July 28th – Operation PUMA Rescue: The Saga Continues

Nancy, the PUMA Lady, writes up her notes after the morning's findings.

Nancy, the PUMA Lady, writes up her notes after the morning’s findings.


Thanks somewhat to Nancy’s helping hand but largely to their parents (who seem to have found 2 chicks easier to provide for than 4), the two Purple Martin chicks continue to….well, not thrive but….get by.

Here’s the history to date:
July 21st: when the nest was checked, one of the four had died of starvation and the other three were not doing well, one was an especially bad way.
#373 – 41.7 g.
#374 – 42.6 g.
#375 – 28.2 g.
We decided to remove the lightest two and feed them and leave the heaviest bird in the nest to see what would happen. The two birds were fed about every half hour. It was found that playing a recording of adult calls would elicit feeding behaviour from the young birds; i.e., stretching out the neck and opening the mouth. It was also noticed that while the lightest bird performed these behaviours, he was much less energetic in doing so.

July 22nd:
The birds were weighed at around 1330 (24 hours after yesterday’s weigh-in).
#373 – 41.55 g.
#374 – 41.95 g.
#375 – 28.45 g.
As #374 had lost weight we decided to remove it as well and provide supplemental feeding.

July 23rd:
The birds were weighed at 1300.
#373 – 42.55 g.
#374 – 42.60 g.
#375 – 27.3 g. (this was concerning; it subsequently died during the night)

July 24th:
The two remaining birds were weighed in the morning (0730); both had lost weight but this is a regular pattern seen in small birds: they gain weight during the day and lose it during the night when they can’t feed – the key is to get enough resources during the day to sustain them through the night.
#373 – 37.15 g.
#374 – 40.40 g.
We decided that if these birds were going to have any sort of chance to fledge we would have to return them to their nest and have the parents resume feeding them. We weren’t sure if this was going to happen and were pleasantly surprised when the adults “rediscovered” their young and began to make semi-regular feeding trips to the nest. The young were quite responsive, sitting at the opening to the nest box with mouths agape at every passerby.

July 25th: weighed at 1030.
#373 – 38.10 g.
#373 – 41.45 g.

July 26th: weighed at 1730.
#373 – 45.15 g.
#374 – 50.35 g.
This represented a significant weight gain for these two youngsters.

July 27th:
We weighed the young birds twice today; you will see the fluctuation that they go through during the course of a day.
@0830:
#373 – 42.30 g.
#374 – 45.75 g.

@1745:
#373 – 47.35 g.
#374 – 53.80 g.
At the time of the second weighing Nancy noticed that the nest was infested with blowfly larvae (slug-looking things that attach themselves to the young birds and suck their blood) and feather mites. Both take an energetic toll on the well-being of the birds so we decided to change the nesting material. The old nest was discarded and Nancy put in a mixture of grass clippings and wood ships.

The considerable weight gain they experienced during the day would stand them in good stead through the night. We experienced a lengthy thunderstorm with strong north winds (blowing right into their nest box), heavy rain, and a drop in temperature. So I wasn’t sure what we would find when we went to weigh them this morning @ 0930.
#373 – 43.40 g.
#374 – 46.10 g.
They had lost weight from the previous day but still weighed more than they had the previous morning. Further, there was no sign of any parasites.

It will still be touch and go for the next couple of weeks but….if they can continue to put on weight and the weather stays relatively benign and their parents don’t desert them (and continue to provision them) then they have a good chance of fledging. I wonder if we’ll see them next year.
Rick

July 25th – It Was Decision Time For The Young PUMA’s

If you look carefully you can see the bills of Nim and Num. They are waiting impatiently for parent birds to return with food.

If you look carefully you can see the bills of Nim and Num. They are waiting impatiently for parent birds to return with food.


On Tuesday we removed 2 young from their nest box and left one – the heaviest – in it. Nancy fed the two that were removed and got them to a point that they were lifting their heads and begging whenever they heard the call of an adult (from her ipod). One of the birds was very light. The next day, Wednesday, we had to remove the bird in the nestbox as it was unresponsive. Nancy took on feeding that one too and soon had it up and around and begging energetically. But, during the night the lightest bird passed on….it just didn’t have enough energy to continue despite Nancy’s heroic efforts.

So yesterday, Thursday, we had a decision to make. young martins have to learn how to feed on the wing. For the past week we have watched family forays in which adults, often with food in their mouths, fly around with young birds chasing them trying to get the food. Initially these flights were restricted to the immediate area of the nest boxes but they soon branched out, eventually reaching as far (at least) as the river. We would not be able to teach our two remaining youngsters the skills they would need to survive – we would need to return them to the nest and hope that their parents would find them and take on the task of feeding them.

Nancy gave them a couple of good feedings and then, in the late morning, returned them to the nest. It wasn’t long before the adults refound their nestlings and not long after Nancy witnessed them feeding the youngsters. I checked on them last night and also saw the young birds being fed. They sat right by the opening with their bills ready. As soon as a bird, any bird, came close they opened their mouths vigorously and made begging calls. Sometimes they were rewarded.

This afternoon Nancy reports that they are both alive and appear well – however, they are not putting on weight; on the other hand, they aren’t losing it either. It’s touch and go….keep your fingers crossed.

When the young have fledged, adult birds of many species go through a "complete moult", replacing all their feathers. Here is the wing of a female Baltimore Oriole. You can see that it has replaced two secondaries and primaries and there are new primaries growing in.

When the young have fledged, adult birds of many species go through a “complete moult”, replacing all their feathers. Here is the wing of a female Baltimore Oriole. You can see that it has replaced two secondaries and primaries and there are new primaries growing in.


Kayakers taking in the beauty of the evening on the Grand River.

Kayakers taking in the beauty of the evening on the Grand River.


The Mansion in the golden evening light.

The Mansion in the golden evening light.


Rick

July 22nd – Operation PUMA Rescue – Day 2

Yesterday Nancy and Sandy rescued 3 young Purple Martin nestlings from a nest that appeared to be neglected by parent birds. One youngster had died and the 3 remaining alive were well underweight for their age. After a feeding we left the heaviest bird in the nest box to see how it made out – whether the parents or a parent was feeding it – and Nancy took the other two home with her for supplemental feeding and rehydration.

This afternoon, about 24 hours after the rescue, we checked the bird in the box and reweighed all three to se how they were doing. Whereas the birds yesterday were pretty unresponsive and weak, the two that Nancy had taken home to feed were quite alert and energetic, especially the larger of the two; both had gained weight – only 0.25 grams but still a gain and they were energetic. You can clearly see this in the videos below. However, the bird that had been returned to the nest box was quite lethargic and unresponsive and had lost weight – over a full gram. This was very concerning so we decided to take this bird from the nest and give it supplemental feeding as well. Interestingly, this latter bird seemed to be infested with feather mites unlike its two siblings – we saw one of the latter actively preening which may have been a factor in this. Was the bird left in the box now too weak to preen and reduce its parasite load?

The one young martin we had left behind - very lethargic. It had dropped more than a gram in the past 24 hours.

The one young martin we had left behind – very lethargic. It had dropped more than a gram in the past 24 hours.

Nancy - "Mom" to the young Purple Martins - feeding two of them.

Nancy – “Mom” to the young Purple Martins – feeding two of them.

We will keep you up to date on what happens to these youngsters. Nancy will be feeding them about every half hour. Here’s their weights:
Yesterday at 1230:
#1 (the one left in the nestbox) – 42.6 g.
#2 41.7 g.
#3 (the runt) 28.2 g.

Today at 1300:
#1 41.55
#2 41.95
#3 28.45

Today at 2000 (the feeding is paying off):
#1 43.35 g.
#2 42.65 g.
#3 29.5 g.

Rick

First, here is a video of the two birds who were rescued yesterday. Note how quickly they respond by opening their beaks when they hear the purple martin calls from an ipod.

In contrast to the rescued birds, here is the “control” bird in the nestbox. Note how unresponsive it is.

Again, here is the “control” bird, but once we moved him to the banding lab. Again, note how lethargic he is.

Carol's hummingbird garden is coming into full bloom.

Carol’s hummingbird garden is coming into full bloom.

July 21st – To The Rescue!

A nest in trouble - the young weak and lethargic.....and starving.

A nest in trouble – the young weak and lethargic…..and starving.


Every two to three days Nancy has been monitoring the Purple Martin nests. The colony has done reasonably well – certainly better than last year in terms of fledging percentage (I’ll report on the final numbers when everything is done). We have been banding the nestlings as we go and as they reach an appropriate age/size. We had just one last nest to do consisting of 4 young. The fact that this nesting was so much later than the rest of the others suggests that it may have been the work of young birds that are just learning how to go about parenting (but this is just conjecture as we don’t have the means to safely capture and check adults).
This little guy weighed about a third less than nestlings of a similar age in other nests.

This little guy weighed about a third less than nestlings of a similar age in other nests.


When Nancy opened the nest box we could see right away that things were not right. The birds did not respond to this change at all. They appeared weak and lethargic and….one had died. This latter bird was much smaller than its siblings and emaciated: it had starved. When we weighed the living nestlings we found that they weighed about a third less than other nestlings we’d weighed of a similar age – these birds were starving too. We could let nature take its course or….try to do something about it. We chose the latter course – Purple Martins are on a precipitous decline, every one counts!
Sandy starts feeding one of the nestlings while Nancy (see attached feet) extracts another.

Sandy starts feeding one of the nestlings while Nancy (see attached feet) extracts another.


While Nancy rushed off to buy some mealworms I got Sandy (Red’s “mother” – see blog for July 16th and “Red’s First Bath) involved. We left the healthiest (i.e., heaviest) bird in the nestbox as sort of a control and took the other two to the banding lab. Nancy and Sandy plied them with mealworms and cut up earth worms (“wormy nuggets”) but with little success. They seemed too lethargic or, more likely, weak. But then Sandy had the great idea of playing the Purple Martin song on her iPhone app. The sound of the adults perked the little guys up and they began to feed, slowly but steadily (the girls still had to jam the food into their mouths – they weren’t actively opening their mouths to get the food). They would take a mealworm or nugget or a couple and then doze off. After awhile they began to feed more actively and show more energy – a good sign.

Nancy took them home last night and reported: “The birds are doing great!! When I play the PUMA call, both of them stretch up with mouths WIDE open eating all of the worms.”

And this morning: “Eating with gusto this morning!”

We will check the nestbox this afternoon to see how the “control” nestling is doing and to weigh all 3 youngsters. If the nestbox bird is losing weight we will have to decide whether to take it with us for supplemental feeding. We will also have to figure out how to return the rescued birds to the wild. Perhaps we will be able to slip them into another nest with successful nestlings. Leaving the nest to venture out into the big world is a process involving learning from adults – without it all this work may be in vain.

Rick

July 16th – The Fuzzy Feel-good Story of Red

Red with her "Mom" - Sandy Turner, the Species at Risk co-ordinator at Ruthven.

Red with her “Mom” – Sandy Turner, the Species at Risk co-ordinator at Ruthven.


Sandy Turner’s daughter, Emma, found “Red”, a Red-winged Blackbird, in a nest that was hidden in a Phragmites stand that was being eradicated. She rescued the, then, very young nestling and took her home for Sandy to nurture. Now usually these stories don’t work out well for the bird but this wasn’t the case for Red. Sandy was able to feed the youngster worm pieces and mealworms, keeping it alive….and thriving. In so doing Red imprinted on Sandy and became one of the family so to speak. Sandy keeps the bird in a cage to transport it between her home in Dundas and her work at Ruthven but lets Red out to explore. So far (and it’s been two weeks or so) Red will return to the cage (or to Sandy) when she’s tired or when Sandy calls. Frankly, I was amazed when I “met” Red – she was checking out the bushes in front of the banding lab but when Sandy called her (chirp, chirp – seriously), the bird flew right to her to inspect the Tupperware container for more wormy bits. It won’t be long now until the bird “fledges”; it will be interesting to see how she takes to the wild.
"Red" - the young female Red-winged Blackbird.

“Red” – the young female Red-winged Blackbird.


Red knows that there's worm pieces in the container and that the blue lid has to come off.

Red knows that there’s worm pieces in the container and that the blue lid has to come off.


We were out banding this morning, trying to sample the young birds that are fledging now in good numbers. Today our biggest catch was Yellow Warblers – we banded 9, all young birds. I think that most (if not all) have been abandoned now by their parents. It’s sink or swim time for these youngsters. They will move around for awhile in the area, checking out things for next year but soon they will be heading south (already!!). Meanwhile their parents will start a complete moult before they, too, head south. The Summer is drawing to a close folks.
Two young Yellow Warblers. The one on the right still has much of its grey juvenal plumage indicating that these birds were hatched at least a week apart.

Two young Yellow Warblers. The one on the right still has much of its grey juvenal plumage indicating that these birds were hatched at least a week apart.


A very noticeable "fault bar" runs across this young Yellow Warbler's tail. Fault bars indicate a period of nutritional distress when it was growing.

A very noticeable “fault bar” runs across this young Yellow Warbler’s tail. Fault bars indicate a period of nutritional distress when it was growing.


We witnessed a movement of swallows throughout the morning. We saw all 6 species but the most numerous was the Bank Swallow. We didn’t get a very good count on individual species as they often were very high or just zipping through (and we were busy) but I would roughly estimate the overall number to be well over 300. They are on their way south as well.

Most of the young Purple Martins have now been banded; some have fledged. It won’t be long before they will be gone as well. We witnessed chases by juveniles of parents who were holding food. It would be interesting to know if the young birds just wanted to be first to the food or the parent was using the food to entice the young birds to fly.

A young female Blue-winged Warbler. On her way to Central America, she has only about a 20% chance of returning next Spring.

A young female Blue-winged Warbler. On her way to Central America, she has only about a 20% chance of returning next Spring.


We frequently catch Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the nets. Weighing just 3 grams it's a wonder they can migrate all the way to Mexico.

We frequently catch Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the nets. Weighing just 3 grams it’s a wonder they can migrate all the way to Mexico.


Banded 32:
2 Purple Martins (from the nest boxes)
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
3 Eastern Bluebirds (from a nest box)
2 American Robins
1 Gray Catbird
2 Red-eyed Vireos (both adults)
1 Blue-winged Warbler
9 Yellow Warblers
1 Ovenbird
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
5 Song Sparrows
1 Red-winged Blackbird (“Red” – we banded her)
3 Baltimore Orioles

Rick

July 13th – A Nice Note

Sue and Bill McCreadie visited on Friday and Bill, a wonderful photographer, sent along some great shots.

Male Purple Martin with food for his chicks.   -B. McCreadie

Male Purple Martin with food for his chicks. -B. McCreadie


Adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the new feeder. They seem to prefer the safflower seeds to the black oil sunflower seeds.   -B. McCreadie

Adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the new feeder. They seem to prefer the safflower seeds to the black oil sunflower seeds. -B. McCreadie


Lovely male Ruby-throat at the feeder in Carol's garden.   -B. McCreadie

Lovely male Ruby-throat at the feeder in Carol’s garden. -B. McCreadie


Female Purple Martin with a dragonfly.  -B. McCreadie

Female Purple Martin with a dragonfly. -B. McCreadie


Hi Rick,
We always enjoy our time at Ruthven. It is especially beautiful right now. Carole’s garden is gorgeous.

Sue and Bill McCreadie

Follow My Blog at: http://pereginepatrol.blogspot.ca/

I’m always glad to get these sorts or contributions…..

Rick