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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Purple Martins are Back in Florida

Purple Martin, male

Purple Martin, female

Purple Martin houses

Purple Martins have been spotted in Florida. Soon, they will be coming your way. If you live in the East and are near water, put up housing for them. For houses and more info go to,
Purple Martin Conservation Association.

Purple Martins breed in every state east of the Rocky Mountains and in scattered locations in the West. To attract martins, check in a field guide to be sure you are in their breeding range, then put the right martin house in the right habitat. 

Purple Martins who breed from the Rocky Mountains East can be attracted to multi-compartment houses or clusters of gourds. In most of their breeding range in the West, martins nest singly in natural cavities and it is difficult to attract them to artificial housing. In the Northwest, however, you may be able to attract them to single unit houses or gourds. 


Put up housing at least 40 feet away from tall trees and within 100 feet of buildings. They actually prefer to nest near human habitations.

Be sure there is open area within 1 or 2 miles where the martins can feed. Being near water is helpful, though not strictly necessary.

Do not allow high vegetation to grow at the base of the pole on which the house is mounted; predators could hide there.

Do not use wires to connect the house to the ground, as it would provide a way for predators to climb up.

Housing should be mounted on a tall pole (approximately 10-12 feet tall or higher).

Multi-compartment aluminum houses are inexpensive, durable, low-maintenance, and lightweight.

Multi-compartment wooden houses insulate very well, and wood is easy to work with. However, they require regular maintenance. They must be painted white.

Single-hole natural gourds are inexpensive and spacious inside, and their tendency to swing in the wind repels Starlings and House Sparrows. However, these gourds are not as durable as the multi-compartment houses. They must be treated with copper sulfate, sanded, and painted white. Plastic gourds are a good alternative to natural gourds and are now widely available.

For monitoring and cleaning, housing should be easy to raise and lower, and there should be easy access to the nesting compartments.

Entrance holes should be 2 inches in diameter and 1 inch above the floor of the compartment.Compartments should be at least 6" wide and 9-12" deep. Larger compartments are generally better but may attract Starlings.

Houses should be painted white; if you wish, you can use oil-based white stain instead of paint, as it is longer lasting and does not peel.

Housing should be well ventilated, should keep compartments dry, and should drain out any water that might get in. It should insulate the birds from heat and cold, and should not turn in the wind, as this may disorient the birds and cause them to abandon the colony.

Be sure to protect the house from predators. Put a baffle on the support pole-this is an inverted metal cone 36-40 inches in diameter or a length of stovepipe, which prevents predators from climbing the pole. Or put 4-6 feet of 6" diameter PVC pipe around the base of the pole so predators like snakes cannot climb up. Owls and crows can be prevented from taking the martins by placing vertical bar "owl guards" across the front of the housing.
Attraction Techniques

If you are putting up a new house, you will be trying to attract subadults—birds that were hatched last year. They arrive 4 to 6 weeks later than the adults; check the map for the approximate arrival dates of adults. Subadult martins are the ones that colonize a new area. Adult martins generally just return to the same area they nested before.

Play a recording of the Purple Martin dawnsong at your housing site; this will attract subadult birds, so play it at the time of year when they are arriving in your area. Early in the morning is the best time, from about 3:30 to 6:30 AM; use a timer or an endless-loop tape player.

Keep the holes closed off until the martins arrive. Many commercial manufacturers sell caps that press into the holes. This will keep Starlings and House Sparrows from using the compartments for roosting or early nesting. Open the holes when you first see martins arriving.

Martins may be more comfortable entering housing that looks as though it has been used before. To create this impression, build a low wall of mud just inside the hole of each compartment. You can also put pine shavings or pine needles on the floor of the compartments.
It is important to monitor your nests once a week, after you have attracted martins. Monitor only during good weather, between late morning and early afternoon, while most martins are out feeding. Record numbers of birds, eggs, and nestlings. Stop checking when nestlings are 20 days old.

For complete information on attracting and enjoying Purple Martins, see Stokes Purple Martin Book.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Beauty at Ding Darling NWR

Roseate Spoonbill, Tricolored Heron

Great Blue Heron

Don, Lillian, Ken Burgener (founder of Carefree Birding tours), and Dawn and Jeff Fine.

Went birding today at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel, FL and the birds were numerous. Here's a Roseate Spoonbill next to a Tricolored Heron, a study in pink and blue. And a Great Blue Heron posed so cooperatively near the road with the beautiful water as a backdrop. Ran into some fun birding folks as well.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

White-crowed Pigeon Still at Ding Darling NWR, Sanibel, FL

The White-crowned Pigeon is still at J.N.Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel FL, on the Shell Mound trail. This is the celebrity bird of the winter, as it is quite unusual to be seen here and listed as Threatened in the state of Florida. Here is is sitting in the Snowberry it loves to eat. So many birders have come to see and enjoy it.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

How To Do A Backyard Birding Big Year

You may have heard of birders doing a “Big Year”, that is seeing how many birds can be seen in North America in one year. There was even a movie about this, called The Big Year, starring Steve Martin, about 3 avid birders who compete and travel all over to see who can break the North American record for how many birds can be seen in one year. Well you can do your own big year right in your own backyard. All you have to do is create an excellent bird feeder and bird attracting property and watch and record who shows up. January is the perfect time to start. Here’s what you need.

1. Start with an excellent bird feeder set up. Make sure you include in winter multiple tubular, hopper and screen and suet feeders filled with a variety of quality bird seeds and suet. Focus on providing black oil sunflower, seed mixes that contain a good amount of black oil sunflower, and for finches, Nyjer (thistle) seed. Also include suet which is a calorie-rich food that provides much needed energy for birds in cold weather. Place feeders near cover so birds can escape wind and cold. Place feeders on poles with squirrel baffles, located 12 or more feet from any place a squirrel can jump from. Clean off snow from feeders. The more feeders you have the more kinds of birds you will attract.

Evening Grosbeak

Winter target birds: in addition to regulars like chickadees, titmice, goldfinches, nuthatches, cardinals, jays, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, juncos and White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, you may attract more rare species like Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins and Evening Grosbeaks.

Female Bluebird feeding fledgling at mealworm feeder

2. In spring and summer keep all the same feeders you had in winter and add hummingbird and oriole feeders, mealworm feeders, fruit and jelly feeders. Also add bird baths filled with clean water. These feeders and baths will attract birds that may not come to regular seed feeders. You can expect to attract bluebirds, orioles, catbirds, warblers, hummingbirds, wrens, robins and mockingbirds. At your regular seed and suet feeders you may attract birds that are only here in spring and summer such as Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Northern Flickers, towhees, Chipping Sparrows and Indigo Buntings.

American Robin on crabapples.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Salvia "Lady in Red" flowers

3. In spring plant flowering Crab Apple trees, berry producing shrubs, cone and nut producing trees and red tubular flowers for hummingbirds. Use native species when possible. Birds that do not come to feeders may be attracted to this wild food. For example, Cape May Warblers may stop on migration and drink nectar from the Crab Apple blossoms. Cedar Waxwings eat many kinds of berries.

Common Redpoll

4. Learn to identify the birds at your feeders and in your yard. You will need a bird guide such as Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Bird Feeding, Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Regions.

5. Get binoculars so you can see the birds. The best for bird watching are binoculars that are 8x42. These magnify birds 8 power. Get the best you can afford and you will be rewarded with beautiful close looks at birds. Keep the binoculars near the window and wear them around your neck when you go outside. 

6. Learn the songs and calls of birds. Birds sing mainly in spring and you will hear many more birds than you will see. Get Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs CDs that give you all the songs and calls of birds.

6. Place comfortable chairs or a bench outside where you can overlook your feeders and also see your property. Scan the trees for visitors that may not come to your feeders.

7. Now the fun part comes. Keep a record of who visits including birds that you see or hear.  Keep your record in a journal, or notebook or get a checklist of birds that can be expected in your area from your local nature center. You can turn in your sightings to the national (and international) bird database, You will be amazed at how many wonderful birds you will see over the year and it will motivate you to improve your property to attract more birds.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cool Sanibel Birds today!

White-crowned Pigeon was out in the open today, roosting on the Shell Mound trail in Ding Darling NWR. Listed as threatened in FL, this bird is finding the hardwood fruits it needs in this upland hammock habitat.

White-crowned Pigeon

Short-tailed Hawk, flew over us on Sanibel, this hawk is rarely seen here.

American Kestrel hunting from a low shrub on the beach today because of high winds.

Some cool birds seen on Sanibel Island today. You never know what you'll find that's the fun of birding.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

White-crowned Pigeon, Again, Sanibel, FL!

We saw a White-crowned Pigeon on the Shell Mound Trail, Ding Darling NWR this morning. We had also seen this bird there last year. Maybe it is the same bird. Such a treat to see as it is listed as threatened in FL.
This is a very unusual bird for here, although there have been a very few sightings previously on Sanibel. Research has indicated that the total distribution of this bird occurs in the Caribbean Basin, the Bahamas and extreme southern Florida, but they make long over-water flights between breeding and wintering areas within this region. They are threatened due to loss of habitat and hunting and poaching in their range. White-crowned Pigeons feed mainly on fruits of hardwood trees and they are an important dispersal agent for these trees. It was nice to see this bird on the Shell Mound trail, which had a lot of fruiting hardwood trees, thus providing the type of habitat crucial for this bird species. What a special bird for us to see!!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hooded Merganser reflections

Hooded Merganser, male at Ding Darling NWR. Hunting for fish, diving, surfacing, such interesting water colors and patterns. What a treat to photograph.
Lillian Stokes