Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The martins are coming! The martins are coming!

Late January is the time our most beloved swallow, the Purple Martin, makes its appearance throughout much of Texas, and indeed all the states on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. This year some of the birds didn't even wait for the page on the calendar to turn. They showed up on December 31.

The birds usually don't show up in my yard just northwest of Houston until early February, but since they have already been reported in the area, I am on the alert for them, ready to open the doors of my martin mansion and raise it high to welcome back one of my favorite birds of summer.

Purple Martins have a long and remarkable relationship with human beings on this continent. The Native Americans were the first to put up gourd housing for the birds. This continued for centuries before Europeans arrived on the scene and took up the practice. Over time, this symbiotic relationship has become so strong that Purple Martins in the eastern part of the continent are totally dependent upon housing provided by humans in which to raise their families. In the western part of the country, some of the birds do still nest in the wild.

The martins spend about six months with us and then return to Brazil for the remainder of the year. Often, they are gone from my yard by the Fourth of July. As birds that depend upon flying insects for their diet, it's important that they time their migration properly. To leave to late or arrive too early could be disastrous, which is why I worry about those birds that showed up in the area on December 31. A few days later, we had a deep freeze that lasted for four days and would have grounded or killed most flying insects. It might have killed the birds, too, if they did not have the good sense to turn around and fly back farther south. One can only hope that they did.


This is one of my birds from a couple of years ago. Will he be back this year? I'm waiting...

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