Avian Abode

ThatĀ slime mold post is too gross to get top billing. So let’s move on to something more pleasant: our neighbors’ purple martin colony.

For all you non-ornithologists, the purple martin is the largest member of the swallow family — an agile, acrobatic bird that feeds on flying insects. Purple martins overwinter in South America and migrate north in the spring to nest and breed.

Now here’s where things get interesting: purple martins around found throughout the US but east of the Rockies, they are entirely dependent on humans for artificial housing. Without the construction of nesting gourds and martin houses, these birds would disappear in eastern states. (Reasons for their decline? Aggressive, non-native birds; prolific and opportunistic native species; and weather extremes that affect insects.)

Our neighbors Chet and Paula are purple martin supporters. Each year they hang several gourd clusters in their yard. Right now there are oodles of birds singing and plucking flies from of the sky.

Recently, Chet invited a few people over while he lowered the gourds for a nest check.

Brynn missed the “casual dress” memo.

But she contributed to the captive audience.

As Chet lowered the gourds, we discovered that a few nests were occupied by uninvited tenants. Squatters, so to speak, including a tiny swallow that fluttered out and onto the ground.

If not for the onlookers, I think that baby sparrow would have been evicted. But bowing to pint-sized presence, Chet put the fledgling back in its nest.

Fortunately most of the gourds housed purple martin families…

or families to be.

While the kids gazed inside, Chet and Paula took inventory of the babies and eggs. Meanwhile the parents perched atop neighboring poles, overseeing the activity. Once the nests were restored to their normal height, the birds returned. Business as usual.