Richard and Diane Van Vleck Personal Pages
The Home Habitat

2019 Purple Martin Season
This year the first martins arrived on April 7, super excited and squawking joyously? boisterously? frantically? or just plain demanding that I produce their gourds. They only calm down when I begin hanging the plastic gourds. The moment I move away, they begin entering the gourds and, perhaps, sizing up the competition. The next day, the natural gourds were in place and more martins had arrived. This year all of the natural gourds were moved to face in the same direction for easier monitoring of any starling nesting attempts. The 12 plastic gourds remained hung in a circle on their pole. Last year, a pair of starlings did attempt to nest in one of the natural gourds for the first time.
Anxious martins await their housing.
A long pole is used to hook and raise each gourd from the ground. I had long ago learned the hard way that a large gourd will not survive a 14 ft fall from the scaffolding. As usual, the impatient martins supervise the hanging of the gourds. After such a long journey, I would think they would want to kick back for a few days, but no.

One interesting observation this year was the simultaneous interactions between a martin and a starling and another martin and a tree swallow. The starling was perched on the pvc pipe perch and the male tree swallow was perched higher up, on top of a vertical scaffold section. Of the 8 or 10 martins using the same horizontal perch, only one seemed to be confronting the starling, while another was confronting the tree swallow. Both martins were repeatedly thrusting their head forward toward the intruder, beak partially agape, but never moving closer to the other bird. They were definitely saying “you are not one of us”, but appeared to have no interest in anything physical. Little do the martins know that the tree swallow and his parent and grandparent who liked to perch on the tallest part of the martin scaffold have, for years, kept other tree swallows from nesting in a martin gourd. Tree swallows always begin nesting in their box below the gourd rack before the martins return and the gourds are hung. It must just be luck that starlings had not tried to nest in a gourd until last year. I had begun to think that the mob of martins were defending their gourds. They are not. While they squabble among themselves, they are quite timid when it comes to starlings.

While I waited to see which gourd the starling perched on the rack was using, it actually sidestepped along the perch to position itself behind a vertical pipe, appearing to hide from me. It was determined to not let me discover it’s nest site. Another starling had done the same think last year, refusing to go to its gourd until I was out of sight. I attempted to shoot the starling on the martin rack since it would not enter whichever gourd it had selected while I was watching. After three failed attempts with a pellet gun, the next evening, I waited in the trailer blind, much closer, and shot both starlings within ten minutes. For next year, I will cut a higher gun port so I don’t have to lie on the floor to aim at a starling on the top perch.


After last year’s experience with black rat snakes in the barn swallow room, I decided to monitor the martin gourds with 24 hour continuous video. The small trailer blind was located in front of the gourd rack and a security camera positioned to cover all of the natural gourds. The 12 plastic gourds on their pole were not monitored, but will be moved next year to a third row on the extended rack.


Purple martin gourd rack Purple martin video monitor
The 12 plastic gourds were moved to the main rack after nesting was completed. Continuous video with motion detection provided 24 hour monitoring


Some of the bluebird nest boxes are removed for the winter, especially the coopered wood boxes with turned lids. These are replaced with surplus martin gourds turned upside down and slipped over the 4x4 posts. The gourd drainage holes, now on top, can be plugged with dowels, but it seems that the holes don’t introduce much rain water and may actually keep the bluebirds’ winter home dryer by providing ventilation. I don’t know how often the gourds are used or needed, especially in this mild winter. But, by their frequent visits, it seems the bluebirds like to know the gourds are available. The nest boxes will be returned before nesting time.

A natural gourd nest box
The Purple Martins arrived today
Their first full day home for the summer!
2020 Purple Martin Season
The martins arrived on April 7, the same as last year.  It will be interesting to see how they handle leap year in 2024. This year all the gourds are facing in the same direction, allowing 24 hour video monitoring with a single camera.  Black rat snakes have been successfully excluded from the barn swallow colony in the barn, possibly putting the martin colony at greater risk.  However, the nestings were uneventful, except for one attempted nesting by a pair of starlings.
This year starlings again tried to nest in a martin gourd. Unlike last year's pair, they boldly landed on the rack while I was within pellet gun range and in plain sight, relaxing in a portable arm chair while waiting for them.  Both were shot, about ten minutes apart.  I likely won't have such luck again, but no other starlings attempted to use a gourd this year. However, they relentlessly attempted to nest in each of the four flicker boxes on the barn walls. I even resorted to using the old wall mounted repeating starling traps during the nesting season.  While a male flicker used a nestbox in winter and early spring, there was no flicker nest in the barn boxes this year. One pair did nest in an old red bellied nesting cavity in a tree along Little Creek.



2019-2020 Purple Martin nesting
2018 martins use of clam shells
2017 Purple Martin prey
Purple Martins 1997-2014

2022 update - Return of the barn owls
2021 Chimney Swift tower success!!!
2020 Barn Swallow nesting
Barn swallow nest cups
2019 Barn Swallows and Black Rat Snakes

2018 - The Barnyard Balance of Nature Goes Awry
Black rat snakes vs barn swallows, Northern flickers, kestrels and others

2018 Purple Martin preference for clam shells
2017 - Return of the Monarchs!
2017 Purple Martin prey photos
2010 - 2016 Northern flicker nestings
2014 house wren gourd use
2014 - A dramatic loss of many types of insects
2019-2020 Purple Martin nesting
2014 barn owl nesting - prey study
A new barn swallow shelter for 2013
2010 barn owl nesting
2010 Update
2016-2017 Kestrel nestings
Starling traps
Using blinds in the home habitat
Providing perches for birds
Providing snags for wildlife
The ugly young maple
2001 - 2013 nest cams
Use of tomato cages as hunting perches by insectivorous song birds
Vultures, beetles and the resurrection of life

Species of interest in our yard - photos and articles
barn owl American kestrel purple martin barn swallow Eastern bluebird
tufted titmouse Eastern phoebe yellow shafted flicker tree swallow chimney swift
house wren big brown bat Carolina wren brown thrasher catbird
Willow flycatcher
cedar waxwing Northern mockingbird
Blue-gray gnatcatcher
turkey vulture
Yellow warbler Acadian flycatcher

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©2020 Richard Van Vleck