Watch a purple martin nest online and learn

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purple martin

Since technology has made it possible to spy on nesting birds, nest cams enable anyone with an internet connection to watch behaviors that heretofore were impossible to observe.

Camera

That’s why in recent years I have recommended a variety of active nest cameras to watch and listen as birds hatch and raise their young. The list includes everything from hummingbirds, and bluebirds to bald eagles, California condors and great horned owls.

To access these and other nest cams, simply search a species name and “nest cam.” If one is active, it will pop right up.

This year I will point you to an active purple martin nest in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Martins

Martins are large members of the swallow family. They typically nest in large apartment houses or hollowed out gourds.

Simply visit www.purplemartin.org and click on the nest cam link. For the next few weeks, you will see exactly what goes on inside a martin nest while adults are raising a brood.

This story began back in May at the headquarters of the Purple Martin Conservation Association.

A pair of martins took ownership of a white plastic gourd. They lined the gourd with vegetation and then placed a few fresh leaves on top of the cushion.

On May 26, the female laid the first of four eggs. Incubation began on May 28. On May 30 the female left the nest at 4 a.m. and never returned.

She was probably taken by an owl. Since it was early in the nesting season, the male had time to find a new mate.

On May 31, PMCA staff moved the camera to a new gourd where the female had just laid her first egg. On June 3, the fourth a final egg appeared, and the martin watchers anticipated a June 18 hatch date.

On June 9, this female disappeared, so it was back to square one for the male. On June 10, staff moved the camera back to the original gourd where the male had already moved in with another female.

On June 13, this new female laid her first egg. Over the next three days, she laid three more eggs to complete the clutch. The new anticipated hatch date was July 1.

Disaster

On June 24, disaster struck again. Shortly before dusk while both parents were out feeding, a house wren entered the gourd and punctured and removed one of the eggs. The remaining eggs were unharmed.

On July 1, two eggs hatched at about 5 a.m.; the third egg hatched at 7 p.m. All hatched right on time.

On July 3, a house wren returned and pecked at the nestlings. It pulled one near the entrance hole. Staff later checked on the chicks, and all were unharmed.

On July 10, staff removed the soiled nest and replaced it with fresh material. On July 12, as I write this, the chicks continue to grow bigger every day.

Though they rest while the parents are out foraging, their reaction to a parent returning with food is identical. They throw their heads back and beg for the next meal. Even in the darkness of the cavity, the bright yellow gape is obvious, so parents rarely miss the mark.

Young martins fledge at 26 to 30 days of age, so you’ve got at least two weeks to watch the nest. After fledging, young return to the nest at night to roost.

To better understand martin nesting biology, watch the nest for 20 to 30 minutes and record the number of visits by adults. The adult male is an iridescent purplish-black; the female has gray feathers on her throat and belly.

Does every chick get fed on every visit? Do any of the chicks seem more vigorous than the others? Does one parent seem more attentive than the other?

Collect this data with your children or grandchildren to instill a lifelong love of birds and nature.

The live stream at this nest is made possible by a grant from the Tom Ridge Environmental Center.

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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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