American Swallow Conservancy
(scroll down to see 2011 & 2012 updates)
Punxsutawney Phil, the famous groundhog from central Pennsylvania, may or may not see his own shadow every February 2nd while predicting the coming of spring, but any Purple Martins investigating the T-14 at Rick Wise’s Farm just outside downtown “Punxy,” are sure to see their own reflection once spring arrives! Rick has devised a clever way of placing mirrors inside the T-14 to fool martins into believing other martins are present. Well, at least he convinced one martin – and in a big way. One subadult male was so smitten by the mirrors that he built 3 nests – one behind each of three mirrors Rick had strategically placed inside the T-14. There were a total of four compartments with mirrors, and the martin didn’t place any nesting material inside compartments without mirrors.
Frustrated at his inability to attract martins to his seemingly ideal site for the past several years, and desperate to try anything, Rick asked us for any other ideas, and we told him to try placing mirrors on the housing. Typically, I duct tape the mirrors to the inside of several entrance holes, blocking them and making them into mirrors. When a martin lands on the porch and attempts to look in, it then sees another martin staring back at it! I have seen martins react in a variety of ways. Some are startled by their reflection – some are enamored by it. It doubtlessly convinces them that at least one other martin is present! In some ways, mirrors may be more effective than decoys once the martin has landed on the housing.
In any case, Rick decided to mount the mirrors inside the T-14 compartment. But he did not place them against the back wall; he placed the mirrors against the piece of wood that forms the front of the nesting area of the T-14’s slide out nest tray, about half way to the back of the compartment. And since the mirrors were about 4 inches square, this left plenty of room for a martin to get around the mirror and place items behind it. A subadult male built nests and deposited dozens of green leaves behind three of the four mirrors in the T-14.
When Duke Snyder and I visited Rick in early July of 2010, the subadult male that had built the green leaf nests was still hanging around (see photo at bottom). He was unbanded and sat on an overhead wire as we lowered the T-14, inspected it, and took photographs. We discussed whether the mirrors might actually have been a drawback in so far as the subbie male might have spent less time attempting to recruit a mate because of his presumed preoccupation with the mirrors. We talked about what might have compelled him to deposit so many green leaves – and only in the compartments with the mirrors.
Rick said he bought the mirrors at Walmart. Just a note of caution – anyone mounting mirrors inside or outside a martin house should be sure there are no sharp edges for martins to cut themselves on.
Mirror, Mirror Update – Great Success in 2011!
Purple Martin Preservation Alliance
After having 0 breeding pairs in 2010, the year Rick’s subadult male built 3 nests behind 4 mirrors placed inside his T-14, Rick had 6 breeding pairs in 2011, despite a big increase in available nesting compartments at the nearest colony less than 1 mile away at his brother’s colony. Rick’s brother Bill Wise has one of the few Purple Martin colonies in the area, and is only 3/4 mile from Rick. In 2011, he added a second T-14 to make more room for his growing colony that had filled up the existing T-14. Bill Wise’s colony grew from 13 pairs in 2010 to 23 pairs in 2011. One might think that adding this house would have severely hurt Rick’s chances of attracting some breeding pairs since it is traditionally believed that martins would rather squeeze into an already established colony instead of striking out on their own. But for whatever reason, Rick got half a dozen pairs despite the housing expansion and colony growth at his brother’s nearby colony. Rick’s lone subadult male apparently did a great job advertising Rick’s site in 2010. And perhaps the mirrors played a big part too. Maybe a large number of martins investigating Rick’s “mirror colony” in 2010 were tricked into believing that the site was already colonized.
Mirror, Mirror Update – More Success in 2012!
Purple Martin Preservation Alliance
In 2012, I installed mirrors in multiple compartments of all three of the T-14’s at my colony site in Natrona Heights. (I had one pair in 2011.) I attracted 12 pair in 2012! While other factors were certainly involved, I believe the mirrors played a role. See video below. [2020 update – I also used mirrors at the Crooked Creek site in Ford City, PA in 2018, and am convinced they really helped to attract the first pair.]