June 19, 2007
Tift Co. -- Many people haven't heard a traditional sound of summer in decades. They remember fondly the chattering of Purple Martins, a small bird with a distinctive sound.
It often amazes people to learn the birds return to same place year after year to nest, raise families and chatter away.
Not everyone can attract them, but one man maintains a good reputation with the birds that, somehow, pass along his location from generation to generation.
A person's reputation can roll past people to include animals, even to birds that know a good landlord when they discover one. "I put up some gourds after visiting with a friend who had some that had Purple Martins living in them. That was 15 to 18 years ago," says Earl Branch as he watches the birds swoop in to land on his gourd poles.
It wasn't long before he had plenty of company, flying internationally to his special houses. "It's hard to believe a little ole bird can come from South America, come to my place and knows where he nested last year," says Earl.
The Purple Martins know they have guaranteed reservations at Earl's place. "February is when your scouts will come, usually by Valentine's, stay a few days, gone a week to 10 days and the main flock will return," says Earl.
Like in real estate where location, location, location counts heavily, Earl puts his martin houses near water that provides an extra incentive for them to stay for a while. "Oh, yeah," says Earl.
They prefer a natural home. "They like the real, old, natural gourd. I think they would use the plastic(gourd) as a last resort," says Earl.
Forget about a Martin house. The Purple Martins don't care for multi-family living. They want a single family unit.
He takes care of the birds' creature comforts with a little duct tape and white paint. "By painting it makes the house a little cooler for them," says Earl.
The Purple Martins make love nests and in a few weeks, little birds poke their heads out. One appears, then another and sometimes a third bird looks out of the gourd's hole.
Some of the young birds will try to fly too soon and will fall out and hit the ground. Earl will come along, pick them back up and put them back in their nest.
He particularly likes to ease drop on their conversations. "It's a pleasant noise, something you enjoy," says Earl.
But, all pleasantness must come to an end. "You can pretty much mark your calendar. By the Fourth of July they are gone," says Earl.
They go northward to cooler temperatures and where more insects live, leaving Earl a little lonesome. "I'll definitely miss them," says Earl.
To him, the silence isn't so golden.
Earl Branch is a third generation Purple Martin enthusiast who fondly remembered their distinctive noise when he lived on a farm.