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Purple Martins

by Judith D. Mitchell
They shoe horse
Texas residents provide thousands of housing sites for Purple Martins to nest in when martins return from South America each spring.

After the nesting season is over, martins assemble in groups to rest and put on weight in preparation for the long migration to their South American wintering grounds. Such bird gatherings are known as roosts and when martins roost there may be hundreds or thousands of purple swallows in one place. Laverne Riha, a martin landlord from Texas said. "Since the last of my colony left, I have been seeing a steady stream of Purple Martins cruising through our skies over Alvin, Texas almost every day."

Purple Martins living east of the Rockies have made a tradition shift in their nesting requirements. Woodpecker holes in trees were once the chosen nest sites of martins; now they nest only in man-made human-supplied housing.

The change started when Native Americans provided gourds on racks for martins to nest in. The racks were made from saplings and pieces of rawhide. These gourds became accepted housing for the cavity-nesting swallows. Martins recognized the benefits of staying near people and their homes for protection from predators. Native Americans were the first Purple Martin landlords.

Today, Purple Martins still need landlords to supply proper housing in suitable locations. The current information available to landlords gives them the ability to provide some protection from predators and cavity-nesting site competitors. Martins also need landlords who will monitor the colony sites. Supplying information to landlords is one of the services provided by the Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA).

James R. Hill, III formed the PMCA in 1987 when he discovered the needs of the Purple Martin through scientific evaluations and bird studies. Hill said, "The PMCA is devoted exclusively to the scientific study of Purple Martins; their biology and habitat requirements. Seeing Purple Martins fill the sky so that you, I and future generations can attract, manage, and enjoy a colony of North America's most beneficial songbird is our goal."

The PMCA published an article in its quarterly publication, of the Purple Martin Update, recognizing the conservation efforts of the martin landlords of Texas. Gisela Fregoe from Grand Prairie organized a group of martin enthusiasts who call themselves the Purple Martin Landlords of North Texas. Fregoe said, "There is so much to learn to be a successful landlord."

Landlords who are members of the PMCA can rely on the Purple Martin Update, a quarterly magazine published by the PMCA. The magazine is a useful information exchange between the members and the scientific community. It gives members the knowledge they need to manage martin colonies.

The PMCA encourages landlords to form local organizations that will function as an educational vessel for their local area Goals of local organizations coincide with goals of the PMCA so both organizations reap benefits of greater numbers of landlords and Purple Martins.

The PMCA also hosts a forum on its website where landlords can meet at any time of the day to exchange information. Interaction with other landlords is a source of friendship and help as they actively involve themselves with the everyday survival of the birds.

Hill said, "Active management means doing frequent nest checks (i.e. every four to seven days) eliminating nest-site competitors, controlling nest parasites, offering eggshells and using predator guards." Biological and practical information is available for landlords and prospective landlords on the bessite, www.purplemartin.org, or by calling the PMCA at (814) 734-4420. Hill said, "Establishing and hosting a martin colony can be one of the most enjoyable, entertaining and educational of human experiences- certainly worth the time, effort and expense it might require to get started."

Texas is a very important part of the Purple Martin conservation efforts because they have so many landlords and martins. In the year 2002, Grand Prairie proclaimed a Purple Martin day A quote from the City of Grand Prairie Proclamation, office of the Mayor & City council says, "Purple Martins are highly valued for many reasons, both practical and aesthetic. Martins feed entirely on flying insects, many of which are pests to people , crops and domestic animals. Thus their economic value is great."

Judith D. Mitchell, Journalism Intern
Purple Martin Conservation Association
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Edinboro, Pa.
"They shoe horses, don't they?" October 16, 2004
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