June 6, 2016

Checking for Baby Martins

We've decided to follow the advice of the Purple Martin experts and continue to check their house and nests, as we have been doing, until all the young have fledged. It still feels wrong to me to disturb a nesting pair of birds, but if you can't trust the experts, who can you trust?

The last time John lowered the house, there was one Purple Martin nest in the lower left compartment...and there were eggs! On Friday we decided to see if those eggs had hatched.

Mrs. Martin was sitting outside her nest as we approached. She let us get right up to the house before she flew away. I didn't see where she went, but Mr. Martin was sitting on the power line keeping a close watch on us.

The first thing we saw when the house was lowered was part of an eggshell just outside the nest entrance. John raised the nest door and we peered inside.

It was dark in there and hard to see, but we were able to pick out three hatchlings and one egg! The photo isn't great, but it's a good representation of what we saw and it shows the egg well. I do believe it's starting to hatch.

We didn't want to keep Mr. and Mrs. Martin away from their babies for too long, so we got busy with the rest of the house maintenance, which means removing all the sparrow nests.

House Sparrows are fierce competitors with Purple Martins for nesting space and can quickly take over a martin house. They can also destroy eggs, kill babies, and injure adults. That's why it's so important to keep them out of martin housing.

Sparrow nests are easy to distinguish from martin nests. A Purple Martin nest is low and flat while a House Sparrow builds a large, bulky nest that fills the cavity completely.

I have to give credit to the sparrows for building comfy, cushy nests. They use grass, mostly, and line the nest with leaves and feathers.

This pretty feather was in one of the nests. We think it looks like a guinea feather, though we don't know anyone nearby that raises guineas. How far did they have to fly to find this treasure?

And we're not sure what kind of bird this one came from. Could it be from a chicken, maybe our very own Duchess of Yolk?

Each sparrow nest held a clutch of five eggs. Since the House Sparrow is not a protected species, it is legal to control them by destroying their eggs.

Our hens love sparrow eggs, so at least they didn't go to waste. Princess Lay-a missed out as she was in the coop laying her own egg.

There were probably six or seven sparrow nests in our martin house and only just one martin nest. The sparrows are winning this year, even though we have been diligent to remove their nests throughout the season.

Before we raised the house back into position, we took one more look at the baby martins. This time I was able to get a better picture.

These fresh-out-of-the-egg hatchlings are completely featherless with bright pink skin and eyes that are grown shut. They aren't going to win any beauty contests, that's for sure. It's obvious they are completely dependent on their parents for care, so we didn't gawk over them too long.

With the house back in place, I waited to make sure the parents would return. Mrs. Martin came back shortly and entered the nest to check on her babies while Mr. Martin took his spot on the housetop.

On Saturday, John checked the nest again and saw that the fourth egg had hatched!

Mr. and Mrs. Martin are very busy caring for their young. While one is off hunting insects to feed the family, the other sits with the babies and doesn't leave until the first returns. They trade off like this all day.

If all goes well the young will fledge in 26-32 days. It will be fun to watch their progress.


  1. They owe their survival to your diligence. How wonderful you are able to keep the family safe.

    1. Margene, I wish we had more nesting here. There are still a couple that seem interested in our house, but I'm wondering if it's a little late for nest building.

  2. It does make sense to check the house frequently, especially with the threat the sparrows represent.

    Your photos of the babies are amazing. Thanks for this post and photos.

    1. Thanks, Nancy. We'll have to be careful when the babies get bigger. We don't want them to fall out of the nest when we lower and raise the house.

  3. How absolutely fascinating! You captured this much needed "invasion" just perfectly, Tracy. It makes me feel so much better that your girls got some good nourishment from the eggs rather than just throwing them out :)

    1. We'll do another nest check later this week. I'm hoping to find all four babies healthy and thriving.

  4. How exciting!! Such a great set of photos and aren't you so lucky to have the Martins?! Good for you in fighting the House Sparrows-they are a real menace to Martins and so many other native song birds. Keep up the good work!

    1. We're doing what we can. The sparrows have been busy rebuilding their nests all week. They are determined little birds.


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