Purple Martin Preservation Alliance
What follows is a chronicle of the breeding season of the first pair of Purple Martins to nest in Natrona, Allegheny Co., PA in over 50 years. I had been attempting to attract martins to this site along the Allegheny River for the past 5 years. At certain points, I use journal style entries for the sake of brevity. Since the site was only 1 mile from my home, I was able to be there often and to document this breeding attempt extensively. A brief synopsis follows, but this nesting attempt was marked with many interesting twists and turns. I have marked what I felt were especially interesting events in red. A summary of significant events and observations appears at the end of this article.
Key terms and abbreviations: SY-M = subadult male, a one year old male, a first year breeder; SY-F = subadult female, a one year old female, a first year breeder; ASY-M = an adult male, two years old or greater, all dark plumage, they are in their second or greater breeding season; ASY-F = an adult female, two years old or more, they are in their second or greater breeding season; HY-U = Hatching Year, sex undetermined (a fledgling). WH-13 = compartment #13 in a wooden house (T-14); T-14 = a type of wooden house with 14 compartments, named after its inventor, Andy Troyer; Snyder Excluder = a type of entrance hole designed to exclude starlings, named after it’s inventor, Duke Snyder; Conley Excluder = a variation on the Snyder Excluder, believed to allow easier entrance by martins, but also known to occasionally admit starlings.
Synopsis: On approximately June 16, a pair of subadult Purple Martins arrived at Lock 4, Natrona, PA. (The male of the pair, a banded SY, had been intentionally displaced from his nesting cavity at an established colony 8.7 miles away exactly 1 week earlier.) They began nestbuilding at Lock 4 on June 17. On June 25, the first egg of a 4 egg clutch was laid. The first two young hatched on July 11; the first of four young fledged on August 8. I saw the last fledgling at the site on Aug. 26, 19 days after the first martin fledged. At least 17 additional martins visited the site over the course of two months, many on multiple occasions. Many of these visiting martins had been intentionally displaced from a colony 8.7 miles to the north.
JUNE 17th, 2005
10:00 AM I arrived at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lock and Dam #4 facility in Natrona, PA, along the Allegheny River, where I had been attempting to establish a martin colony for the past five seasons. I anticipated another routine visit, where I would eliminate House Sparrows, monitor the Tree Swallows nesting in individual gourds along the lock wall, and check the timer for the dawnsong audio equipment. Perhaps I would see the lone unbanded subadult male martin that had been here a few weeks earlier. June was more than half over, and my hopes of attracting martins were fading. Especially disappointing was the fact that, eight days earlier, I had intentionally displaced eight pairs of breeding martins from a thriving colony less than nine miles away – part of a Forced Dispersal Project – and none had appeared at any of my nearby sites, including this one. Click on the photo to the right to see a close-up of the Lock 4 site. The area with the martin housing (T-14’s) is circled in red at the very bottom of the photo. The housing was not yet erected when this photo was taken.) The lock wall is the long concrete structure running parallel to the river. A dozen Tree Swallow gourds were hung 30 ft. apart along a wire rope fence at about 4 ft. high. There were 10 pairs of breeding Tree Swallows present. Most have young in the nest.
As I pulled up to the lock facility gate, I glimpsed what appeared to be two martins flying above the martin house. Once inside, I was stunned to discover six Purple Martins on the wooden T-14: one ASY-M, two SY-F, and three SY-M’s. I immediately set up my high-power spotting scope to check for leg bands. One of the SY-M’s, the one who appeared to have a mate, was Yellow K404 (photo left), who had been displaced along with his unbanded SY-F mate, from a T-14 compartment at Saxon Golf Course eight days earlier. He was now carrying green leaves into two compartments along with an unbanded SY-F. Another banded SY-M was also present: yellow P524, who was banded as a nestling in 2004 at another golf course about 20 miles south of Lock 4. All of the males, especially the ASY-M, were displaying for the attention of the other unbanded (and apparently unmated) SY-F who seemed interested in a large natural gourd. I tried to soak everything in; the scene was surreal; for years, this site was martin-less, but suddenly there were martins everywhere. According to lock personnel, the martins had been hanging around for several days. I had last visited the site on Monday, June 13th, five days earlier, and trapped a pair of House Sparrows. In the intervening five days, two more pairs of House Sparrows had built nests and even laid eggs. Apparently, sites need to be checked at least twice a week if House Sparrows are a problem. Fortunately, they had not discouraged the martins, and I soon eliminated them.
Around noon, all the martins departed. I checked the house and found quite a few green leaves and some nesting material in two adjacent compartments: WH-12, which had an original Snyder Excluder entrance hole, and WH-13, which had a Conley Excluder entrance. Although the House Sparrows may have affected the martin’s choice of compartments by building and defending nests in two of the other four sections of the T-14, the martins had chosen a compartment with owl guards (unguarded compartments were available), below a compartment that had a mirror placed in the entrance hole, and with an ASY-M decoy on the peak of the roof above. There is no way to prove that this was the same unbanded SY-F that was displaced with yellow K404 SY-M from Saxon Golf Course since she was unbanded, but I strongly suspect she was. I also suspect that the unbanded ASY-M was a displaced Saxon bird.
1:45 PM 4 SY-M’s present: yellow K404, yellow P524, and two unbanded SY-M’s.
3:55 PM 2 unbanded SY-M present
5:38 PM 3 unbanded SY-M and 1 unbanded ASY-M present for 30 minutes. They are hanging out on the Trio Castle, which is on the lock wall, near the Tree Swallow gourds. There are 11 pairs of Tree Swallows nesting in gourds strung 30 feet apart along a wire rope fence running the entire length of the lock wall at about waist level.
6:55 PM Yellow K404 (SY-M), hereafter referred to as just “K404,” and his unbanded SY-F mate land on the T-14. She enters WH-13. K404 follows. Later, she goes into WH-14. Eventually, she starts taking more green leaves into WH-12. Another unbanded SY-F is with them. K404 shows here a lot of attention, as if she is his “second female”. She lands on WH-12 occasionally, but spends most of her time on the porch of a natural gourd hung under the T-14 – the same gourd that the SY-F who was present earlier was interested in. It’s probably the same female. Unfortunately, no SY-M’s are now present!
7:40 PM An unbanded SY-M arrives, but now the extra female is gone.
7:55 PM two unbanded SY-M are present now. K404 and his mate are bringing nesting material and green leaves into WH-12. They fly in a downriver direction to collect nesting material. They gather green leaves from the many trees on site.
8:15 PM K404 and his mate – hereafter referred to as “the pair” – are on the feeder; the female is eating eggshell.
8:45 PM K404 is sitting on the TV antenna on the roof of the big red brick house about 35 ft away – the same antenna that the unbanded SY male used several weeks ago. The female is on the porch of WH-13.
A total of eight Purple Martins had been seen throughout the day.
JUNE 18, 2005 I again saw at least 6 martins at the site today, and there were more surprises. I continue to trap and eliminate many House Sparrows.
6:45 AM 4-6 SY-M, 1 ASY-M, 1 SY-F present
7:30 AM I spot yellow K370 banded SY-M snooping around the site. He was a displaced breeder from Saxon Golf Course. This is the second confirmed (banded) martin from that site. A list of all banded martins seen at the Lock 4 Natrona site appears at the end of this paper.
8:30 AM The unbanded ASY-M goes inside one of the gourds strung along the lock wall. There are Tree Swallow nestlings in this gourd. Since the entrance faces the river and the gourd is at waist level, I am able to sneak up from behind the gourd and place my hand over the entrance. When I open the access port and look inside, he just looks up at me, seemingly unalarmed. I am tempted to band him, but I decide against it, because capturing him may cause him to abandon the site, and there still seems to be enough time for him to find a mate and nest. I also see another banded martin: Yellow K415 SY-M, which was also seen at Saxon Golf Course on several occasions. The mated SY female is carrying green leaves and nest material into WH-12 and WH-13. I put some nesting material from old martin nests on the ground and in the feeder, but she ignores it and continues making frequent trips somewhere downriver to collect nest material. I decide to “follow her” and try to see where she’s gathering it. The spot turns out to be an abandoned lot with miscellaneous debris from the building that once stood there. I am concerned since I see a cat lurking in the area. The female is gathering small flat chunks of wood, but she also brings back old rusty nails.
12:00 PM unbanded ASY-M present
12:10 PM The pair and two SY-M present
12:53 PM 4 martins present: the pair, 2 unbanded SY-M, and P524 SY-M, who enters WH-4 and WH-5
6:00 PM 2 SY-M present
7:30 PM K404 returns, followed five minutes later by his mate. They carry more green leaves into WH-12 +13.
JUNE 19, 2005 59 degrees. Cloudy
7:00 – 7:30 AM 6 martins present, including K415 and P524. The pair is nest-building.
9:15 AM The pair is still nest-building, mostly in WH-13, which has a WDC entrance that both martins enter easily, but also in WH-12, which has a Snyder original excluder that the male struggles to enter. Occasionally, she carries something into WH-14, the bottom-most compartment of this 4 unit section of the T-14. Once, she landed with a piece of nesting material on the porch of WH-11, the upper-most compartment, which has a mirror mounted in the entrance. She froze when she saw her reflection, which she certainly thought was another martin. Perhaps the mirror helped to convince her that the site was active when she was first investigating the site.
10:02 AM The pair is pulling green leaves from trees in yard. The SY-F goes into WH-13 with green leaves. Temperature is 66 degrees.
1:50 PM An unbanded ASY-M is on the Trio Castle out on the lock wall.
2:00 PM No martins present. I do a nest check. About equal nests built in WH-12 and WH-13. I then leave the site until 7:00 PM
7:35 PM 4 martins arrive: the pair, P524 and unbanded SY-M. The pair goes into WH-13. K404 is carrying a green leaf. They stay inside a good while.
8:15 PM K404 goes into WH-13 with a green leaf.
8:40 PM The pair makes two trips to the feeder. She eats a little eggshell but mainly gets nest material.
JUNE 20, 2005
7:00 AM When I arrive, one of the lock staff informs me that the martins were all over the feeder gathering nest material. Indeed, it is depleted, and I add more since the pair is again going to the empty lot.
7:30 AM 6 martins present: K415, P524, 2 unbanded SY-M, and the pair.
8:00 AM There is a great deal of commotion (vocalizing), which usually means new martins have arrived, and I’m hoping for a new SY-F so that the site gets a second breeding pair, but three new males have arrived: Yellow K384 SY-M, Yellow N204 SY-M, and Yellow K279 ASY-M, who was displaced from Saxon Golf Course. A new pair of House Sparrows is trying to build in WH-6 and 7. I set traps and eliminate them.
5:30 PM 1 SY-M investigating the Castle on the lock wall.
6:30 PM 3 SY-M on the T14: 2 unbanded SY-M and K–4 (not K404 because it is a 1A size band – probably K384) One of the SY-M goes in and out of gourd #1, like he’s displaying to the other SY-M, who meekly lands on the porch and looks inside.
7:42 PM The pair arrives with with 2 unbanded SY-M’s. K404 goes into WH-14; the female goes into WH-13.
7:50-8:42 PM no martins present
8:55 PM The pair is sitting on the lamp post; they take off and fly around.
9:01 PM The pair goes into WH-12. There is an SY-M on WH-4 porch.
JUNE 21, 2005 12 unique Purple Martins seen at Lock 4 today
6:54 AM There are 10 martins here – all SY (9 SY-M and 1 SY-F). Among the are K404, K415 and K378 or K370 (not sure about the last digit) For a while there are 3-5 on the Trio Castle checking out the gourds hung underneath it.
8:15 AM Yellow K279 arrives with an unbanded ASY-M, so that within the past 1 hr. and 15 minutes, there have been 12 different martins here! At least 3 of these are displaced Saxon birds – probably 6.
9:52 AM 5 martins present: 3 SY-M and the pair
10:42-11:10 AM K279 ASY-M present
June 22, 2005 Cloudy, rained overnight
7:00 AM 3-4 martins flying overhead. Later, 2 martins (not the pair) sitting on the T14.
7:35 AM K279 ASY-M and unbanded SY-M on T-14.
7:40 AM 2 unbanded SY-M on T-14
8:15 AM Still no sign of the pair, so I crank the house down and and look inside. The green leaves are dried. I fear that the pair is gone. Just then, 3 martins appear overhead, calling, and I quickly raise the house.
8:23 AM The pair arrives and enters WH-13. There is an unbanded SY-M that arrives with them.
8:30 AM The pair starts ripping green leaves from a nearby tree. They make 7-8 trips until about 9:00 AM, then disappear.
9:35 AM K279 ASY-M on T-14
9:45 AM P524 SY-M on T-14
9:52 AM unbanded SY-M on T-14
10:05 AM 4 martins flying high over the river, calling, at about 500 ft.
10:15 AM 3 martins land on the Trio Castle: K415 SY-M (unsure), N204 SY-M (unsure), unbanded SY-M
10:35 AM 2 martins on T-14: unbanded SY-M sits on WH-13 porch, P524 SY-M
11:00 AM I depart
JUNE 23, 2005 I’m still trapping many House Sparrows
5:59 AM I arrive at the site. 2 martins in the air
6:02 AM The pair lands on the T-14
6:12 AM K415 (unsure) lands on WH-3 porch
6:15 AM At least 5 martins present: K38_, unbanded SY-M, the pair, and K___.
6:28 AM martins flying high overhead, calling
6:45 AM 6 martins present: P524 SY-M, K404 SY-M, K___
6:53 – 7:50 AM The pair plucks green leaves. Other martins accompany them to the trees.
7:15 AM K279 ASY-M appears
8:15 AM The pair is still plucking green leaves. They are going into WH-13 almost exclusively now.
8:30 AM The pair is gone.
8:50 AM 3 non-ASY-M martins in the air – don’t land
8:51 AM I left the site
12:50 PM I do nest check. Lots of green leaves in WH-13 but no eggs.
JUNE 24, 2005
6:06 AM Female sitting inside WH-13 with head looking out. K404 on WH-12 porch. Unbanded SY-M on WH-5 and WH-9 porch. K404 appeared to chase this male off the house.
6:17 AM Female comes out onto the porch. The pair takes off together.
6:27 AM 3 martins land on house. Female goes inside. K404 on perch. Unbanded male on WH-8 porch.
6:34 AM K404 again appears to chase unbanded SY-M from house. Is he more aggressive since she is close to egg laying?
7:12 AM K404 SY-M has been alone on perch. Is female inside laying egg?
7:25-7:30 AM the pair flies off. 3 martins flying around.
7:32 AM P524 SY-M arrives and lands on T-14
7:45 AM P524 sitting on WH-1 and WH-5; K404 sits on WH-12; unbanded SY-M on WH-9 porch
7:56 AM The female comes out onto the porch
7:59 AM The pair is pulling green leaves.
8:25 AM 5 martins present: the pair is leaf-pulling; P524, and 2 unbanded SY-M’s.
8:38 AM K279 ASY-M arrives
9:05 AM K415 SY-M and unbanded SY-M in tree plucking green leaves
9:07 AM All martins gone
9:24 AM 5 martins present; pair is leaf-pulling again.
9:43 AM The pair takes off over the river heading southeast with 1 martin accompanying them. There is still one martin in the green leaf tree.
9:59 AM Unbanded ASY-M and 2 unbanded SY-M land on light post. K279 ASY-M is also present, as is K415 SY-M.
10:04 AM Pair is plucking green leaves again.
10:13 AM 2 ASY-M and 3 SY-M present; the pair is away. An unbanded SY-M lands on the porch of WH-13 and snoops. He picks up a green leaf near the entrance.
10:30 AM Still 2-3 martins around when I leave.
JUNE 25, 2005
6:12 AM Female inside WH-12; K404 on porch; P524 sitting in WH-5 porch; unbanded SY-M on WH-9 porch.
6:21 AM Female looking out of WH-12; 3 SY-M’s fly off and around
6:25 AM Coopers Hawk flies over site; all martins chase it
6:35 AM All 3 SY-M sitting on lamp post, wing-waving
7:00 – 7:25 AM Only the pair is present; no other martins around.
7:26 AM Unbanded ASY-M arrives with a new SY-F. K404 is very animated, trying to attract her attention. Oddly, the ASY-M is not very animated. He just perches while K404 displays to the new female. She lands on the porch of WH-2 and snoops for a while, but spends most of her time on the top perch, preening extensively. Perhaps she was here before, because she seems very much “at home.” The unbanded ASY-M also lands on WH-2
8:10 AM The unbanded ASY-M and the new female are both gone.
8:28 AM 3 SY-M’s arrive and sit on T-14: P524 on WH-1 porch; unbanded SY-M on WH-9 porch; and unbanded SY-M on Gourd #1 porch.
9:00 AM K404 carries nest material into WH-13.
9:15 AM The pair is gone. No martins present.
9:25 AM 4 martins flying very high (I heard them first.)
1:20 PM I do a nestcheck and discover 1 egg in WH-13. I remove a piece of nest material – a metal and wire gizmo – that I feel could puncture an egg. Over the course of the next few days, I remove about 5 rusted nails for the same reason. (Penny is for scale and was not found in nest.)
JUNE 26, 2005
6:15 AM As I arrive to check the sparrow traps, there are 4 martins vocalizing on the T-14. I think they are all SY-M’s.
4:30 PM 4 martins present: 2 in the green leaf tree and 2 SY-M on T-14.
7:50 PM The female lands on the feeder perch but when she hops down into the tray, an unbanded SY-M harasses her and causes her to fly off and back into WH-13.
9:00 PM Almost dark and K404 has not returned. No other martins present either. K404 has not been around for several hours.
JUNE 27, 2005
6:10 AM K404 and unbanded SY-M on T-14 perch, along with K415.
6:58 AM Unbanded ASY-M on lamp post
8:07 – 9:00 AM K404 and unbanded SY-M present. I left at 9:07 AM
1:30 PM 4 martins present: unbanded ASY-M, unbanded SY-M, and the pair.
1:31 PM I did a nest check and discover 3 eggs in WH-13. I also removed the mirror from the entrance of WH-11.
JUNE 28, 2005
10:52 AM I decide to drive to the Saxon Golf Course colony (about 9 miles north) to read leg bands. While there, I see K279 ASY-M and P524 SY-M, which I have been seeing at the Lock 4 site on many occasions. I suspect that many of the martins which I see at the Lock 4, Natrona site also visit the Saxon colony often. Of course, K279 was displaced from Saxon while nestbuilding. I also suspect that the unbanded ASY-M was also a martin displaced from the Saxon colony while nestbuilding.
JUNE 29, 2005
9:00 AM 3 martins present when I arrive: K415 and the pair
9:40 AM P524 on WH-4 and unbanded SY-M on Trio Castle perch.
10:25 AM unbanded ASY-M on T-14 perch
9:00 PM Martin flew straight into WH-13. No vocalizing or flying around. Don’t know if it was the male or female. I hadn’t seen any martins since I arrived at 7:30 PM.
JUNE 30, 2005
7:30 AM 3 martins visible when I arrive: K415, K404, and unbanded SY-M
11:30 AM I saw a martin exit WH-13. Thinking it was the female, I decided to lower the house, but she flew out and gave the alarm call the entire time I had the house down (5 minutes) There are 4 eggs present. Since the clutch initiation date is 6/25/05, the projected hatch date is 7/13/05 and the projected fledge date is 8/10/05. I am still trapping many House Sparrows in the bait traps, but none are going near the T-14. I have trapped about 30 sparrows and will have trapped over 100 by the time the summer is over.
JULY 01, 2005
9:00 AM K404 and female on eggshell feeder. Unbanded SY-M on T-14.
11:00 AM K404 and unbanded SY-M on lamp post
JULY 03, 2005
8:45 AM Saw female enter WH-13; K404 on porch.
JULY 10, 2005
7:40 PM While reading bands at Saxon Golf Course colony, I saw yellow K279 ASY-M
JULY 11, 2005
8:30AM While reading bands at Saxon Golf Course colony, I saw yellow K279 ASY-M and Yellow K415 SY-M
JULY 12, 2005
A nest check in the late morning reveals 2 eggs and 2 nestlings that have just hatched. HATCHING DAY!
JULY 13, 2005
JULY 14, 2005
11:30 AM A nest check reveals 4 nestlings
JULY 18, 2005
10:30 AM There are 7 Purple Martins circling the site.
JULY 19, 2005 Wayne said there were 5 martins on the eggshell feeder this morning.
10:42 AM Two never-before-seen female martins make an appearance at the site: Yellow K479 SY-F was originally displaced from the Saxon Golf Course colony on June 9 and was seen a week later at a site about 25 miles miles northwest. Now she is about 10 miles southeast of her original nesting site. She is accompanied by an unbanded ASY-F (adult female).
12:00 PM When I started the daytime chatter (I started playing this instead of the dawnsong), the martins started circling.
JULY 20, 2005
9:50 AM Yet another new adult female appears briefly at the site. She has a yellow band beginning with the letter A, indicating she was banded as a nestling at the Gastown colony near Shelocta, PA, about 20 miles to the east. She sits on a lamp post and surveys the site for about 5 minutes before departing.
1:40 PM Yellow K479 SY-F is on the feeder.
7:55 PM While reading bands at Saxon Golf Course, I am amazed to see yellow K404 perched on a top perch of the T-14! He snoops at WH-28. He is still present at 8:20 PM. I cannot determine if he stayed the night or headed back to the Lock 4 site. His nestlings are only 8 days old. I become concerned that he may be losing interest in his nestlings as is sometimes known to be the case with late-nesting subadult pairs.
JULY 21, 2005
9:00 AM I am greatly relieved to find that K404 is present and feeding young at the Lock 4 site in Natrona. I saw 3 martins fling when I first arrived.
9:45 AM An unbanded SY-M and an unbanded ASY-M arrive together and land on a lamp post, then K404 lands with them.
JULY 22, 2005
9:00 AM Both parents present and feeding nestlings at WH-13
11:00 AM P524 SY-M and unbanded SY-M both hanging out on the T-14 near WH-13 for several minutes. A late-nesting pair of Tree Swallows has failed to breed successfully. I find all of their nestlings dead in the nest. They were feathered out, with no apparent cause of death. I suspect it is abandonment since all of the other pairs of Tree Swallow fledged young and left over 10 days ago. This event worries me since the martins at this site are also late nesters. One difference is that there were about 10 other pairs of Tree Swallows nesting at this site, whereas this is the only pair of Purple Martins.
JULY 23, 2005
8:00 AM The pair is attending the young
8:15 AM Unbanded ASY-M sitting with the pair
9:45 AM Unbanded SY-M sits with K404 on lamppost
10:00 AM K479 SY-F appears
MIDDAY I checked, weighed, and banded the nestlings today; they are about 10 days old. (I have been checking them every day.)
Yellow K565 48 grams 11 days old*
Yellow K566 45 grams 10 days old*
Yellow K567 47 grams 11 days old*
yellow K568 31 grams 9 days old*
JULY 24, 2005
9:30 AM There are 4 martins here – 3 are perched on the “decoy house,” which is a new T-14 I have erected at the Lock 4 site (photo below – click to enlarge), so that the housing at this site is identical to the housing at the Saxon colony site, where there are also two T-14’s. (Photo right – click to enlarge). The new T-14 is placed at the same distance from the original T-14 as at the Saxon Golf Course colony. Since many visiting martins are from the Saxon colony, I hope that by making the martin housing at the two sites identical, I will convince more martins that Lock 4 is an equally prime breeding site; hopefully, more martins will decide to make this their home next season. I do a variety of things to make this new house look active: I play martin vocalizations from a small speaker placed inside the new T-14. I place old nests and old unhatched eggs into the new T-14, and place decoys on it, as well as mirrors in several entrances. I am hoping that this house and the social attraction stimuli will also keep K404 and his mate interested in their breeding attempt.
7:50 PM I again visit the Saxon Golf Course in the PM and see K404 on the top perch of a T-14. I also see P52_ SY-M. (Probably P524)
8:20 PM There are about 30 martins still coming in for the night at Saxon. (adults and fledglings combined)
JULY 25, 2005
9:00 AM There are 5 martins present at Lock 4: the pair, 2 unbanded SY-M, and yellow K___ SY-M with a #2 USGS red anodized band. An unbanded SY-M enters WH-13. I bang the pole to scare him out.
10:00 AM I weighed the nestlings and did a total nest replacement except for the large coarse nesting material near the entrance. One thing I love about the T-14 is the ease of nest checks and nest replacements. I have written an article about other advantages of the T-14 at the Advantages of the T-14 Purple Martin House article.
Yellow K565 52.5 grams 13 days old*
Yellow K566 50.0 grams 12 days old*
Yellow K567 54.0 grams 13 days old*
yellow K568 42.5 grams 11 days old* **
*The age is really a guess because I am assuming the heaviest nestlings are the oldest.
**I am encouraged that the runt is very healthy and catching up to the others in weight. The weather has been above average, and insects are plentiful. The pair has only to forage out over the water for a few seconds before coming back with a beakful of insects.
JULY 26, 2005
8:45 AM Five martins present at the Lock 4 site: the pair, 2 unbanded SY-M’s, yellow K4__ SY-M
9:15 AM 3 martins are leaf-pulling in a big oak tree just downriver of the facility. I believe they are all SY-M’s.
9:20 AM 3 martins flying around together high over the area, giving loud calls. I believe they are SY-M’s.
12:45 PM unbanded ASY-M on T-14
6:30 PM – 7:00 PM K404 is still here and feeding his young
7:30 PM I lowered the house as severe thunderstorms approached. No martins entered or were seen until after the storm passed. I saw one at 8:30 PM after raising the house.
JULY 27, 2005
8:19 AM Both pair preening, then feeding young. Female lands on a cement wall – I think to pick up grit.
JULY 29, 2005
10:30 AM The pair is feeding the young. An unbanded SY-M is also present
MIDDAY I weight the nestlings
Yellow K565 60.5 grams 17 days old +5.0 grams above average
Yellow K566 54.0 grams 16 days old -1.0 grams below average
Yellow K567 53.5 grams 17 days old -1.5 grams below average
yellow K568 52.0 grams 15 days old -2.0 grams below average*
*I am elated that the runt has basically caught up to the others! I thought for sure this nestling wouldn’t make it, based on the far below average weight on 7/23/05 ( 8 grams underweight.)
5:00 PM – 6:00 PM K404 is on the eggshell feeder. The female is doing most of the feeding.
6:40 PM K404 is still present at Lock 4 site.
AUG 01, 2005
10:00 AM 3 martins flying around when I arrive. All land eventually: K404 SY-M, K479 SY-F, and unbanded SY-F of the pair. She is heavily fecal-stained. The two SY-F fly around a lot together. The female is feeding young heavily.
10:45 – 11:00 AM The pair seems to take a break from feeding, so I do a nest check, nest change, and weigh the nestlings. The oldest are 20 days old , and this will be the last day I will weigh them. There is also an unbanded SY-M present.
Yellow K565 58.0 grams 20 days old
Yellow K566 52.5 grams 19 days old
Yellow K567 52.0 grams 20 days old
yellow K568 50.5 grams 18 days old
AUG 03, 2005 91 degrees F
8:30 – 10:30 AM Parents attending and feeding. They also fed eggshell to the nestlings. The parents give alarm calls when a white puppy (brought by a visitor to the lock) walks under the eggshell feeder and poops.
3:00 PM I put six giant mealworms on the porch of WH-13 and 6 more just inside the entrance. The male (K404) seems to just carry them away, but he does return with one and feeds it to a nestling. The female carries two away. The male is definitely familiar with the mealworms, l as is (probably) his mate, since almost all of the Saxon birds were trained to take supplemental feedings. I am hoping that if these parents are weather-stressed or just very tired because of the demands of the older nestlings, that they will take advantage of the supplemental food.
4:00 PM I put 7 or 8 five-week old crickets on WH-13 porch and 6 more inside the entrance hole. The male fed some to the nestlings and ate some himself!
AUG 04, 2005 I continue my supplemental food offerings. Nestlings are 23, 23, 22, and 21 days old
Mid AM I put 5-week old crickets and giant mealworms on the eggshell tray . I also put crickets on WH-13 porch and just inside the entrance hole. K404 is eating the crickets on the feeder and taking mealworms to the nestlings. He took at least 2-3 to them. The female is feeding some crickets placed inside the entrance to her nestlings. She carries other crickets out, as if to discard them. These martins are from the Saxon colony, which is trained to take supplemental feedings.
AUG 05, 2005
8:00 AM A fledgling from the Saxon Golf Course colony is present when I arrive. It is yellow K556 HY-U. There is not much feeding going on because of a light rain. The female flew around quite a bit with the HY before landing on the lamppost. K404 is also on the lampost with them.
AUG 06, 2005 Nestlings are 25, 25, 24, and 23 days old
7:15 AM 4-5 martins present
9:10 AM 3 martins present: the pair and K479 SY-F. There are still mealworms in the feeder. I put crickets in WH-13 but the female is carrying them out.
AUG 07, 2005 Nestlings are 26, 26, 25, and 24 days old
7:00 AM Only the pair is present. I saw K404 eat a mealworm off of the feeder. (I have put crickets in the feeder too)
5:30 PM Nestcheck: 4 nestlings in WH-13. K404 not present.
AUG 08, 2005 Nestlings are 27, 27, 26, and 25 days old
7:10 AM Only the female is present.
7:55 AM K404 shows up. Overcast. Both on lamppost.
8:00 AM 2 martins arrive: Yellow T213 HY-U, who fledged this season from the Moraine State Park colony site about 30 miles northwest, and K479 SY-F. They (seemingly) arrived together, soared around together, and perched together. there is a light rain. The female seems to be dozing (or sick). All the others are preening). The male (K404) looks much bigger than the female when the two are sitting together.
2:00 PM – 3:00 PM The weather improves. Sunny. I do a nest check and there are only 3 nestlings! One nestling has fledged and is sitting in a tree top with dead branches just downriver of the lock. Later, the female is sitting with the fledgling on a lamp post, preening, and the male (K404) comes over and jumps on the fledgling’s back and causes it to fly off. It flies well. Each parent brought dragonflies to WH-13 while also attending the new fledgling. Many wasps on the feeder, so I remove all crickets and mealworms.
AUG 09, 2005 Nestlings are 28, 28, 27, and 26 days old
8:00 AM Three nestlings have fledged. Two are sitting in the treetop and one is on a lamppost. Both parents are attending nicely.
8:28 AM K404 is sitting with 2 fledglings in the treetop. He brings food to both.
9:08 AM 3 fledglings are in the treetop with parents. 1 is still in WH-13. Parents are attending all. Crow causes the 5 in the tree to flush. All 5 fly downriver together.
9:22 AM I spot yellow K479 SY-F in the tree with a fledgling. She is harassing the fledgling a little. No other martins around.
2:00 PM Nest check reveals 0 young in WH-13. No martins present. I took the opportunity to replace all of the original Synder Excluder anr round-holes entrances with Conley Excluders (WDC). K404 shows up and semi-scolds me as I do this. I leave the site at 2:50 PM with no martins around.
AUG 10, 2005 Nestlings are 29, 29, 28, and 27 days old
7:55 AM No martins around. I thought I saw one on a lamppost.
8:25 Yellow K479 SY-F is on the T-14
7:55 PM When I arrive, the pair is present and scolds me when I add eggshell to the feeder. There is movement in WH-12.
8:35 PM It’s getting dark. The pair is on a lamppost.
8:40 PM The female is on the porch of WH-11.
AUG 11, 2005 Nestlings are 30, 30, 29, and 28 days old
6:25 AM (It gets light at 6:00 AM) The pair appears on the lamppost, bill-wiping. I see a head in WH-11.
6:30 AM A fledgling emerges from WH-11, flies out over the water, and is met by the female, I think.
6:32 AM 2 heads in WH-11; 1 head in WH-12.
6:37 AM Another fledgling emerges from WH-11 and flies out over the river, parallel to the dam.
6:40 AM 2 martins sitting on the wire across the river, then gone at 6:45 AM
6:50 AM K404 on lamppost. Head still in WH-11
7:02 AM I spot 5 martins sitting in a dead tree directly across the river (about 200 yards) Some are begging. It is the family.
7:08 AM A head still in WH-11
7:25 AM 4 martins and 1 starling in the dead tree across the river.
7:35 AM K404 on lamppost; fledgling in WH-11; 4 martins in dead tree
8:20 AM 3 martins in the dead tree
8:25 AM All martins gone. Crow in dead tree.
3:15 PM No martins anywhere in sight.
7:00 PM ( I arrived at 6:55 PM) 5 martins appear overhead. About 3 enter WH-11, 12, or 13. They all come in so quickly and at the same time that I’m not sure which compartments they went into.
7:18 PM 3-4 fledglings in the T-14. Parents both on top perches.
8:00 – 8:30 PM I went to the Saxon Golf Course. NO MARTINS came in to roost.
AUG 12, 2005 Nestlings are 31, 31, 30, and 29 days old
7:30 PM The parents bring the fledglings in. They still land awkwardly on the porches with owl guards.
AUG 13, 2005 Nestlings are 32, 32, 31, and 30 days old
7:37 PM All 6 martins (parents and 4 fledglings) appear over the site. All fledglings are inside WH-12 and WH-13 by 7:42 PM.
AUG 14, 2005 Nestlings are 33, 33, 32, and 31 days old
7:20 PM The martins appear. K404 and a fledgling (K565) land on the top perch of the T-14. The female comes in carrying a dragonfly. The fledgling starts begging and she feeds it to him. At one point, there is one fledgling on each porch of WH-11, 12, 13, 14. At another point, a fledgling pecked at and scolded K404, who was sitting next to it. The fledglings seemed to explore the T-14 a little more before settling in. One landed on WH-2, and one landed on the other house.
AUG 16, 2005 Nestlings are 35, 35, 34, and 33 days old
6:25 AM 2 HY heads in WH-12
6:40 AM Parents on lamp post
6:50 AM 3 martins exit WH-12
7:20 AM 5 martins sitting around in the rain.
7:25 AM a yellow banded SY-F (I think) red anodized left appears. Flies across river.
AUG 17, 2005 Nestlings are 36, 36, 35, and 34 days old
6:20 AM 2 heads in WH-11. female on WH-12 porch. total of 3 fledglings exit house. K404 is on lampost
AUG 18, 2005 Nestlings are 37, 37, 36, and 35 days old
6:10 AM Both parents exit WH-12 and fly towards river. I saw at least 3 fledglings in WH-11, 12, or 13. I left before they exited.
AUG 19, 2005 Nestlings are 38, 38, 37, and 36 days old
6:30 AM All six exit T-14. Parents were in WH-12 along with 2 HY. The other 2 HY were in WH-11. Considering the lateness of this breeding attempt, and the age of the nestlings, I wonder if they are hanging out more as a group now (flocking) as opposed to a family.
AUG 20, 2005 Nestlings are 39, 39, 38, and 37 days old
6:00 AM 1 head in WH-13. K404 exits WH-13, along with three fledglings. The female exits WH-12 with 2 fledglings. There are a total of 7 martins!
6:30 PM 6 martins spotted sitting on lamppost during a thunderstorm. I did not see K404. At one point, I am almost positive I count 7 martins: 3 perched and 4 in the air. I saw one unbanded fledgling that seemed lighter (whiter) than the rest. Also 4 banded fledglings and the female.
7:30 PM All went into WH-11 and WH-12. (Ron said he counted 7 martins last evening)
AUG 21, 2005 Nestlings are 40, 40, 39, and 38 days old
7:49 PM 1 banded fledgling lands on lamppost.
7:52 PM 2 banded fledglings on lampost. 1 in the air
7:54 PM SY female comes in and lands next to a fledgling with a dragonfly, then feeds it to the fledgling. This fledgling has been out of the nest for at least 10 days and is at least 38 days old. The female comes in again and feeds the nestling two more times. The weather has been great. Warm and sunny.
7:54 PM Still 3 martins – 2 fledglings and SY female; all flying again.
8:04 PM Now there are 4 martins – 3 banded fledglings and SY female.
8:10 PM 3 fledglings on lamppost (all banded)
8:15 PM 4 martins sitting on top perch of the second (newer) T-14. Eventually, all 4 martins go to the original T-14 . 2 fledglings enter WH-14. The 3rd fledgling enters WH-13 at 8:17 PM, and female goes inside WH-12.
8:25 PM SY female flies off again, then re-enters WH-12.
AUG 23, 2005 Nestlings are 42, 42, 41, and 40 days old
6:04 AM I see a head in WH-11
6:30 AM 4 banded fledglings and the SY female exit WH-11 and WH-12. They perch on the lampposts before flying off.
AUG 24, 2005 Nestlings are 43, 43, 42, and 41 days old
6:15 AM SY female emerges from WH-12 and flies around
6:35 AM 4 fledglings emerge from WH-12. It has been 15 days since these martins fledged and they are still coming back to roost!
AUG 25, 2005 Nestlings are 44, 44, 43, and 42 days old
6:25 AM A total of 5 martins exit WH-11 and WH-12
AUG 26, 2005
6:15 AM I see a head in WH-12
6:27 AM 1 fledgling exits WH-12
AUG 27, 2005 Nestlings are 46, 46, 45, and 44 days old
6:35 AM A total of 3 martins exit the T14 ( 2 from WH-11 and 1 from WH-12)
AUG 28, 2005
8:00 PM 1 martin is flying around with a band of Chimney Swifts.
8:05 PM The lone martin makes a series of approaches to the WH-13 side of the T-14, then veers off at the last second. He is accompanied on these approaches by one or two swifts, which also veer off, of course, at the last second.
8:07 PM The martin lands on WH-13 porch, then calls and looks around as if he expects the swifts to land too. They make several more approaches. This is a banded fledgling.
8:13 PM The martin goes into WH-14. There is a beautiful pink sky. I did not return to the site after this evening.
SUMMARY: A pair of subadult Purple Martins appeared at the USACE Lock 4, Natrona site in Allegheny Co., PA, along the Allegheny River, approximately 1 week after being displaced from the Saxon Golf Course colony in Sarver, PA, 8.7 miles to the north. (Since the female was unbanded, I cannot be positive she was his original mate at the Saxon colony, but I assume that she was.) They nested in the same type of housing they were displaced from – a wooden T-14. The dawnsong vocalizations were being played at the Lock 4 site, and decoys were deployed. There were 10 pairs of breeding Tree Swallows nesting in gourds hung along the lock wall, about 75 feet from the T-14 where the martin pair nested. Most of the Tree Swallows had young in their nests by mid-June, when the martins appeared.
The female laid the first of four eggs on June 25. The first two eggs hatched on July 12, and the first of four nestlings fledged on August 8, 2005. The last nestling was seen on August 28th – 20 days after the first nestling fledged. It is interesting to note that this subadult pair fledged 4 healthy nestlings despite the fact that they were first year breeders, nesting alone, late in the season, at a new breeding site.
There are often reports of late-nesting subadult parents, especially the males, abandoning their nestlings because of an urge to migrate. This was not the case in Natrona, PA, in the summer of 2005. The subadult male (K404) attended the young throughout the nesting cycle and well into the post-fledging period. In fact, he was last seen with the fledglings on August 20, 12 days after the oldest nestling had fledged. She was last seen with the young on August 25, 17 days after the oldest nestling had fledged, when she again appeared with them at the natal cavity to roost. Perhaps the absence of any early-nesting pairs was an advantage in this regard. Perhaps as the lone breeding pair, they were on their own timetable, and did not feel pressured to depart based on the absence of other breeding martins. It is interesting to note that a very late-nesting pair of Tree Swallows at the site did appear to abandon their nearly grown and healthy young, causing them to die in the nest. All other nine pairs of Tree Swallows had left the Lock 4 site a week earlier. I also played martin vocalizations and deployed decoys throughout the nesting cycle, perhaps helping to convince this late-nesting pair of martins that other martins were still present.
It is interesting to note that an apparently unmated (or at least uncommitted) subadult female showed up on the same day that this subadult pair laid their first egg (June 25th). She was accompanied by an ASY-M. They did not breed at the site.
It should be noted that this pair nested in the same type of housing they were displaced from, that they nested at a site where the dawnsong was being broadcast, that they nested in a compartment below a compartment where a mirror was mounted in the entrance, that they nested in a section of the T-14 that had an ASY-M decoy mounted on the peak of the roof, that they nested in a compartment that had owl guards, and finally, that they nested in a compartment with a Conley excluder entrance, and a southerly orientation, just like the compartment that they were displaced from.
I conducted nest checks almost daily throughout the nesting cycle, except during incubation, when I conducted them less often. I almost always did nest checks between 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM, when martins were least active around the site, and I tried to lower the housing when the pair was away, especially the female. I weighed and handled the nestlings until they were 20 days old, and conducted nest checks right up until the time they fledged. (I did not handle them after they were 20 days old.) I am convinced that conducting nest checks will not have any negative impacts as long as the colony manager conducts them quickly, quietly, and discreetly. The person conducting the nest check must remain calm and focused, as alarmed and loudly-vocalizing parents can easily rattle a nervous, inexperienced nest-checker.
I discovered that the male (K404) visited the Saxon Golf Course colony from which he was displaced, about 9 miles to the north, on at least two occasions during the nesting cycle when there were young in his nest. He was first discovered back at the Saxon colony on July 20th at 7:55PM when his nestlings were 9 days old, and again on July 24th at 7:50 PM when his nestlings were 13 days old. I suspect that he visited the Saxon colony on many more occasions, but I was not able to visit that colony frequently. It is unclear whether his visitations to this nearby colony were typical of any nesting martin, or whether his visits were a result of his displacement. I suspect the former. I do not believe K404 visited the Saxon colony very often after his nestlings fledged, because he was always present in the evening at Lock 4 when the family came in to roost.
Perhaps most amazing is the fact that a total of AT LEAST 17 additional martins visited the Lock 4 breeding site on at least one occasion between June 17th and August 28th, demonstrating that one breeding pair of martin does act as a magnet in attracting other martins. Many of these martins were frequent visitors to the site. It will be interesting to see if any breed there next season. Of course the number of unique visitors may have been much higher, as I was only present at the site for a portion of this time. In addition, I could only count unbanded martins of the same age and sex once unless there were more than one present at the same time. For example, I list 3 separate unbanded subadult males because three of them were present simultaneously at the site on June 17th. I saw unbanded subadult males on many more occasions over the next few months, but I could not be certain they were different individuals. What follows in Table A is a list of these martins, both banded and unbanded, and the first date/time they were present. I also list the site they originated from, if known.
- Yellow K404 SY-M June 17 10:00 AM Saxon Golf Course
- Unbanded SY-F June 17 10:00 AM
- Unbanded SY-F June 17 10:00 AM
- Unbanded ASY-M June 17 10:00 AM
- Yellow P524 SY-M June 17 1:45 PM Youghiogheny Golf Course (see map below)
- Unbanded SY-M June 17 5:38 PM
- Unbanded SY-M June 17 5:38 PM
- Unbanded SY-M June 17 5:38 PM
- Yellow K370 SY-M June 18 7:30 AM Saxon Golf Course
- Yellow K415 SY-M June 18 8:30 AM Saxon Golf Course
- Yellow K279 ASY-M June 20 8:00 AM Saxon Golf Course
- Yellow K384 SY-M June 20 8:00 AM Saxon Golf Course
- Yellow N204 SY-M June 20 8:00 AM
- Yellow K479 SY-F July 19 10:42 AM Saxon Golf Course
- Unbanded ASY-F July 19 10:42 AM
- Yellow A_ _ _ ASY-F July 20 9:50 AM Elderton/Shelocta, PA (see map below)
- Yellow K556 HY-U Aug. 5 8:00 AM Saxon Golf Course
- Yellow T213 HY-U Aug. 8 8:00 AM Moraine State Park
- Unbanded HY-U Aug. 20 6:30 PM
ANALYSIS: Many of these banded Purple Martins were seen multiple times at the Lock 4 site throughout the season. (To search for the dates on which any particular banded bird was seen, press and hold the CONTROL key, then press the “F” key. This will give you a search box that will allow you to enter a search term – such as “K279” or “unbanded ASY-M” – and search the entire document for that term.) K279 ASY-M, a bird displaced from Saxon Golf Course, was seen at the Lock 4 site on 5 different days: June 20, 21, 22, 23, 24. He was seen back at Saxon Golf Course on June 28, July 10, 11. K479 SY-F was seen at Lock 4 on eight different days: July 19, 20, 23, Aug. 1, 6, 8, 9, 10. K415 SY-M was seen 9 times at Lock 4: June 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 29, 30, and at the Saxon colony on July 11. P524 SY-M was seen on eleven days at Lock 4: June 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 29, and July 22. He was spotted at Saxon on June 28. If I search on “unbanded ASY-M” I get 10 days on which an unbanded ASY-M was spotted at Lock 4: June 17, 18, 19, 21, 24, 25, 29, July 21, 23, 26. There is no way to be certain that this is one bird or ten birds, but I strongly suspect that it is the same bird (or two at the most) since several unbanded ASY-M were displaced from the Saxon colony.
Of the 19 Purple Martins spotted at the Lock 4 site , at least 8 were either displaced from the Saxon Golf Course colony or spotted at that colony prior to the displacement. I strongly suspect that at least 2 additional martins, an unbanded ASY-M, and K404’s unbanded SY-F’s mate, were also displaced from the Saxon colony. Many additional martins may have visited the site, as I was usually only present in the morning. Movement between the two sites was apparently very common and frequent, despite the fact that the sites were 8.7 miles apart. If the martins flew at a speed of about 27 mph, they could traverse the distance between the two sites in about 20 minutes. The most martins I ever saw at the site at one time was 10, on June 21, 2005. The most martins I ever saw over the course of one day was 12, also on June 21, 2005. There is no doubt in my mind that the displacement project was responsible for the great amount of activity at the Lock 4 site, as at least half of the martins were either residents or visitors from the Saxon Golf Course colony. Several questions remain: If there was time for K404 and his mate to relocate and re-nest, why why didn’t other displaced Saxon birds renest, such as K279 ASY-M and K479 SY-F, both of which were frequent visitors to Lock 4? Similarly, why didn’t the pair bonds of the other displaced pairs endure?
Special Thanks to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff at the Lock 4 facility in Natrona, PA, including Jim, Donna, Mike, Ron and all the rest, whose enthusiasm and cooperation made this project possible.