Monday, May 11, 2009

First Nest Check of the Season

I lowered the gourd racks at my purple martin colony to see if egg laying has begun. They tend to bury their eggs deep in the confines of the leaves that make up most of their nest to hide them from predators. I gently poked my fingers into the nest “bowl” of each nest and counted by feel. I come up with a total of 58 eggs from 17 nests, but I expect the number to come close to doubling in the next week. There were several full blown nests in four other gourds that had no eggs in them, but very well could have some on my next check.

Many people that I have introduced to purple martins are awe struck at how the adults seem so at ease while I examine their nests. In one photo you’ll note how a few of the adults landed in the top of a nearby sweet gum tree waiting for me to finish. Most believe the old wives’ tale that if you touch a bird’s eggs, nest or nestlings the adults will abandon the nest. This is totally untrue. The parents have invested a lot of time and energy in this task and won’t just turn and waste it. Now there have been times when I’ve been strafed by adults while examining their nests, coming so close that I could feel the rush of air created by their wings as they grazed my face. I just ignore their advances and continue with my work. Actually purple martins are very tolerant of humans around their colony and in fact prefer nesting near us because it lessens the chance of a predation. More importantly they are completely dependent upon humans for nesting sites, especially since the introduction of two non-native species of birds in the 1800's, the English house sparrow and the European starling, which compete savagely for nesting sites. If not for myself and thousands of other landlords taking responsibility and managing their colonies the purple martin population would without doubt become decimated.

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