Introduction

 

Before the advent of the English Sparrow in this community, the Purple Martin found numerous friends and admirers among the people, who encouraged it by erecting beau I bird-houses for its accommodation. It had a winged foe, at that time, in the Bluebird, who fought it from its home; but the interruption was only trivial when compared with the havoc wrought by the [English House! sparrow, when it became numerous.

Every bird-house in town eventually became crowded with sparrows and instead of the twitter of the industrious martins, bubbling over with happiness, the monotonous jingle of the sparrows became the rule, changing the charm of the martin houses into rasping "chatter-boxes." The sparrows had their day, however, and people who had either encouraged them or treated them with indifference, began a crusade against them by killing them and tearing out their nests. Persons who had martin-houses fostered the return of the martins until now the birds are increasing.

The writer has always desired a colony of these birds, but, fearing the usual trouble with the sparrows, refrained, fora long time, from putting up a bird-house for their accommodation. The desire to have the martins, coupled with determination to oust the sparrows, which nested about our buildings, prompted me to erect a martin house in 1896 and establish a colony which has grown to large proportions, necessitating additional houses until now the birds have ninety-nine nesting rooms at their disposal, about three-fourths of which were occupied in 1902. Nor has this been the limit of the good results of establishing the colony seven years ago. Many more birds are reared at my houses,annually, than get nesting rooms the next spring when they return; thus creating a surplus of birds which find homes in the numerous new houses I have built for bird lovers in various parts of town. Five of these I erected in the spring of 1902, and all were occupied by several pair of birds,—a half dozen pairs nesting in each of the two houses I erected in the very centre of town.

A carefully kept record of observations on the birds and their habits since the colony was established, was found to be invaluable in the preparation of this paper.

J. Warren Jacobs Waynesburg, Pa., Jan. 1, 1903

 

 

Topographical Sketch and Existing Conditions
of the Premises and Vicinity

 

As the writer sits at his desk and looks out upon the busy, bustling scenes of today, he stops to ponder over the great changes which have taken place since we came here from the country, twenty-six years ago. At that time nearly all the surrounding property was vacant land. Immediately west was a large bottom-land pasture field where I spent many happy boyhood days, playing Indian and building wigwams of the growing iron-weeds. This field is now occupied by the yards,

depots, shops and storage buildings of the Waynesburg & Washington railroad. South of these grounds is Ten mile Creek, a beautiful stream, a hundred and twenty-five feet wide, the banks of which were once lined with giant elms, sycamores and maples, forming a beautiful canopy, but now replaced by a row of dingy ice-houses. One hundred feet east of our place is Morgan street, and east of this street and extending back to the creek, are the grounds of the Waynesburg Fair Association, now being laid out for building lots. Opposite these grounds, on the south side of the creek, between Luce's Hill and Duvall's Hill, lies Smith Creek, a tributary of Tenmile, coming in from the south. Much of this section was covered with timber, which has almost entirely disappeared, being replaced on the sloping side of Luce's Hill and in the valley with numerous dwellings and some steam works. Duvall's Hill at some points is almost perpendicular, barely permitting footing for the trees. Some of the old trees are still standing, but the greater part of the face of the bluff has been changed by work-men quarrying stone.

North of our place the ground rises gently toward the central part of town, and much of this, twenty years ago, was farmed. Now all the streets are opened and the section is built up closely with residences and business buildings.

On our premises we have two business buildings on the north-east corner, fronting on First street, and one on the south-west corner, fronting on Washington street. Our residence is on the north-west corner of the plot, fronting on First and Washington streets, and surrounded by a lawn dotted with roses, shrubs and evergreen trees. Back of the lawn is a garden spot, two vine arbors and a number of fruit trees. Along the curb on both Washington and First streets we have rows of maple shade trees. [See the photo on page 34.]

Although surrounded on three sides by properties affording little or no encouragement to birds, other than English Sparrows, our premises have always been a favorite spot for many species. We have nesting annually in our own trees or along the creek bank adjacent, Robin, Cardinal, Catbird, Carolina Wren, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Mourning Dove, Kingbird, Flicker, Baltimore Oriole, and Red-headed Woodpecker. Other species I have known to nest occasionally are American Goldfinch, Crested Flycatcher, Downy Woodpecker, Orchard Oriole, Cedar Waxwing, Bronzed Grackle, Bewick's Wren, Barn and Cliff Swallows, Phoebe, Wood Pewee, Bluebird (regularly from 1886 to 1890) and Black-capped Chickadee, (1901, brood of four reared in a post of our grape arbor.) About twenty-five other species, such as Tufted Tit, Bank Swallow, Screech Owl, Cuckoos, Sparrow Hawk, Kingfisher, Woodcock, Towhee, Sandpiper, etc., have been observed on and about the place.

The presence of so many species is due, perhaps, to the country lying to the southward, being open pasture and waste land, affording an easy retreat and fine feeding ground. It is over this ground and along the creek where my martins spend most of their time foraging for food.

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Establishment and Subsequent Increase of the Colony

 

In the spring of 1896, when I constructed the first of the three bird-houses which harbor my present colony of Purple Martins (Progne' subis), I anticipated a larger number of occupants than actually took possession. For a week after I erected the twenty roomed handsomely painted miniature residence on a ten-foot pole, about sixty feet from our house, not a single bird alighted upon it; and only once or twice did a bird come down to inspect the outside. This baffled me considerably, for I expected, from the proximity of a small colony, a hundred yards to the north, a few birds to take up quarters immediately. But they did not, and I finally concluded that the box was not high enough off the ground. I therefore lowered it and added three feet to the length of the pole, making the height thirteen feet above the ground. A day or two afterward a fine old purple male came and spent several hours inspecting the entire box, and showed by his actions that the quarters were to his liking. The next morning a female put in an appearance and the entire box was again inspected. Nearly all that day the female remained quietly in the various rooms, or on the roof, while the male kept up a continuous chatter with his head turned upward, scanning the cloud-less sky for his relatives, which he could discover with surprising quickness. When he caught sight of another martin, though high in the

air, he would launch out from the box and hasten to overtake him, and after soaring around for a moment, begin a descent to the box, chirping loudly, and endeavoring to induce the newcomer to come down to his new residence; but almost without exception his efforts were in vain.

It was near May fifth before the single pair of birds began building their nest, and up to this time, the other martins, soaring about paid but little attention to my new box, rarely stopping on the wing to inspect it. This poor beginning, however, was to have a better ending, for about one week after my happy couple had their nest ready for the eggs, I was greeted one morning about five o'clock by an unusual twitter and chatter at my bird-house, and on going out I was delighted to count eight new birds, the males all being birds of the previous year. All day long, the birds stayed close to the box and continued their twitterings and seemed to be on the most friendly terms with the first pair.

Not many days had elapsed before the new-comers were en-gaged in nest building. Two pairs were repeatedly disturbed by English Sparrows and one of these went elsewhere to nest. The other pair tried a third time, but only one of the eggs hatched, and this young did not leave its nest until August 29th, although the bulk of the birds of this town left for the South on the 17th. The number of young brought to maturity was eleven, and I now considered my martin colony an

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assured tact.

March 21st, the next year (1897) the first martins put in an appearance. Six were observed, one of which — an adult male — was at my house. April 11th found the birds comparatively common. Ten pair took up quarters in my box, and on June 7th, when I went up to count the eggs, nearly all the females were sitting, though one belated pair had their nest only ready for the eggs. Thirty-five young were success-fully brought out.

The number of nesting birds having doubled in two years prompted me to prepare more room for their reception the next spring. So I presume the birds were agreeably surprised upon their return in 1898 to find a new and elegant thirty-four roomed house awaiting them. Nor was this new house superfluous for the number of nesting pairs, taking up quarters, in it was fourteen; two more than occupied the old box, during this, its third season. Thirteen of the males, taking up quarters in the new box, were young of the previous year, which

leads me to believe that all were from my first house.

On June 6th, when I counted the eggs, there were ninety-seven in the two boxes; but two nests were incomplete as well as three or four sets, so this number is short, a score or more, of the season's aggregate. Eight birds met death in various ways, two of which were nesting males, which, perhaps, puts the number brought to maturity to between ninety and one hundred. This new house, I erected sixteen feet high, eighty-five feet west of the old box and about forty feet from our residence.

The wounderful increase of my colony in three years, prompted me to provide still further quarters for the birds in 1899; and accordingly when the birds came that year I had ready for them the third and last house put up for their accommodation; and as had proved true when I put up the second house, the extra room was needed, for the number of pairs in the colony was fifty-three, sixteen in each of the two old boxes, and twenty-one in the new. The census this year was taken on June 14th, after the young had commenced to hatch. Sixty-three callow young were counted and one hundred and fifteen eggs. Most of the latter were well along in incubation, though an occasional fresh set and two or three incomplete sets were observed. The number of young brought to maturity was over one hundred and fifty and probably less than one hundred and seventy-five. The location of the new box is sixty feet north of No. 1, forty feet from our house and about one hundred feet from No. 2 bird house. The colony now appeared to be enormous — nearly three hundred birds at the close of the fourth season was more than I expected to secure when I put up the first house in 1896. They could not all get lodging in the ninety-nine rooms when they came home in the evenings, so more than a hundred roosted in the apple tree nearest the old box.

A serious question now confronted me as to the future development of the colony, should it attain such proportions as to men-ace the cleanliness of the lawn. Indeed, it became apparent that annoyance of this kind would arise if I continued to supply rodom for the annual accumulation of birds. I therefore decided to let the matter rest and erect no more new houses for a few years at least.

Sixty rooms were occupied in 1900, and after the young had hatched, I counted two hundred young heads protruding from the various nesting rooms.

Many more birds came to my boxes this year, than got accommodations. More could have got nesting rooms but some pairs seemed to keep more than one room, and in this way many were deprived of room to nest.

The birds thus failing

to secure rooms gather

themselves into a compact

flock some evenings, and

after a great commotion

about the boxes, depart to

other quarters or emigrate

to some of the newly erected

bird houses about town. The fact that the birds leave in a compact body and that they know just where they are going impresses itself more and more each year. It might be of interest to observe in this connection that the birds, taking up quarters in the new houses which I have erected for other parties, take possession during the night or very early morning, and all seem to belong to one flock, and are most all birds of the previous year.

After most all the young birds were strong enough to soar away with their parents during the day, and again return at evening, much fighting and squabbling was indulged in over the possession of rooms, and finally more than a hundred packed the apple tree which had been used the previous year.

In 1901, sixty-seven pairs nested; and the number of young heads counted two hundred and twenty-five. Of this number at least twenty-five were killed by excessive heat, leaving a total of about two hundred reared this year.

On May 28, 1902, I took the seventh annual census of the colony with the following results: Rooms occupied, 72; containing eggs, 50; containing both eggs and young, 2; nests undergoing construction, 20; total number of eggs and young on this date, 245. After this date I ascended to the boxes only to replace young which had fallen out; so the exact number of eggs laid in the remaining twenty nests was not ascertained, but I feel safe in stating that at least three hundred eggs hatched. Of this number one half died of starvation about the time they were ready to leave their nests.

Taking the first four years as a basis, and deducting one-fourth in each of the three succeeding years, for probable loss, the colony should have contained over twelve hundred birds at the close of 1902, had I continued to put up new accommodations for them.

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Return from the South

 

The weather affects their return very much, but generally by April 5th several individual scan be seen. The first arrivals usually come singly, are males in adult plumage, and stay only a few hours, then disappear as quickly as they came. This is nearly al-ways the case when they put in an appearance be-fore March 28th, but when March weather continues blustering and keeps the birds away until April, they come in small bands, and later in large numbers. Sometimes we have disagreeable weather in April after the birds become comparatively common, but unless freezing temperature is experienced, they do not appear to be affected, and not a few times have I seen an old male bird thrust his head out of his door,

surrounded by little heaps of snow on the porch, and twitter in seeming contentment.

In the spring of 1900 we had a period of frosty nights late in April after a number of birds had arrived, and one morning while the air was yet keen, T noticed the absence of my birds and investigated the cause which I found to be a "pack" of the birds into a central room of house No.2. One of the birds had become wedged crosswise the door and was dead. After removing this one I liberated sixteen live birds. They were packed in a room six by six by seven inches. At other times I have observed numbers of the birds entering a single room on clear, cold evenings.

Following are my observations on the arrival of the Martins at Waynesburg for twelve years:

1891 — First seen April 8, four birds; common April 17. 1892 — First seen March 31, one bird.

1893 — No record.

1894 — First seen April 2, two birds

1895 — First seen March 30, four birds.

1896 — First seen March 28.

1897— First seen March 21, six birds at the various bird houses in and near Waynesburg. One adult male remained at my box most of forenoon. For a week afterward the weather was cold and no birds were seen. April 11th, they were common.

1898 — Backward spring kept the birds away until April 9th, when I noticed two, but the next day they suddenly became common.

1899 — March 23rd, one bird seen — a male of previous yearMarch 24th, an adult male, and on 26th, three adult males, one female and one young male. April 5th, they were numerous.

1900 — March 26th, favorable weather for a week brought a score of Martins to my boxes today. Heavy snow storm on 28th, lasting all day, did not affect the birds. Temperature above freezing, snow slushy and soon melted. From the fifth of April to eighteenth, days warm, nights cold; birds collected in one room of House No. 2, at dusk.

1901 — March 20th, 21st, 22nd, two adult males observed, 24th, "cold snap" drives them back. April 6th, they were common.

1902 — March 22. One adult male appeared at my place in the evening which was the first noted by me this year; but only a few individuals were observed for several days after this date.

Seldom do the birds of the previous year arrive with the bulk of

adults, but usually a week or ten days later, though, as I have already noted, a young male occasionally gets in with the early arrivals.

Those early individuals make their presence known from 10 o'clock a. m. to evening; but later where large numbers arrive, they are generally first observed at dawn, and probably came during the night.

 

 

Nest Building, Deposition and Number of Eggs — Incubation

 

Nest building covers a period of several days, the male assisting, though he often gets in the wrong room. They collect twigs, straws, bits of wood and grass from the garden and street, and along the creek, not going far from the pre-

mises. In nearly every instance a small wall of mud is built around the

front of the nest, just inside the entrance. Generally by May 5th, some

nests are ready for the reception of the eggs, though the bulk are not

ready for some days later; especially those of the young of the previous

year, who are a few days behind their parents in this respect as in their

return from the South.

The nest varies in depth, some being deep cup-shaped structures, while others are very shallow; and, in a few instances, only a scanty supply of twigs and grass were spread upon the floor for the eggs. In one room the eggs had been deposited on the bare floor without a single piece of nest material to prevent them from rolling about.

The eggs are deposited in a close cluster in the center of the nest, and, after the set is complete, are partly covered with bits of apple leaves which they pluck from the tops of the apple trees, or with the seed pods of the locust tree which they find on the creek bank.

From three to six and rarely seven eggs are laid, the prevailing number varying in different years. In 1896 when one pair were adults and the rest immature birds, the number of eggs to the set was three and four; the adults laying four, and the young birds having one set of four and two of three. The pair driven away by the sparrows also deposited four eggs.

In 1897 the largest set was of five eggs; two of the ten sets containing this number. The adult birds, of which there were five pairs, had sets of three and four eggs.

In 1898 nine sets contained five and two six each, and the rest three and four eggs each. Several of these, however, were fresh and probably incomplete.

In 1899 the prevailing number was four followed closely by five, four sets were of six and probably about the same number of three each.

On May 22, 1900, when 1 took the annual census, a large number of sets were incomplete, but the numbers held out about as they did in the previous year, four eggs predominating, followed by five and then six.

In 1901, the predominating number was five; several sets contained six, and only a few with less than five, many of these were doubtless incomplete on the date of the count, May 24th.

The numbers held out in 1902 about as they did in the previous year, but at the time of my count many sets were incomplete. Those

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known to be complete were twenty sets of five eggs; eleven sets of six and seven sets of four eggs each, and in one nest the unusual number of seven eggs were found.

My records show a total of about eleven hundred and fifty eggs laid during the seven years; and the number of young reaching maturity eight hundred and fifty.

Incubation lasts from twelve to fifteen days, the female, I believe, attending to this duty exclusively. The male is of-ten in the room while the female is sitting, but I do not think for assisting in incubating the eggs. The earliest date l have for eggs to hatch is May 29th, in nests started on the 26th of April. Throughout the month of June, and some-times in July, the parent birds can be seen carrying out the fragments of shells, freshly discarded by the young.

The height of the hatching period is from the 10th to the l5th of June.

 

 

The Growing Young and the Parents' Care

 

The young, when

they first leave the egg-shells, are repulsive looking objects with large heads, eyes closed, and small shiny bodies, without down. The skin is thin and transparent. While yet quite small their eyes open, but in the form of a small crevice only.

During the first day they are not fed by the parents, the mother covering them most of the time. On about the fourth day down begins to appear on the crown and down the back, on each side of the middle; and when a week old numerous pin feathers of the wings and tail appear.

After the fifth day the birds grow very rapidly and are clamorous for food, their incessant chirping being audible to the opposite side of the street. At the end of eighteen days the young are pretty well feathered, and somewhat resemble the mother birds. They gather at the door of their room and crane their necks, scanning the surroundings or watching for the return of the parent birds with food. Sometimes five or six young birds will have their heads thrust out of the door to their room at the same time, but more often only the tips of their beaks protrude.

From twenty-four to twenty-eight days elapse from the time the young break the shells until they are strong enough to leave the nest and safely soar away with their parents during the day. Occasionally a venturesome youngster, yet too weak to make much use of its wings, will attempt to fly, but become stranded a few rods away from the box. Not a few times have I seen a bird leave its house and laboriously wing its way a few yards, all the time coming nearer the ground, but suddenly, as if by a new impulse, rise slowly and then gracefully soar

away with its parents.

While the young are quite small the parents usually take turns going for food,—as soon as one comes in the other goes out, — but later both are kept quite busy, from early morning until late evening, ministering to their wants. Sometimes the outgoing and incoming birds are so plenty that they remind one of working bees about a hive.

By far the greater number of old birds for- . age over Duvall's Hill and the ridge fields to the southward; and, returning, these birds soar to a point nearly over our place, then with one grand sweep, drop d irect to their respective houses and quickly enter their nesting rooms. In leaving the nest they carry away the droppings of the young, which they generally drop from one hundred and two hundred feet from the box.

When l find a young bird upon the ground, I ascend a ladder and try to put it in its nest, but this is usually difficult as so many nests contain young about the same age. How-ever, I do not have to wait long for a second trial, if my selection is wrong for

the intruder is soon hurled from the room. Young which can fly a short distance, I place in the tops of the apple trees, or on one of the bird houses, but the old birds do not seem to give them food, and only approach them in an endeavor to make them fly. About two-thirds of those which leave the nest prematurely are killed in the fall, or die of starvation or neglect.

The parents get very audacious and dart down at the head of a person they are not accustomed to see on the lawn; and will sometimes fly at drivers passing along the street.

When a young brood is old enough to leave the nest, several old birds will fly back and forth in front of the door and keep up a continuous chatter, endeavoring to induce the young to come out; and as soon as one does launch itself into the air, the old birds gather round and fly at it, seemingly to force it to an effort to escape them. In this manner most of the young are taken safely away over the hill to the southward.

For a week or ten days, the brood is brought back to its home each night.

 

 

Something About Their Food

 

The Purple Martin, as is well known, is eminently an insectivorous bird, catching its prey while on the wing, its food, therefore, consisting of winged insects, such as butterflies, beetles, cicadae,dragonflies, may-flies and winged ants. By carefully watching the old birds

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feeding their young one would sup-pose that they feed principally on dragonflies and butterflies with an occasional grasshopper and annual cicada, as these insects are large and easily recognized, but upon a thorough examination of the nesting rooms, after the birds have gone, remains of myriads of small black beetles that infest the air during the evening hours after four o'clock, throughout the s u m m e r months, are found. It is interesting to

watch the parent birds searching the air for these minute insects, moving back and forth, rising, falling, wheeling and darting.

One evening while walking along the railroad track, a short distance west from my home, 1 observed fifty or more martins, soaring around, only a few feet above the ground, and capturing small winged insects resembling ants, which were emerging from the ground, rail-road ties, old timbers and almost every conceivable nook, and immediately taking flight. Dragonflies form a larger per cent of their food than do butterflies; grasshoppers, which form a small part of their food are brought in from the hill-top fields to the southward. The annual cicadae or locusts are brought in in small numbers; but in 1897, when the seventeen-year variety made their appearance, the birds appeared to thrive almost wholly on them, a n immense number being brought to the young. On one occasion I timed the old birds feeding the young, and during a period of only fifteen minutes, twenty-one locusts were fed to the ten broods then in the house. Any of these large insects are swallowed immediately by the half grown young and the older birds.

A large number of insects are dropped to the ground, beneath the boxes, but the old birds will not venture down for them. During the early period of the colony, when it contained only a few pairs, I frequently induced the old birds to reclaim some of their prey, thus lost, by tossing the larger insects up toward the box, when the old birds would swoop down and catch them in their beaks. The booty that drops to the ground does not go to waste, for I have a pair of Catbirds which spend half their time on the ground, beneath the boxes, feeding at the martin's expense. A pair of Cardinals and several Robins also make visits to the larder.

Some of the old martins have been seen to eat small bits of apple leaves, while resting on the tips of the branches. Just a few times I have noticed some of my birds waddling about on the ground in the garden and apparently feeding, but whether on seeds or insects could not be ascertained, but as they seemed to prefer ground freshly worked, which exposed many insects, leads me to believe they were in quest of these.

Along the creek, martins can be seen at all hours of the day, skimming over the surface, dipping their beaks into the water.

Their Enemies; Causes of Death, Etc.

 

There are two class-es of enemies which annoy the martins much and like-wise wear my patience—the English Spar-row, which fights them at their homes, and the men and boys who delight to run about the out-skirts of town and shoot everything that wears feathers. For the former I have an easy method of rid-dance, and that is by the use of powder and shot. For the latter I have

the State law

making it a misdemeanor to kill insectivorous and song birds; but this way of abating the nuisance is disagreeable as more or less personal strife and hatred is aroused through prosecution. However I do not hesitate to bring these parties to justice when I can gather sufficient evidence to indict them. This I was able to do in 1898 when a young man shot one of my nesting birds near our house. The prosecution of this young man had a wholesome effect on the shooters, who have generally kept the danger of killing martins well in mind. But costly

experience is apt to be neglected or disregarded after a lapse of time, and

such proved to be true in this case for during the past summer, 1902, my

birds were disturbed by shooters, and I was obliged to bring two of these

parties to justice.

There is a class of college students, and other young men, who go boating for pastime, who, I am told, often take a small rifle along and shoot birds along the creek. I have had evidence, a few times, that my martins were among the victims, and once when I sent a watcher along the creek, the shooter was saved prosecution only by his poor marksmanship.

The sparrows, if left unchecked, will reduce a good sized colony to a few pairs by driving them away. By this I do not mean that they can worst the martins in a fight, for the martins are good fighters and can rout the sparrows in short order; but in the absence of the martins, the sparrows carry out the eggs, and young and in a half hour's time will almost fill a room with straw and rubbish which they pack so tightly that it requires hard pulling with an iron hook to dislodge it.

The sparrows kill the young martins by pecking their skulls or necks; they then throw them out and start building a nest for them-selves. Occasionally I have discovered a sparrow sneaking about the boxes, without any apparent intention of building a nest, watching for an opportunity to kill the young birds. At one time a male sparrow killed and threw out seven small nestlings before I brought him down. He was always on the alert and had a sly way of slipping from the box and hiding in the trees or vines when a member of our family appeared, and easily detected me endeavoring to get a shot at him, no difference

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how I tried to conceal myself. But during the third day of his persistent murdering, f got a glimpse of his head as he stretched up over a grape leaf to get a peep at me, and then quickly drop back out of sight. I had him well located this time, and firing at the leaf I brought down the murderer from be-hind it.

For shooting the pests, I use a small rifle — 22 calibre — and dust shot shells and seldom lose a shot. During the summer months I kill upwards of three hundred sparrows which I

find paying atten-

tion to my martin houses. To secure a good colony of martins it is necessary to get rid of the sparrows. I do not allow a single pair to nest on my premises; and the bird houses I erected for the martins only.

Several times I have picked up dying martins which had struck against the telephone wires in dropping down to one of the boxes. A pair of these wires connecting our telephone and passing about fifty feet from house No. 3, caused so much annoyance of this nature that I had the telephone company change it; substituting a pair, heavily insulated and twisted together, which the birds see easily, even at dusk. The wire also serves for a perch, often as many as fifty birds collecting on it in front of their box.

Three or four times I have discovered cats crouching in the grass waiting for the birds to get to fighting and fall to the ground. Once I chased a cat home which had caught one of my birds, but I was too late as the bird was dead. My feline friend came back, however, in less than twenty minutes, and as he again crouched beneath the box, I sent a rifle ball through his body which had the desired effect. At two other times I have been obliged to kill cats that loitered on the lawn beneath the bird houses.

Excessive heat is the cause of the death of many young birds, who become almost suffocated in the nesting rooms, venture outside and fall to the ground, injuring or killing them.

By far the greatest factor in causing the death of my martins in any one season, visited them during the summer of 1902, when more than half the young died of starvation, superinduced by a cold wet spell which set in June 27th, just when many young birds were about old enough to leave their nests. This period lasted a week, during which time at least one hundred and fifty young and several old birds perished. Depending entirely on winged insects, which could not be found during such bad weather, entire broods starved. The old birds, too, suffered much and presented a pitiable sight going out through rain and a chilly atmosphere in search of food for their nestlings, but returning, only to perch at the door to their rooms and watch the death agony of their starving young. Their actions also told of their anxiety and fear; flying to and fro about their houses, or resting on the telephone wire giving vent to their feelings by twitterings and notes that seemed more like grief and distress than their usual jubilant chatterings.

Off to the South

 

About July 25th, the martins from all the bird houses in town begin to collect in a flock in some convenient place, generally where they can rest on the dead branches of tree-tops; but sometimes on buildings and telephone wires.

This flock is augmented daily by new broods as they are old enough to quit their respective boxes, until,by the middle of August, hundreds, some-times reaching well above the thousand mark, are to be seen. They do not re-main together all

day long but sepa-

rate in several companies and visit their respective homes; and if there happens to be a late brood still in a box, particular attention is given to it in an effort to induce the young to join their ranks.

It seems strange that birds which brave the early spring squalls and cold snaps, as do the martins, should leave for their southern sojourn almost in mid-summer. But such is the case, and by the 20th of August, some seasons, the bulk of the birds of this vicinity have departed, and by the last of the month all are gone. Only on two occasions have I recorded the birds in September.

Following are my records by years commencing with 1896: 1896— Bulk left today, 17th August. One young did not leave its nest until 29th, and after 31st neither it nor the old birds were seen again this year.

1897 — August 16th, noted flock of one thousand or twelve hundred martins, which had been gathering in force since July 25th, and lingering along the creek, perched in the dead tops of trees. Aug. 17th only twenty birds seen and on the 21st six were noted. August 27th, a few noted each day up to date when a flock of about one hundred birds were seen over town.

1898— August 28th, up to this time the gathering flocks have escaped my observation, since about the 5th or 6th, when I saw a flock of about two hundred birds. The flock seen on the 28th, numbered between seven hundred and eight hundred birds, and were seen soaring about and resting on the telephone wires and cross arms along E. High St. On the 29th, a scattering flock of thirty were observed; and as late as September 4th, nine of these still lingered in the vicinity, but these were undoubtedly the parents and young of two late broods reared in the bird house of Mr. Jasper Dulany, in the eastern part of town, as they staved there during the night.

1899 Bulk left on August 24th, and only few noticed during the next three or four days.

1900 — Bulk left August 22nd. List seen August 30th.

1901 — Bulk left August 20th, but small flocks seen daily up to 29th when all disappeared.

1902—August 22nd bulk left this town and only a few noted afterward. Sept. 6th three male martins seen in a large scattering flock of Chimney Swifts.

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A Chapter on a
Cabinet Series of
Their Eggs

 

I have robbed my pets but I do not wear their feathers in my hat!

If there is an ornithologist who knows so much about birds that he needs to know nothing about their eggs, he would bet-ter pass this chap-ter by; for in it he will find what he styles, through plain ignorance, or a willful negligence of the subject, "bird murdering" and "egg hogging."

Fortunately for the birds, the Creator has endowed them with maternal instincts, which prompts them to renewed parental efforts when fortune loses to them their newly

laid eggs, and, indeed, in many cases, callow young.

During the seven years in which I have been fostering and protecting these birds, I have taken, for a study of the shells and their contents, eleven sets of eggs, one of which was deserted, having been deposited in a room without the vestige of a nest. In every case, except the latter, it was observed that in from two to five days after the robbery was committed, the parents were reconstructing their old or building new nests. I do not know why the one nest was deserted, but in all probability, one or both old birds met death in some way.

Of the eleven sets of eggs, one is of seven, four are of six each, four of five, one of four, and one incomplete set of three eggs which was the deserted set. These and a set of four eggs, collected in Missouri, comprise my series —sixty-two eggs in all. The coloration is uniformly clear white, with little or no gloss, throughout the entire series; but in shape and size there is great variation. Thirty-five of the eggs are elliptical ovate, which was observed to be the prevailing type of those undisturbed, nineteen are ovate and three are elongate ovate, but throughout most of the sets, there is a tendency to irregularity in contour.

The average size of the sixty-two eggs is .96 x .68 inch, but only one egg in the entire group exhibits the measurements in both diameters a common size is .99 x .68 inch. The largest specimen measures 1.08 x .68 inch, but this is one of the elongate eggs and several exceed it in short diameter, three being .72 inch. The smallest egg belongs to a set of four and measures .88 x .62 inch, but the average size of this set is .91 x .63 inch. The average size of the set containing the largest egg is 1.02 x .70 inch.

Grouping the sets, according to the number of eggs, I find the greatest set average in the set of three, and the smallest in the set of seven eggs, which would seem to indicate that the larger the number of eggs in a set the smaller the size. But by comparing the intermediate sets I find the exact reverse is true, although the variation is only slight. By reference to the following table, this peculiarity will be seen:

 

Average size of set of 7 eggs, .92 x .68 inch. 7 eggs. Average size of set of 6 eggs, .98 x .68 inch. 24 eggs.

Average size of set of 5 eggs, .96 x .67 inch. 20 eggs. Average size of set of 4 eggs, .96 x .66 inch. 8 eggs. Average size of set of 3 eggs, 1.02 x .70 inch. 3 eggs.

 

The shell texture also exhibits some variations, running from smooth close grained to a barely granulated surface. In fresh eggs the yolks were of a pale yellow or lemon color, and easily broke in escaping the blow-hole.

 

 

On the Construction of Houses.

 

I have con-

structed a dozen or

more bird-houses,

besides   those

shown in the en-

gravings, and, in

each case, have followed the architectural design of some building, making the box the model of some residence or other building.

House No.1, used by my martins, is a four-gabled, twenty roomed structure with central cupola and four chimneys. No. 2 represents a miniature residence and contains thirtv-four rooms. No. 3, contains forty-five rooms, and is patterned something after the Pennsylvania State building at the World's Fair at Chicago.

Owing to the manner in constructing the houses the rooms vary greatly in size, but none are less that five inches square and six inches high, and none are larger than six by seven by eight inches. Nearly all the rooms in house No. 3, are four and one-half inches wide, seven inches high and eight inches deep. [Editorial comment: We now know compartments should be at least six inches in all three dimensions, and preferably seven inches.] Entrances to the rooms are made to represent the open lower half of windows and measure two and three-fourth inches in diameter. Only one opening is cut into a single room. The birds will not build their nests in rooms with more than one entrance, without first obstructing one opening with mud.

Clean poplar lumber should be used in all exposed portions and the bottom should be double thickness, of 7/8 inch oak. The mode of attaching to the top end of the pole is by means of four angle irons screwed to the bottom of the box and to the sides of the pole. Or when an iron pipe is used, the angle irons are riveted to a piece of wood, and made small enough to slip down into the pipe.

House No. 3, shown on the plates, weighs about two hundred and fifty pounds exclusive of the pole, which is of four inch gas pipe. This one is provided with a large hinge, near the ground, which enables me to lower the house in the fall and place it in the dry during the winter.

About the author: J. Warren Jacobs was this continent's first, commercial martin house manufacturer. He was also an ornithologist, an oologist, an artist, a poet, a writer, a photographer, and a sign painter. He was one of the first scientists to study and write extensively about Purple Martins. He also published the American Bird-House Journal, the very first periodical devoted almost entirely to Purple Martins.

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