Sunday, October 14, 2007

Intraspecific Fighting Among Female Purple Martins

In 2006 I had an article published in the 15(4) issue of the Purple Martin Update- (the quarterly publication of the Purple Martin Conservation Association) that detailed an experience I had while performing a nest check. Thought some of you might like to read it so I've posted it below along with photos. Hope you enjoy......


Sometimes I will sit and observe my colony for hours on end and not see anything out of the ordinary. Other days when I’m not particularly watching for anything something falls right in my lap. This happened back in 2003 when I observed a SY male committing infanticide (see my article- 13(3) p. 27 PM Update). Had I blinked I would’ve missed the entire event.
Recently I had dropped my gourd racks to see if nest building had been initiated, when again, something fell in my lap. As I lowered one of the racks I began hearing muffled chatter coming from one of the gourds. I looked up and could see feathers protruding from an entrance hole, so I rapped on the pole hoping to get the martin’s attention but it would not leave the gourd. I then began to hear a rustling noise and then determined that there was more than one martin inside. I began lowering the rack thinking that would cause them to fly, but still they remained inside the gourd. No loud squawking, just a low chortle while they “wrestled”. As I slowly removed the access cap there inside was an ASY female atop another ASY female. Most times I’ve seen fighting among martins it had been between males, usually territorial battles. I have read though that females also get involved in these types of altercations or “Intra-specific fighting”. Once the male selects the territory with which to nest he then goes about the intricate ritual of attracting a female. Once that is accomplished and the female bonds with him and selects a nest site in his established territory, she will then, along with the male, defend this territory. What I was witnessing was the female defending her selected gourd or nesting area from another intruding female. The dominant female peered at me intensely as if in a trance, while the submissive one assumed a posture with its head tucked and wings folded. Neither seemed afraid of my presence or the noise I was making. I was able to take photo after photo, fully expecting them to bolt from the access hole any second. The dominant female had her wings slightly apart and had small feathers in her beak that had apparently come from the ruffled area at the base of the submissive ones neck. Minutes later the submissive female freed herself and escaped out of the entrance hole leaving the dominant one behind, standing her ground, and panting obviously tired from the scuffle. Observations such as this are what make managing a colony so worthwhile, as it allows you to delve into their lives and see nature in action. Do a little observing yourself…..you never know what might land in your lap.

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