tiny critters- the party's over!
Wondering what to do about all those nasty critters that attack your martins? Here's the "low down" on how to deal with parasites and foster happy martins. An overview of the problem and what's "tried and true" practice to reduce martin loss: when the parasite party needs to end.
Overview and the problem
Parasites are one of leading causes of martin deaths, second to sparrows and starlings. If not controlled fledgling and colony growth will be severely diminished. It takes daily concentration to neutralize sparrows and starlings but only two simple parasite control (parasiticide) applications, to greatly increase young martin survival rates. First lets talk about the types of parasites and what they do.
The most well known parasite and the most lethal is the blowfly. Other types include nest mites, gnats, fleas and a host of other small critters that are so small one can't always see the damage until it's too late. They're called "parasites" because they feed off live beings, in this case martins. An experienced landlord describes what can happen--
Stopping parasite related losses?
Two simple applications of a parasiticide, one at the beginning of the season and the second, shortly after the eggs hatch (a day or two) will greatly improve your martins comfort, reduce stress and improve colony numbers.
Considered a very popular parasiticide because it is "non-chemical" based, DE (diatomaceous earth) has proven to be safe and effective for both martins and landlords when used properly and according to the directions. DE sprinkled on the floor of the nest box (about 2 tablespoons spread out evenly) will kill blowfly larvae, nest mites and other parasites. It looks and feels like white flour and will not harm eggs or martins if used responsibly. In other words don't powder the young birds or feed it to them and follow precautions for humans, on the product container.
DE is composed of tiny fossilized water creatures whose remains, when inspected under a microscope, exhibit razor sharp edges. When parasites or insects contact the DE it cuts their skin and the pest literally bleeds to death. DE is also used in some animal feed stuffs, which demonstrates that it is not harmful to animals digestive tracts, when used in small amounts.
What's "tried and true":
1) Use a sub-floor or nest tray and spread DE thoroughly (so there are no piles) at the start of the season.
2) Shortly after the eggs hatch, treat again. Sprinkle a small amount around the edges of the "old" nest or remove nestlings and replace nesting materials for best results.
3) If you choose to treat only once a season do it after the eggs hatch.
Here's another story from a member and how he dealt with martin loss from parasites...
Have lost no more birds since my last message some time ago. The ones that survived are doing well; have nine pair in a twelve room trio-martin grandpa house, with two gourds hanging below. I suspect mites were the problem as the only thing, the only thing, I didn't do this year was to sprinkle the floors with Sevin -dust before their arrival. That's all I can figure out except for maybe the food supply being low during the cold snaps.
This is always the kind of news we like to hear!
Jack explains more on his use of " Sevin "--
The stuff I've been using is HY-YIELD Chemical Company's 5% SEVIN Dust for gardens and pets. I have lightly sprinkled approximately 3/4 (three-quarter) teaspoon of dust on the floor-insert of each compartment, and porch area in front of each compartment, after washing and cleaning of the house, since at least 1976, without problems. I built my first martin house in Biloxi, MS in 1968 after hearing an AM radio broadcast about martins by Arthur Godfrey out of New Orleans. We've had one at every house we've lived in since and whenever we'd move the martin house stayed; I just do not remember using the Sevin dust before coming to Texas in '76.
I suppose the dust helps decrease the mite population on the sparrows too. My theory is that once the dust gets on their feet, and natural preening occurs, the mites are taken care of. Also, the birds seem to do less scratching after the treatment.
The hatches I've experience have been very good; most nests have had four to five young and there's been no apparent loss of young birds except during very hot early summer temperatures. Last year had nine nests, 45 young birds, and found no dead birds after the flock left. I just evicted a sparrow family a few minutes ago and counted 10 nests in the making; some with eggs of course. I suspect it'll be noisy around here when the flying time comes! <(:-)
The bottom line? Probably not.
One of the areas of great debate in the martineers world is how to treat parasites. In the old days, when mass opinion was not influenced/regulated by the media, landlords used "Sevin" dust, a pesticide that killed nest mites and other tiny critters because it worked and made good sense. As time went on landlords looked for non-chemical based alternatives and DE (diatomaceous earth) was introduced. It seemed to be just as effective as Sevin and therefor a good choice for those who wished to treat nest box mites without the use of chemicals. That made good sense also. Today it is strongly suggested by individuals and groups prominent in the field, not to use any chemicals (Sevin) for fear of harming the environment and the Martins. I'm not sure this makes good sense because I have never seen any proof that "Sevin" has damaged the environment around a colony or harmed any Martins. I do hear people talk up a storm on what to do and what not to do though, and the "rumor mill" can cough up plenty of false information, fear, and downright stupidity, as it is well known for. Yes, I still like to eat bacon and eggs and butter my toast with the "real" thing.
So what is the right thing to do? It is my opinion that if you want to treat for nest mites you can effectively use "Sevin" or "DE". I am not an advocate of using chemicals when it is not necessary or when other alternatives are available so, I would prefer to use DE. In either case, when used responsibly (anything used abusively will harm something), treatments do help the Martins by controlling nest mites and other critters.
And one last thing, anyone who doesn't use some form of chemical to make their life easier has to be dreaming in today's world. Chemicals save lives daily, they make are lives easier, more productive and extend our life expectancy. At least if you want to think about it in positive terms and with a critical eye. But, this is just my humble opinion; everyone has to do what is right for him or her.
Copyright © 1998 to present Jeffry Blair.