PUMAs!!

By MRBO Intern Cassie Ziegler
We’re banding PUMAs! Now, I’m guessing that you’re first thought is not what we’re talking about. I can just imagine you saying, “Pumas?! I thought she was working with birds! I’m so confused!” Well, maybe not exactly that but you get my gist. We’re not talking pumas, as in cougars or mountain lions, but PUrple MArtins. See what I did there? Pretty tricky. Did I get you?

Anyway, we’ve just started banding the purple martin nestlings for this breeding season. We work with people across Missouri that have purple martin houses on their property and have been monitoring the nests.  When the nestlings are 11 days old, we can band them and we try to band none older than about 24 days because they fledge the nest at 26 days and it gets risky handling them. For these little cuties, we put 2 bands on them; one on each leg. One leg will have the aluminum U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) band and the other leg is banded with a colored band matching the last 3 digits of the USGS band. Different organizations and states will use different colors so we use gold bands with black writing, colors that make resighting bands and the numbers somewhat easier with binoculars or a spotting scope. So, we get the nest, band the babies, take a few measurements, and them put them back into the nest where they proceed to huddle into a little ball of cuteness with their siblings. Now, I don’t do the banding but I take about a million pictures of these little guys and record the data, handling a few every now and then to get a good look at the age.
There’s only been about a 10% return rate of nestlings returning to the same area the following seasons to breed but having people resight the bands and numbers help to determine where the birds go otherwise.
A lot of people don’t know that purple martins are a type of swallow (just minus the world swallow in their name). Swallows are some of my favorite birds. If you’ve ever seen them fly, you probably know why I love them. It’s pretty amazing to watch. The wing lengths are as long as the entire body and sometime longer and they are so sleek and beautiful. During the spring migration we banded 11 swallows one evening: 9 tree swallows, 1 barn swallow, and 1 northern rough-winged swallow. 
There are a few random tidbits about purple martins I find very interesting:
1. The nestling and adults can be banded with the same size bands. The leg width is the same for the nestlings  (11 days) and the adults.
2. Okay, so don’t you hate it when you see bird poop on your car or other places just splattered? Well, the nestling have little fecal sacks that contain the feces in the nest and the parents will remove them. It seems as though they try to keep a tidy little household.
3. Purple Martins form large colonies, hence when you see the specific houses for them you usually see a fair amount. The property we were at the other day not only has metal houses but artificial gourds and the purple martins will nest in both. Any animal that forms colonies is fascinating to me, intriguing me to learn more about their overall behavior and the specifics of how the colonies are formed, if there is a hierarchy (which I’ve been told there is regarding nesting placement in houses), etc.
If you’re curious about more info regarding Purple Martins, I recommend this website:

Purple Martins
Marshall, MO & Concordia, MO
June 19th & 21st, 2013

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