Monday, May 7, 2012

Entertaining Tenants

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Entertaining Tenants

They’re back! Our warm weather tourists from Brazil spend their days singing, swooping, and soaring through the sky above their house in our yard. Finally, they have returned to spend another season with us. We are delighted, and we take our job as purple martin landlords seriously.

Preparation for their arrival began months ago. It was determined after much research by hubby that the martin house that they lived in last year was not up to the high standards these birds deserved.

He redesigned the apartments to be larger allowing for more babies and reconstructed it so that the house could be lowered for inspection and cleaning. Finally, gourds were installed on a separate branch to give the parents additional choices for nesting.

One day, I noticed that my prized Bose radio had disappeared. It seems that purple martins can be attracted by playing recordings of martins singing their dawn song. Hubby had rigged the music to blast forth every morning at 4:00 am through the guest room window facing the martin house.

We have the Native Americans to thank for actually changing the martins’ nesting habits over thousands of years by first providing them hollowed out gourds for nesting. Previously the birds were cavity nesters using crevices such as old woodpecker nests, dead trees, cliffs, or boulders. Now, they are dependent on man to provide their housing.

Indians must have developed a special respect for these glossy, deep blue creatures with forked tails because of their beauty and their skills. Besides a passion for eating thousands of mosquitoes, beetles, flies, dragonflies and moths, they begin their bubbling chirps and trills early in the morning serving as natural alarm clocks.

They also acted like scarecrows chasing away crows from the corn patches and vultures away from the meat, which had been hung to dry. Today, they are prized for their entertainment value and their love of people.

Purple martins like their houses mounted 15 to 20 feet above the ground and 100 feet from human dwellings. They prefer broad open areas with 40-50 square feet of clearing.

Martins use mud, leaves, grass, and feathers for their nests and appreciate crumbled eggshells spread on the ground as a source of extra calcium. A supply of fresh water is also important.

One of the best sites for learning about purple martins is, which is a product of the Purple Martin Conservation Association. You can also order supplies to get yourself started in becoming a landlord for these special creatures.

If you’d like a spectacular experience with nature, drive to the William B. Umstead Memorial Bridge crossing the Croatan Sound in Dare County. Every evening from mid-June to mid-September, 100,000 martins converge on the bridge to roost. It is a breathtaking sight. The Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society provides a site where you can find information.

Establishing a relationship with one of nature’s amazing entertainers is a priceless experience. Try it. You’ll both benefit.

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