Rural Missouri - March 2020 - 48

Above: In Kathy's colony, purple martins lay about five eggs per nest. Logan and Alex help with weekly nest checks during their summer visits.
Below: A 1-year-old male purple martin will have some dark purple feathers on the belly and head. Females have gray, unspotted bellies.
Purple Martin Conservation Association, or PMCA. To date,
she's rallied 76 more advocates pulling for purple martins.
In 2019, Kathy recorded 79 nesting pairs of birds that
fledged 329 young. Kathy's birds average five eggs per
nest, with an average of 3.4 fledglings per nest surviving
their first year. As the babies grow, the parents take them
on a daily flight for a two-week period, returning to the
gourds at dusk.
"That's kind of a hoot to watch when you get 350-something nestlings and 150 adults," Kathy says. "It's like
watching an armada come across the
trees."
A colony of purple martins in
flight is a sight to behold. If a hawk
approaches, the birds launch a massive
counterattack, driving the invader away
in a dark cloud of wings. Because purple
martins eat, drink and bathe entirely
on the wing, they spend summer days
flying back and forth to the nest with
insects to eat. To bolster the food
supply, Kathy and her husband, Bob,
have accomplished some native prairie
restoration around their pond. This in
turn supports habitat for a nestling's
favorite snack - dragonflies. The
perimeter of the open backyard is ringed with birdhouses
for tree swallows, chickadees and Eastern bluebirds.
"They have a rather symbiotic relationship with the purple martins," Kathy says. "They tend to be more watchful,
so they almost provide sentry duty."
Although purple martins are not an endangered species, their survival is somewhat threatened by prolonged
cold weather that can affect the availability of insects to
eat. Worse still are non-native nest competitors, including
English house sparrows and starlings. The latter is one
area where diligent landlords can step in to help.
While the white-and-green, hotel-shaped houses
for purple martins are widespread around Missouri,

48

RURAL MISSOURI | MARCH 2020

backyard birders might be surprised by Kathy's expansive,
homemade colony. Three massive grids mounted on
3-inch steel poles support gourd-shaped plastic houses
surrounded by a wire cage and netting. This allows purple
martins to pass through safely, but excludes predators
such as hawks and owls. Likewise, the entryways of each
nest are designed to exclude larger birds such as starlings
while large cylindrical guards around the base of each post
keep out snakes and raccoons. Each of the grids can be
lowered by a winch so Kathy can do her weekly log entries.
Her colony has 84 gourds - considerable
room to grow a flock of baby birds. But
Kathy doesn't plan to expand. After a
friend's Louisiana colony was decimated
by hurricane-force winds, Kathy realized
spreading appreciation for the birds is a
more effective way to up their numbers
than taking the task on alone.
For those interested in aiding the
birds, Kathy recommends providing some
crushed eggshells to aid digestion and
having at least 24 houses. This helps offset the estimated loss of up to 60% of all
purple martins that occurs during migration due to weather, predation and collisions. But signs point to the tide turning,
at least in Missouri: The most recent data from the PMCA
shows purple martin numbers have made a 2% increase. A
small step, but Kathy says it's one in the right direction.
"It's incumbent on us, I feel, to go out and share this
with other people and a love of nature with our kids,"
Kathy says of the mentors. "It's been fun reaching out and
finding other people that have that shared interest and
want to pay it forward."
For more information on purple martins, contact Kathy
Freeze at purplemartin@centurytel.net, follow her blog
at kathyfreeze.blogspot.com or visit the Purple Martin
Conservation Association at www.purplemartin.org.


http://kathyfreeze.blogspot.com http://www.purplemartin.org

Rural Missouri - March 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - March 2020

Contents
Rural Missouri - March 2020 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - March 2020 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - March 2020 - Contents
Rural Missouri - March 2020 - 4
Rural Missouri - March 2020 - 5
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