April 21, 2021

Art & Lifestyle:

Tech Bridge Lecture Set for April 22 -

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Entries Sought for DNR Photo Contest -

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Free Document Shredding on April 24 -

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Still Time to Register for NAWCAD Industry Day -

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Purple Martins Return for Another Cycle

Purple Martins

The Cap’n

Message From the Cap’n is a compilation of history, fishing advice, waterman and weather insights, Chesapeake lore, and ordinary malarkey from the folks who keep their feet wet in the Potomac and St. Mary’s rivers.

Last month’s highlight — delayed by the traditional return of the Ospreys — the Purple Martins returned to the Lower Potomac ahead of schedule: the 8th of March!

A little background from a prior year’s message: The Purple Martins usually come here between the 10th and 13th of April, rest a little, scout the area and then begin nest building.

What is the same no matter when they arrive: You know they have arrived!!  They start singing and don’t stop through the course of their stay.

The Purple Martin, North America’s largest swallow, is a swift and skilled flyer: The birds eat, drink, and even bathe on the wing. The species is part of a group of birds known as aerial insectivores — birds that feed on airborne insects. They do not eat as many mosquitoes as one might think. They feed on dragonflies more than anything else. They are cavity nesters, but the eastern populations depend almost entirely on man made housing.

Housing can be as expensive as one might like, ranging from around $2 to $50 per house. I find that 2-gallon buckets,  strung out over the water at my dock, work perfectly well as numerous birds come back year to year.

If you want to attract some Purple Martins, NOW is the time to put up several houses in some open space and get yourself a copy of Dawnsong and Daytime Chatter. These CDs can be purchased from PurpleMartin.org. I find Dawnsong to be especially helpful in trying to attract a colony. These birds are extremely friendly once they get used to you and your voice. I talk to them all the time as I have the nest buckets along my wharf over the creek.

BTW: 2 gallon pails with lids from a local grocery store make a great home for purple martins. I drill a few holes in the bottom for drainage and cut an entrance hole of 2 1/8″ and drill a few small vent holes around the top. They like a dark interior so I paint them forest green or grey, black makes it too hot.

They pick up nesting material from the yard and a drainage ditch close by. Decaying pine needles and mud make good nests and plenty of oyster shells provide limestone to harden their egg shells. As soon as the weather warms the birds begin nest building and will lay from 2 to 5 eggs per nest.

Their nesting coincides with a willow leafing out near the shore as they use these leaves to cover the eggs in the nests at times.

Protect your brood from a major predator: Black snakes are the biggest reason that many colonies are lost. The best protection that I have found is bird netting that I found at Lowes. This bird netting wrapped around pilings and poles will entangle the snake, holding them till they can be “surgically” removed and relocated. By that, what I mean, the netting must be cut from them. Because their heads are smaller than their bellies they will continue into the netting until they ensnare themselves.

Weather can also create a nest failure which will sour your birds about returning next year. Before this colony formed we had a large and returning colony just slightly upstream in traditional houses on the shore. One very wet summer we surmise all of their nests failed. The colony did not return the next year.

Clean houses and repairs during their absence can help convince purple martins to return year after year, bringing their summer of song with them.

Till next time, remember “It’s Our Bay, Let’s Pass It On.”

To learn about tours and trips into the Chesapeake, keep in touch with Fins + Claws on Facebook. Catch up on Messages from the Cap’n Member Page — linked above as Chesapeake lore. Please visit Cap’n Jack’s lore and share with your social media sites. Or reach him here: arster694@gmail.com or 240-434-1385.

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