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It's purple martin time

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POSTED: February 20, 2007 5:06 a.m.
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Most bird watchers have a favorite, which for many in Georgia is the brown thrasher, the state bird. But another species, the purple martin, generates enormous excitement and passion.
Georgians have a long tradition of hosting purple martins, a swallow species. Because martins are totally dependent on humans for housing, landlords anxiously await their return each year and post reports of scouts on an online data base  at purplemartin.org — maintained by the Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA), a nonprofit conservation organization.
The earliest arriving this year was on Jan. 4  a very early bird  in Unadilla, followed on Jan. 23 by an arrival reported from Vidalia and another on Jan. 24 in Baxley.
Most older adults arrive in southern Georgia after about Jan. 15 and after about Feb. 15 and well into March in the northern half of the state, according to a PMCA migration map.
Purple martins nest in colonies in multi-compartment bird houses and in gourds hung from large racks placed in open areas in yards statewide.
Adult male purple martins are a glossy blue-black in color, which they obtain at 2 years of age. Females are a bit drab, with a gray breast.
One-year-old martins, so called “sub adults” — begin arriving 10 to 12 weeks after the older birds in the South. These younger birds are more easily attracted to new housing locations.
The term “scout” is a misnomer, according to the PMCA. These earliest arrivals are simply experienced older martins that have made the journey before and are eager to reclaim their housing.
As a species, purple martins are relatively common throughout Georgia, with the greatest numbers found in the central part of the state, according to the American Breeding Bird survey.  Long-term trends show a slight increase in the martin population in the central part of the state, and a slight decrease in the northeast.
While generations of Americans have hosted purple martins  the custom adopted from Native Americans who hung out nesting gourds specific techniques to help a colony to thrive have emerged in the past decade, based on research conducted by the PMCA and by “landlords” in the field.
Among innovations are deeper compartments to better protect nestlings from rain and from predators, and specially-shaped entrance holes designed to admit martins while restricting European starlings, an invasive, non-protected species.
The number one tip from the PMCA for attracting martins: purple martins are swallows of the open sky and prefer housing with at least several open flyways.
Place housing in the most open space available, but where the colony can be enjoyed and monitored.
Much more information about purple martins can be obtained from the Purple Martin Conservation Association  which is focused on aiding martins and “landlords” — including a products catalog and information booklet, with advice on attracting and managing a colony, and data sheets to participate in Project Martin Watch, a national effort in which participants monitor nests and mail information to the PMCA at season’s end.
To get the booklet, contact the PMCA at (814) 833-7656 or online at purplemartin.org
 

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