The purple martin is the best-loved, friendly and companionable bird. In the ancient times, before the arrival of the white man in America, the Indians loved this kind of bird so much that they decorated bird’s nest and suspended perforated gourd for its use. The indians understood that the bird was well under way during the spring, so after a long winter, they began to plant their crude gardens to look forward to the martin’s return.
When the Pilgrim Fathers saw their first spring in America, after a rigorous and disastrous winter, the martins must have been a heartening sight to the lonely, well-nigh desperate people. Being new to them, the martins were instant favorites. The white men, noting the way the natives supplied nesting sites for them, made real bird houses that eventually led to elaborate many sectioned homes.
This bird, belonging to the swallow family and the largest of the clan, has no bad habits, and is second to none as a beneficial sort. In sections where mosquitoes are quite a problem, the purple martin will largely keep them under control. It is a peculiar fact known to bird lovers that if you build more bird houses, the martin population will increase correspondingly, collecting insects over a steadily increasing area. It has been estimated that one martin will consume as many as 6,000 bugs in a single day and this gives some idea of their great economic value in the fight against insects.
They breed from southern Canada to the Gulf states and Mexico. They migrate in the fall to Brazil and southward.
While this bird has practically every desirable trait, it lacks one gift possessed by many other birds -a real song. Yet the happy little warblings, gurgles and almost creakings, so freely sung, have a touch of hominess and real happiness no real nature lover can help enjoying.
English sparrows are one of their worst enemies and sometimes the pests take over the martins’ nesting places before the rightful owners arrive in spring. The way to prevent this is to close all openings until the martins come, or even remove the bird houses from their posts for the winter. In this way, they can be repaired and repainted-but do not paint in gaudy colors, for martins do not like such gorgeous affairs.
Martins in large colonies seem to be able to handle the sparrow problem. In one instance I know of, martins wanted to occupy their former homes, but the usurpers had already taken over. But this state of affairs was only temporary.
The sparrows were continuing their activities one day until, shortly after noon, a large flock of martins descended to mom’s tropical outdoor plants. Apparently the martins had gone to get help. Immediately the battle was on. The enemy was ousted in a comparatively short time, for though there were a lot of them, there were far more martins! It was really laughable to see several martins combine to pull a loudly protesting sparrow from its vantage point.
Then the rightful owners got busy and all the usurpers nests, including eggs, were dumped outside. The martins immediately occupied all the compartments and there was general jubilation. The sparrows seemed to remember, for the martins had no more trouble with these pests in following years.