Purple Martin Chase Heading To Virginia

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 7, 2013

Like the frustrated gold prospector whose pan has washed empty in every stream, my 30-year attempt to attract a colony of purple martins takes a new twist this spring.
Having come up empty-handed in North Carolina, I’m moving my fancy, unclaimed 12-unit bird apartment complex to Virginia. Maybe there are homeless purple martins in Round Hill who will want to come in out of the rain.
Very soon, the first purple martin scouts will be returning from Brazil. If they find a home near my sweet granddaughters, they will provide entertainment, joy and a bug-free environment for little girls.
Decades ago I met a purple martin landlord and developed a serious case of bird envy. I watched as the gregarious birds chatted and flew around us, friendly as could be. Voracious eaters, they flitted about the sky in search of bugs. They lit on their gourd homes to feed their young and took off for another harvest of bugs.
I wanted my own colony of mosquito eaters.
I built a house only to have it sit empty for years at my dad’s farm. Then I bought a nifty aluminum multi-dwelling unit and mounted it on a pole in Mocksville. Empty again.
A colony of martins lived a couple doors down the street, and I thought I could lure away a pair of disgruntled cousins looking to strike out on their own — pioneers. Purple martins return to the same home year after year. The babies become part of the growing colony, and successful purple martin landlords can quickly become bird barons — like Donald Trumps of purple martin nesting with hundreds of birds staying in their houses.  The rest of us hang out our empty boxes faithfully each spring and hope …
Purple martins are the most contented of birds. They aren’t inclined to move.
In Mocksville, I determined I lived too close to another colony. The birds wouldn’t leave their paradise down the street to live with me. Also, there were too many trees. Purple martins like wide-open flight lanes.
At the farm, I suspected barn swallows were the problem. They didn’t like the neighborhood.
Attracting purple martins has many hurdles. Bluebirds, sparrows and starlings often like to move into the boxes and drive the martins away. Predators such as owls, snakes, squirrels and raccoons also pose problems.
Most troublesome is the purple martin. He’s much like a toddler who won’t try new foods. A purple martin goes back year after year to the same spot, reluctant to venture to a new home, no matter how fancy.
The idea to move the box to Virginia hit me last summer as I played with the little girls outside. Pesky black flies common to the mountains attacked and eventually ran us indoors.
I told my son he needed purple martins to fight the flies. We have driven about town and found only one martin box, one very similar to mine. I’m attaching two gourds to the pole to give the birds an option — single dwellings or an apartment complex.
There’s a lake within a mile so the birds will have easy access to water. They drink on the fly. By my estimate, this is a natural spot for successful purple martin recruitment. But I’m not the bird. This could be another fool’s errand …