While it is well documented that Indigenous peoples dried and hung gourds for nesting Purple Martins (PUMAs), we cannot be sure when the birds made the transition from natural nesting cavities to the man-made nests they rely upon today. Unfortunately, Purple Martin numbers are declining, but Audubon Chapters are stepping up to help!
Several Florida chapters are installing suites of hollow gourds or “apartments” mounted on tall poles and protected with snake guards. A handful of pine needles is placed into each gourd just before the arrival of the birds in late February. The arrays are mounted so they can be raised and lowered to monitor the colony. Once the birds have found a good place to nest, they will return year after year and the colonies will continue to grow if more housing opportunities are added.
- Shelly Rozenberg of Audubon Everglades has led the charge in Palm Beach County with 11 projects completed — the most recent being a suite at the Lion Country Safari Rhino habitat. “I’m hoping to start a traditional ‘Purple Martin Day’ for all our locations in Palm Beach County,” says Rozenberg.
- In LaBelle, the local Rotary Club asked Hendry-Glades Audubon to create a display for the County Courthouse after the chapter installed a Purple Martin Nest Rack in a park near Clewiston. The display was designed by their Conservation Leadership Initiative student Stephanie Wagley, complete with a QR code and linked to a website with the web cam to view actual Purple Martins nesting!
- Sarasota Audubon Society has an active Purple Martin monitoring program at their Celery Fields Nature Center. “People always come to watch us take down the nests and we talk to them about the birds. People love it and this way they become interested and sometimes involved,” says Glyniss Thomas from the monitoring team. “The birds are true ambassadors!”
- In North Central Florida, Alachua Audubon Society and Four Rivers Audubon teamed up and installed multiple gourd systems at the Lake City Treatment Wetlands. Monitoring this April found that “Thirty-one gourds contained eggs and/or recent hatchlings, with a total of 114 eggs and 25 young. How exciting to know that this colony will likely fledge over 100 Purple Martins from this Audubon-generated bird conservation project,” writes Debbie Segal, President of Alachua Audubon.
- From Venice Area Audubon we hear, “Venice Area Audubon serves as landlord for 42 Purple Martin housing units (14 wooden apartment-style cavities as well as 28 gourds). This year the birds have laid more than 150 eggs and new hatchlings have grown and fledged. Data will be shared with the Purple Martin Conservancy Association. The second graders from our chapter education program are the absolute best visitors with their questions and enthusiasm,” explains Barbara Zitell, PUMA Committee Chair.
Should you decide to become a Purple Martin landlord you may need to be patient. Southeast Volusia Audubon (SEVAS) is still waiting for their tenants to arrive at the Marine Discovery Center. “I was excited to see our chapter trying to get a Martin colony started, but it sometimes takes time,” says John Kendall from SEVAS.
This story was published in the Summer issue of Audubon Naturalist.