Saturday, March 29, 2008

Nest Site Competition

The season begins as always with the competition for nest sites. Both European starlings and English sparrows (both non-native species) try and take over martin nest sites for themselves before and after the purple martins arrive. Not much so with starlings at my colony as I’ve noticed over the last five years. Whether it’s because of the use of gourds as housing or because of martin numbers, I just don’t have as much problem with them anymore. Thank goodness. But with the English sparrow it’s a different story.
Their nests were found in four of my gourds that have a crescent entrance, which primary purpose is to prevent the European starling from having access to them, but not the sparrow. Since I began using the crescent-holed gourds the English sparrows have gravitated to them mainly due to the presence of a porch which is needed by the martins in order to give them leverage to enter. As a matter of fact there’s no way to keep these sparrows out of your martin housing because they’re smaller than martins and a reduced entrance does no good.
Knowlegable and experienced landlords are aware of the devastation the English sparrow can have on a martin colony and will go to any lengths, including trapping and shooting to prevent them from taking over. If this isn’t done you and your martins will regret it. They will pip martin eggs allowing bacteria to enter killing the embryos and have been known to peck martin nestlings to death.

There is a trapping device that can be obtained from the PMCA which attaches itself inside the gourd. A small wire inside on the device acts as a perch and triggering mechanism that shuts the metal door trapping the sparrow inside which can then be disposed of.
Unmanaged housing does more harm than good to the purple martin, so if you can’t be responsible and keep your housing clean of this pest then you have no business putting up martin housing in the first place.

To read more on this aggressive pest check out these sites:

If you think the English sparrow is bad, the European starling is ten times worse. More on this bird in a future post.

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