I’m a fan of Purple Martins and have two houses up with a total of (11+18) twenty-nine apartments. Last year the houses went up a little late and we only had two of the nests occupied.
This year, I got the houses up in good time and even moved one of them to a better spot. We were hoping for good things.
After being up for most of a month we noticed that the starlings really seemed to like them. They would come in a flock of a dozen or so, chase everyone away from the bird feeders and then check out the accommodations. Some of them looked ready to stay.
I wondered if, maybe, Martins and starlings could live together in the same house. A little research suggested this was not possible and the starlings would actually go out of their way to kill the Martins. I took the houses down to discourage the starlings from setting up housekeeping and tried to figure out how to head off the problem.
For a little while, I considered trapping the starlings and doing away with them. We live on a fairly busy corner and most of the good traps seem to include a cage where the starlings end up awaiting their fate, which in this case would be terminal. I’m not sure if trapping would actually make a big difference in the overall population and if it would be worth the wrath of my neighbours to try it. We also have the issue of not being at the house where the bird houses are all the time so the traps would need to be disabled quite often.
A seemingly better plan was to alter the entrance holes to let the Martins in but keep the starlings out. I found this problem was so prevalent that the modified entrance even had an acronym, SREH, Starling Resistant Entrance Hole, The job seemed daunting but if these houses were to cater to Martins and not starlings, I thought I better try. I was off for the week, so had time to devote to the project.
The current holes were 2 1/4 inches in diameter. The SREH which seemed to be having the most success was figured out by someone named Lewis and is a half moon shape that starts out with a 3-inch diameter hole covered to allow an opening 1 3/16 inches high. Most of the literature also suggested a porch be added flush with the bottom of the hole.
Over two and a half afternoons, I got the job done, disassembling, cutting, nailing, screwing and reassembling. The houses have been repainted and are back up on their poles.
There was some urgency since, at a talk in Picton from the local bird banding group, we learned that the first of the Purple Martins had arrived in The County this week.
After being up for a couple of days we can claim some success.
The starlings have been back and are frustrated, they cannot get into the houses. Its sort of fun to watch them now, struggling to find a way in and then giving up in disgust.
The Martins have arrived as well. The day after the first house went up, there was a Martin on the wire above it. Apparently, the first adults to arrive act as scouts. It was back today. I didn’t see it try to enter the house though.