Martin House Help...

Old_Paint

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LX2610HSDSU, LA535 FEL w/54" bucket, LandPride BB1248, Woodland Mills WC-68
Dec 5, 2020
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Sometimes, height is everything. Sparrows and blue birds all feed close to the ground, and prefer to nest in lower places. Martins, on the other hand, soar way up high. The hole diameter also makes a difference, and when you raise the box. Another good home for martins is a dried gourd. Hole-saw it, shake out the dried seeds, and bingo, you have a martin box. We normally put our martin boxes at least 20 feet up.

Bluebirds aren't as tolerant of other birds as some think. They're very territorial. And, being in Alabama, make sure you snake-proof the pole the box is on. We had ours on a long dried cedar pole, and a chicken snake raided it. It was a couple years before the martins came back again. They don't forget easily. Martins are also some of the earliest migratory birds to come through. The little sparrows hang around through the winter if they have anything to eat. That generally isn't a problem.

One thing to take note of about the starlings, too. Grackles and Red-Wing black birds will flock with the starlings. We had HUNDREDS of red-wings and grackles mixed in with the starling flocks this year. A few red-wings usually stick around through the summer.
 

aaluck

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L4400HST, Bush Hog 276, RDTH60, Speeco PHD, etc
Oct 9, 2019
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Snowdoun, AL
We normally put our martin boxes at least 20 feet up.
Mine is about 15 feet I'd say. My wife bought the pre-made, I assemble, house so I'm assuming the holes are the correct size, but who knows...probably (for sure) made in China. And the pole is specifically made of the house from TS.

This is our first attempt and so far not too successful. Did you have to somehow keep the other birds out or did it just all fall together?
 

Old_Paint

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LX2610HSDSU, LA535 FEL w/54" bucket, LandPride BB1248, Woodland Mills WC-68
Dec 5, 2020
563
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43
AL
This is our first attempt and so far not too successful. Did you have to somehow keep the other birds out or did it just all fall together?
The only thing I remember having to try to keep out was chicken snakes. They'd climb the pole, swallow all the eggs, then intentionally fall to break the eggs they'd swallowed whole. Imagine the shock when a 4 foot chicken snake falls on you from 20 feet up when you're mowing under the box. I couldn't hear the birds because of the mower, so didn't know the thief was up there. 15 feet should be high enough, but if you can find something to add another 5 or so, it might push the height up enough to disinterest the other birds and get the attention of the martins. Or, it may have no effect at all. Hard to say. I'm assuming you mean tubular steel with the TS. That's good, because snakes won't be able to climb it as well. But most snakes that eat birds or eggs are constrictors, and have a pretty good grip for climbing. Very few vipers eat birds.

This isn't saying we never had 'intruder' birds. More often, dirt-dauber wasps would fill up the boxes, or red wasps. Dirt daubers, no worries. Me and red wasps have a love/hate relationship. I love to hate 'em. Other more catastrophic events were crows raiding the box. We shortened the perch supports so they were too close for the crows to land on, and solved that problem. Starlings weren't interested in nesting in LA (Lower Alabama), typically. They just cleaned up every speck of anything for the smaller local species to eat. Very invasive birds with a very successful propagation rate. Nothing a few rounds of #9 bird shot from a 20 gauge wouldn't fix in a flock of thousands. Rat shot from a .22 is pretty effective on most of the other predators.
 

aaluck

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L4400HST, Bush Hog 276, RDTH60, Speeco PHD, etc
Oct 9, 2019
336
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Snowdoun, AL
This isn't saying we never had 'intruder' birds. More often, dirt-dauber wasps would fill up the boxes, or red wasps.
Well at this point its become a bluebird house. Those little suckers will sit right on top of the house and as the PM attempt to come in attack them. Had 10 PM and one TINY bluebird fighting them. I was actually impressed by the BB.
 

Old_Paint

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LX2610HSDSU, LA535 FEL w/54" bucket, LandPride BB1248, Woodland Mills WC-68
Dec 5, 2020
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If you can find a martin decoy(Amazon?), put that on the box too, something that isn't afraid of the blue birds, and will make them think someone already lives there. If they get to the box first, they'll move in and defend it. If the decoy is on the box (put it up when you put up the box in late winter) other species may leave the box alone. Put two on it for good measure.

Martins are communal and don't fight amongst themselves. But they will put a hawk or crow on the road. For a tiny bird, they have a big attitude with bigger birds. But they'll let blue birds intimidate them. Go figger. Keep in mind that martins have evolved so that they're totally dependent on humans to provide nesting places. They'll use it, if you make sure they have a reservation. Once they do, they'll keep coming back. You can actually put some chopped pine straw (about 2 inches long) in the box for nesting material that the martin will use, but blue birds prefer to start with a clean box and will think someone else already lives there. Worth a try next season maybe. Can't hurt to try all of the gadgets and tricks to get 'em started. They should truly be nesting by now, and if you still have some not nesting, it's getting pretty late for them.

Put some blue bird boxes out this winter, too. They prefer to nest a little lower, and farther apart. Most blue bird boxes I see around here are on fence posts around pastures, etc. It's a little puzzling that more than one is nesting in your martin box. They're very territorial.

I read some more on hole size, box size, etc, etc. The nominal hole size for martins is 2 inches, ,and the nest cell needs to be at least 6x6x6. Anything from 1-7/8 to 2-1/4 is supposed to be a good size, keeping on the smaller end to avoid starlings and grackles. The hole needs to be at least 1-1/2 inch from the bottom of the cell to keep the chicks from falling out. Martins don't build very secure nests. Apparently, they've been dependent on humans for nesting since long before Europeans even came to this country.

But like I said, if you have crows/ravens around, you've got to make sure they can't get the hatchlings. I have a big raven nest right behind my house. The only reason I tolerate it is that two pairs of red-tail hawk beat them to the draw and built farther back on the property. Otherwise, a load of buckshot would be going through that crow nest. They're scavengers, and very predatory on other birds. Crows will in fact kill an adult martin if they get it cornered in the box. Owls have actually been recorded reaching into the holes and grabbing anything in the hole with their foot at night. But I prefer the owls to stick around to control the rodents. If you bring in birds, you bring in predators. Nothing to be done for it except make it hard for the predators. That usually presents a challenge for the birds you want, too. I've been researching about boxes (mostly to refresh my memory why we built them like we did) and read about making them with holes on both sides so the adults can at least escape if the box is raided. Makes sense down south, but up north, that might pose some temperature issues for early birds. Some think a smooth steel post is snake proof. It is NOT. Chicken snakes are excellent climbers. I've seen that with my own eyes.

Up until the birds actually lay eggs, you can remove their nests to discourage them from building in the wrong places. Migratory birds are protected, and it is illegal to disturb a nest with eggs, but I don't think Bluebirds are migratory, and have no idea if they're on the protected list. I see them around here all through winter. Might want to look it up. That's one tactic for evicting intruder birds. I had to evict a Carolina wren that tried to build on my tractor 5 times. She loved the pockets and cupholder on the fenders. Tried twice on each fender only to be foiled by me. Then one evening I got something out of the ammocan toolbox I added, and didn't close it back up(senior moment). Next day, I didn't use the tractor until I moved my trailer with it late in the evening. The wren had FILLED that box with a nest in one day. She hasn't tried again since I tossed that one out (and closed the box). We love the birds and watching them, I just don't want them building on my tractor. There are limits, you know.
 
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