Patience pays for purple martin buffs

Post-Bulletin staff

Howard Wood and Lee Graham are friends and neighbors at the Realife senior residential cooperative in Rochester.

One other thing they have in common is the patience they’ve employed in efforts to attract a colony of nesting purple martins.

About 15 years ago, Graham moved to Realife and brought with him a pair of aluminum martin houses, with the hope that some of his feathered friends would join him at his new home. But he discovered the local martins were interested in visiting the houses and not taking up residence.

When Wood moved to Realife, Graham learned that Wood — a long-time pigeon racer — was a fellow bird fancier. They ended up pooling their efforts, believing the Realife campus on the banks of the Zumbro River would be an ideal site to attract purple martins.


So they joined the Purple Martin Conservation Association, getting advice and purchasing some of the organization’s products to try to improve their site each year. That meant shooing away starlings and sparrows who nested in the houses, since martins usually refuse to share houses with other types of birds.

They played an audio CD of martin songs, getting some other Realife residents to play the songs so that multiple balconies would emanate from the courtyard.

Summer after summer, the men would watch carefully as prospective martin tenants would take a quick tour, perhaps stop for a light snack and then flutter off to other backyards. But Wood and Graham refused to become discouraged; there was always some other idea to try, and they tried it.

This year the two started playing the martin song CD around the first of May. This time it was the dawn song and they played it from 4 to 8 a.m. daily. They also sprinkled pine needles in al lthe nesting compartments to provide a base for nest construction.

Around June 1, they noticed eight martins flying around. About a month later, one pair began to establish a nest and eventually produced four babies. Two additional pairs ended up taking residence too.

Now Wood and Graham hope the three nesting pairs and their mature chicks will return next year. And maybe even bring some friends.

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