Fed at HH and 514 in AM around 11am. Martins ate a decent amount – not nearly as hungry as yesterday.

Apr 24 hi 63 (49 at 11 AM) sunny. toss-fed at HH and 514. Martins ate heavy in AM. 40-50 at HH and 16 at 514.

Apr 25 Nice, sunny! no feeding

Apr 26 hi 49 softly rained all day! Toss fed at HH in AM and afternoon. put lots of egg on trays after afternoon toss-feeding and did not return. ALL egg was gone the next day. One advantage of rain is that it keep the egg soft !!! It helps to soak the tray egg on sunny days to keep it moist and more palatable to the martins.

Apr 27 hi 57 (44 degrees at 10-11 AM) became part sunny. Toss fed at HH and 514. 50? martins at HH? (Lots!) 16 martins at 514 (didn’t look inside)
Drove by Lock 4 yesterday. Tarps still on houses. Turns out this was a good thing. Getting access to this facility is a pain and it’s just as well the martins were forced to disperse to either HH or 514. I will email lockmaster soon to ask permission to permanently remove houses. No longer have to deal with Springhill, trains, or gates.

Apr 28 hi 68 1/3 sunny and 2/3 cloudy (49 at 10:30am) HH: MANY birds…50? Fed heavy in AM. 514 – 16 martins also toss fed pretty heavy. Toss fed heavy again at 7-8pm – both sites.

April 30 hi 53 Cloudy and cool all day. fed heavy at both HH and 514.
May 01 hi 54 Cloudy and cool all day. fed heavy at both HH and 514.

May 04 hi 53 Fed at HH and 514 (More tray-feeding at HH because of so many martins.) They all seem to get a few pieces because when I come back shortly after tray-feeding, they don’t swarm me – they just sit on the houses – porches are PACKED !!!

May 05 hi 56, but cool in AM. 16 martins at 514; they did not feed in the PM like the martins at Saxon GC. Van thermostat said 57 at 6PM. Fed at HH, 514, and Saxon GC, where there were 21 martins! Tore out 6 House Sparrow nests, most of which had eggs. I loaded they trays after feeding heavy, knowing it would rain all day tomorrow, and the martins would have one decent meal at least. Visited Crooked Creek around 5 PM and saw martin sign! Lots of droppings and definite activity in WH-15 and WH-16. Loaded two trays with egg, just in case the martins there are egg-trained. I did not see any martins but it was 55/56 degrees and they were probably out feeding. Could they be coming to HH to feed??? Could the Saxon martins be visiting HH to feed?

May 06 hi 44. 16 martins at 514. Lots of rain. cold. Fed heavy at 514 and HH. Only toss-feeding at 514 because starlings get into trays. Tray fed twice at HH and toss-fed once (partial)

May 08 hi 49 fed at HH and 514. cool. martins very hungry. martins ate off brick pile where I had placed some egg (at 3 ft. off ground) for bluebirds, cardinals, etc,,,) even though 514 martins fed well (toss)

May 09 hi 43. Cold. windy! brutal! some snow squalls. some sun later (43 degrees at 6:00pm). wore tassel cap and scarf! in AM and early afternoon. 514: toss fed all day HH: Tray fed 3 times and toss fed (thoroughly) once. loaded trays at 4pm after the toss feeding. Saxon: 20 martins. windy, many martins seem weak as they exit (had to roust some) but most feed well in high wind. found one dead ASY-F weighed 35 grams. Coopers hawk got one as they were feeding! (ASY-M I think). I tried to rescue but it flew off with it. Loaded 3 trays before I left. Crooked Creek: winds calmed and sun out at 6:15pm when I rousted 7-8 martins from mostly house #2 . One went after spoon-tossed EGG and after an hour, at least 4 others (maybe all) went after and ate as well! I HAD NEVER DONE ANY SUPP OR EMERGENCY FEEDING AT THIS SITE !!!! Some martins seemed weak and wing-drooped, some somewhat clumsy. Two landed on feeder/ pole gourd rack top perch very close to me as I loaded trays with egg. One landed on ground to go after a piece off egg it had dropped. But I was elated – almost cried – when several started going after and eating egg. I really think almost all ate some egg. I loaded 4 trays with egg and am confident some will eat in the AM, if not before dark! This emergency feeding session MAY have saved this colony! Raven was flying over and croaking loudly for quite a while!!?? not sure why – perhaps it was alarmed by me. saw a barn swallow.

May 10 hi 60 sunny breezy cool. saw juvenile bluebird on porch! they have fledged! tray fed in AM and PM at HH. all eaten both times. wing to wing on feeder trays at 7PM. Toss fed in AM and PM at 514

May 11 hi 43. cloudy. HH: toss-fed 2 times and tray fed 2 times; 514: toss fed all day. Saxon GC: toss-fed two times and left food on trays (most was eaten – just crumbs left. ) Crooked Creek: 5:30PM arrived with egg and ALL SEVEN MARTINS ate tossed egg right away! (5 males and 2 females). stayed for an our and toss fed several times. Loaded 4 trays with egg also.

May 12 hi 53. fairly sunny but stiff breeze all day long. 514: martins never left to try feeding. Tossed egg all day to hungry martins. HH: tray fed at 10AM and 5PM Toss fed thoroughly at 6PM. SaxonGC: toss fed at 7pm – had to roust (by lowering houses) about half of the 25 martins present. All ate. Lock 4: removed both covered/inoped martin houses around noon with Scott Allen and helped him set one up at Aspinwall Vets hospital. Scott says he only has 15 of the 45-50 martins present at the beginning of the cold snap. I told him they probably died b/c he didn’t feed enough. All martins hungry today. This was a 3rd day of non-feeding, martin-killing weather.

May 13 hi 60 sunny. winds 3-7 mph. Didn’t feed except to a couple at 514 that were still hanging around about 10:30AM

May 14 hi 68 cloudy. no wind. 51 degrees at 10:30AM. I arrive at 1030am at HH and there are no martins present! (maybe 1 or 2) very unusual. So I loaded the trays and left, but came back 5 minutes later (I had forgotten to check the entrance holes for stuck birds) to find a big swarm of martins that did start landing on trays to feed. They must have been out chasing a Coopers Hawk? I toss fed martins at 514 after this.

May 15 hi 78 sunny. saw Tree Swallow

May 19 hi 64. cloudy, windy. martins couldn’t have found much food today. Didn’t feed at any sites

May 20 hi 65. 54 degrees at 10:30AM. chilly and windy in AM. Tray fed 15 eggs to martins at HH and martins were landing immediately. Did not toss feed at 514 because there seemed like more birds than usual and I did not want to draw more in. In marginal weather, unless already stressed, they are better off foraging afar and searching out hard to find food and feeding spots (wind shadows, over water, etc…) They have no young or eggs in the nest yet. When I came back to HH in the afternoon, I discovered they had eaten about 1/2 of the 15 scrambled egg on the trays.

May 21 hi 70. nice sunny day. not windy.

May 22 hi 68. cloudy and light rain in early AM.  Much nice later. sunny after 5PM. not windy. martins not

May 21 hi 70. nice sunny day.

May 24 hi 77. nice sunny day. 514: did nest check and found lots of green leaves but no eggs. lots of mud in WH-2 and WH-3. Wonder where they’re getting it. must do an article about height of housing. My T-14 is only at 9 feet high (lower comps) Upper comps at 11 feet. Don’t need to be high and less susceptible to wind damage. HH: found 1 egg in uppermost compartment of relocated T-14. (WH-35)

May 25 hi 88. hot! 514: saw martins gathering nest material at the end of Boehm’s driveway across the street. Picking up silver maple helicopter seed pods probably.

May 26 hi 88. Hot again! 514: Nest check – all 9 nests have green leaves and WH-7 has two eggs. SGC: Quite a lot of activity for 1:30 in the afternoon on a hot day as martins are usually out feeding by now. This activity is probably the result of newly arriving martins. Did a nestcheck nd found about 15 martin nests, many with green leaves but zero eggs. Removed 9 House Sparrow nests with full clutches of eggs. I wanted to get this done before any martins had eggs, because House Sparrows can destroy martin eggs if their nests are removed. (House Sparrows are a non-native, invasive species that is harmful to native cavity nesters. They are abundant and aggressive and it is legal to remove their nests. They are not a protected species. Be sure to properly identify its nests before removing as you do not want to accidentally remove a martin nest.) HH; stopped by briefly around 2:30 PM and noticed a LOT of activity, due again to newly arriving martins no doubt.

May 27 hi 84. Sunny. no rain. low wind. really nice tropical day! I finished upgrading HHElecFenceTrenchthe electric fence snake guards at the Harrison Hills colony. I had to retrench the underground wire to the relocated T-14. Also changed the steel wire part of the snake guard on all 3 houses to aluminum wire, which won’t rust and conducts current better. (This colony consists of two T-14’s and one T-10, all with gourds.) At the other end of the trench in the photo is the solar charger, which also powers electric fencing for the other two martin houses. I also have a climbing animal guard on all three houses, as well as bird netting bunched up above the guard in case a snake gets over the electric fence. The yellow spacers are key – they keep the aluminum wire from touching the pole and grounding it out. I will do an article about this soon. I put the interpretive poster up also.

May 28 warm, sunny day. 514: Partial nest check at 6PM reveals 2 eggs in WH-3 and 2 eggs in WH-9. several females (WH-4 and WH-7) were on nest and I did not flush them.. I pulled WH-3 nest tray out and female flew. I thought it was a bit odd to have HHcolony2this many females on incomplete nests at 6PM on a sunny day. Also, at HH, I discovered something had pulled up the sod chunks from the trench I dug to lay the electric fence wire. Greg said it was probably skunks looking for grubs. I replaced them and packed them down with a sledgehammer. I took a photo of the colony site.



May 29. rain and wind. high 68. Had Song Sparrows, Carolina Wrens, and adult & 4 juvenile bluebirds eating out of my mealworm feeder at 514

May 31. Crooked Creek 3:00 PM : last visited 20 days ago. Quite a bit of nesting activity. At least 3 nests with eggs and 3 more with green leaves. Found a martin nest CrookedCreek2020with 1 martin egg and 1 starling egg. Tossed the starling egg. CrookedCreekShaleinsideCompThe compartment right above or below had 2 starling eggs in what looked like a martin nest (no starling nesting material). Tossed these. These were WH-8, 9, or 10. This house has wooden crescents and had the 2 martin nests last year. (Didn’t have any starling problems last season.) In house #2, I found CrookedCreekShaleonPorchsmall shale rock pieces on the porch of one compartment (see photo), and the same size shale rock pieces just inside the entrance of a comp. on the opposite side of the house. Saxon Golf Course: removed about 6 House Sparrow nests, most without eggs. It has only been 5 days since I removed 9 nests, so I’ve apparently discouraged at least 2-3 pairs of House Sparrows.

June 2  514: nest check at 3:30 PM. WH-1 had 2 eggs, WH-3 had female on nest, WH-4 had 6 eggs, WH-5 had 2 eggs. (I accidentally scared the pair out – female was still inside when I reached in and I bumped her with my hand.) WH-6 had 3 eggs, WH-7 had 5 eggs, WH-8 had 5 eggs, WH-9 had 5 eggs, WH-10 had 4 eggs

June 7  514 nest check:

WH-1  3E  (3eggs)
WH-2  closed
WH-3  ?  female on nest
WH-4  6E
WH-5  6E
WH-6  3E? (female on nest)
WH-7  5E?  (female on nest)
WH-8  5E
WH-9  5E
WH-10  6E

June 16  514 nest check: 2PM

WH-1  4E (don’t look great)
WH-2  closed
WH-3  eggs – female on nest
WH-4  6E
WH-5  6E
WH-6  6E
WH-7  4Y 4 do (4 young, 4 days old)
WH-8  6E
WH-9  5Y 1 do
WH-10  6E

June 21  514 nest check:

WH-1  8E
WH-2 closed
WH-3  6Y 4 do
WH-4  4Y 4 do
WH-5  2E 4Y 1 do
WH-6  6Y HD (hatching day)
WH-7  4Y 9 do NR (Nest Replaced) a fair amount of blowfly larvea present
WH-8  5Y 3 do
WH-9  4 Y 4 do 1DYD (1 dead young discarded)
WH-10  1E 5Y 1 do

Harrison Hills Nest check at 4:00 PM revealed a total of 49 nests. This is a  98% occupancy rate since there are only 50 available nesting cavities!!  34 nests have nestlings and 15 nests have eggs! Average age of nestlings is about 3 days old. 

June 28  514 nest check:

WH-1  8E
WH-2 closed
WH-3  6Y 11 do NR
WH-4  4Y 11 do NR (1 fell approx. 8 ft. into grass – looked OK)
WH-5  5Y 8 do
WH-6  6Y 7 do
WH-7  4Y 16 do
WH-8  5Y 10 do NR lots of small shells; quite a few blowfly
WH-9  4 Y 11do NR
WH-10  4Y 8 do 1 DYD NR  lots of fleas

Did a bunch of nest replacements at Harrison Hills colony site

Visited Crooked Creek colony site and was pleased to discover at least 17 nests! This has been a breakout year – THE breakout year – after attempting to establish a colony since 1999 ! 12 of the nests had nestlings and 5 had eggs. There were also 4 nests with green leaves, so there could end up being as many as 21 nests ! In one of the nests, I discovered a blue egg. I’m not sure if a bluebird accidentally laid an egg in this nest or if this is actually a blue martin egg ! I took this photo.  The  was in a an Excluder Gourd.  bluemartinegg

I added a ton of crushed eggshell to the trays. There was a nest of green leaves built behind a mirror. This was WH-7. There was also a nest of 5 eggs behind a mirror.


Took a photo of one of the T-14’s during a nest check. I use a ladder to avoid having to remove the predator guard every time I lower the house.


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