Wednesday, April 17, 2013


April 16, 2013

Finally, after five long years of waiting, they've come. My first pair! 

"Remember when you fell in love with me, and you didn't want to eat?" I asked James shyly before supper last night. He was fixing spaghetti, something simple so I could get back outside as fast as possible. "Like what I felt when I fell in love with you?" He nodded. "Well, that's how I feel now," I said. "I don't have any appetite, and I don't have TIME to eat either!"

Right now, all I want to do is watch and be near them…. 

I researched long and hard about what kind of purple martin house I should buy. I figured out the prime location on our property and how far it should be from nearby trees. A successful martin house must have starling-proof, crescent-shaped entrances. Bars across the porches to discourage owls and hawks. A predator guard on the pole to stop snakes and raccoons.

All in all, in honor of my 50th birthday in 2009 (I am telling my're welcome), we spent $400-plus for EVERYTHING. That included a pre-assembled Coates Waters Edge three-level house with six two-room compartments. The house’s "entrance foyer" further protected nestlings from predators, I learned.

I won't even begin to tell you how many bags of cement James used to set the pole. I lost track after 10. Or was it 15? (Then we found the instructions, buried at the bottom of the shipping box.)

Ah, the pole. A telescoping pole, top of the line, of course. We had the house up no less than a month when we were outside working, and the house crashed down a notch! I was devastated. I called Birds Choice, the pole manufacturer, and they shipped a replacement pole. Problem solved. Or so I thought. Several days later, I happened to look outside and saw that the house/pole had completely COLLASPED. I cried. Because if we'd had martins, and that had happened, THEY WOULD HAVE ABANDONED THE HOUSE AND NEVER EVER EVER EVER RETURNED.


We contacted the company and reported what had happened. James bought some long screws and nuts, and drilled into the pole's three interconnected pipes. THAT never happened again.

Nor did we get martins that first year.

Or the second. Or third. In 2010, we even replaced the starling-proof entrances with normal "round" entrances, hoping/thinking that would solve our martin-less problem.

We took off the owl guards, too.


Oh, sure, we had a few casual lookers. They flew by. They browsed. But no one stayed.

Year four, we had what we THOUGHT was our first martin to stay overnight. I even blogged about the big event (March 12, 2012). To this day, I'm still not sure of the bird species, but it sure looked and acted like a martin. We were up before daybreak the next morning, and I got one photo of the bird before it shot off into the air, headed south. We never saw it again.

Fast forward to spring 2013. It's April, and I've given up. Again. Another year with no martins. I don't even have enough faith to ask God to send me one. Isn't that a silly thing to pray for? What's more, I feel like I'd be testing Him to ask. If only I'd believe more, then maybe He'd give me martins? No, I can't set conditions. God doesn't. So I don't pray for martins. But I do tell God, "I have faith in YOU, and You know my heart's true desire. Your will, not mine." Then I let the matter go.

Last Saturday morning, James picked me up at the airport from a four-day business trip. Not far from home, we rounded the corner onto Cedar Street so I could admire the prairie verbena that’s still blanketing the Meadow with purple.

"Look!" I exclaimed. "A purple martin! Stop!" James braked the car, and I jumped out. In my blue skirt and cream sweater, I stood at the edge of the Meadow, breathless, elated, just to SEE the bird of my dreams swoop overhead.

This time, though, the martin didn’t leave. Instead, he lingered on a nearby utility line. James later joined me, and we watched him together. Maybe?......

We weren’t around during most of the next morning. I just couldn’t resist a native plant sale at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. That evening, the martin showed up again. But I just couldn’t let myself hope. Not yet.

Then Monday, I watched and saw him! He DID return! When he flew off, James and I decided to do a fast sparrow-nest clean out.

"I think we should take off the predator guard," he said. "That's the only thing that's different. Maybe that's what's keeping them away." I agreed. The upside-down black bucket thing on the pole didn’t seem to be helping in the least.

That afternoon, I saw THREE martins flying around the house! I got photos of two. Before supper, I peeked out our bedroom window and saw movement around the house. It was my lone martin guy, circling the house. Would he stay the night? We sat in our lawn chairs behind the cedar fence in the Meadow and watched. No, he didn’t stay. Instead, he left to sleep somewhere else. 

(This long saga WILL end. Stay with me.)

Yesterday. Tuesday now, 6 a.m. James and I got up so we could martin watch before daybreak. With coffee, lawn chairs and my pink church blanket around my shoulders, we set up headquarters again behind the cedar fence in the Meadow. Seven o'clock came and went. No martins. Oh, well. We tried! But later, from our bedroom window, I do see martins! TWO martins, in fact! He's found a girl! I ran outside to see.

While I stood watching, the pair kissed on the top floor, then scrambled inside the compartment. Oh, it HAD to be serious now! They'd agreed on living arrangements! After five long years, we'd finally gotten our first pair of purple martins! Later, I saw them go in and out of the middle floor compartment. Guess she’d changed her mind.

All day, I went in and out of our house to watch the martins. I was in love.

Before supper, I noticed that a pair of martins was fixated on the bottom floor compartment. Now what was up? Had a second pair shown up? James said he’d seen two more martins show up. But supper was ready. I had to eat first.

“Are you CHEWING?” he asked at the table, eyeing my plate of quickly-vanishing salad and spaghetti.

“Of course!” I replied, smiling sweetly. But I did want to get back outside and see what the martins were up to.

Back in my lawn chair, binoculars aimed at the house, I watched the pair hunched on the bottom porch. The male appeared to be “hissing” (no sound, just a wide open mouth) at the interior of the compartment. He acted somewhat aggressive. But was he sick, I worried? Or was he trying to tell the female to check out the inside? Were they afraid because it was a dual compartment? Was another male martin inside? 

Then they switched sides on the porch, and the female hissed next. There was a scuffle a time or two also, like the pair was either fighting each other or something inside the house. I kept watching. I wasn't going to leave until there was an ENDING! Soon James joined me.

Finally, I could see something moving inside the house. A snake? WHAT WAS IT?! Then all the sudden A MALE SPARROW FLEW OUT! They were intimidating the you-know-what out of that guy so he'd never come back! James and I laughed and applauded at the same time! We high-fived, too! "Way to go!" I called out to the pair. I don’t think that sparrow will ever set foot back on that side of the house!

So as of Tuesday evening, our newly married martin couple had staked out the south side of the house, and the sparrows have the north side. So far, that is. 


April 15, 2013...My lone subadult male who returned.
April 15, 2013...Two of three martins that visited.

April 15, 2013...My lone subadult male that stuck around.
April 16, 2013...The next day, he found a girl!

April 16, 2013...She's considering the middle floor.
April 16, 2013...Uh, oh, we've got neighbors.
April 16, 2013...You sure want this apartment?
April 16, 2013...Time for bed. Long day that included a well-rigged orchestration against a sparrow intruder. As you can see, she decided on the top floor. Our brave male adult kept vigil outside the apartment until 8:15. He even stuck his head back out the door when he heard us putting away our lawn chairs and leaving for our house.

UPDATE April 18, 2013--I am sad to report that only ONE martin returned to the house last night. He/she (evening light was too dim to be sure) sat on the porch alone for 15 minutes, then jumped inside for the night. Alone.

So maybe I'm not an official purple martin landlord after all. I guess we'll see what the next few days bring.


Anonymous said...

I am so happy for you. I tried several years to get them in my Martin house but they never came. Someone said it was the water supply. They won't drink out of bird baths, They like to fly over the surface of a pond and scoop the water up as they fly. I am looking forward reading about your Martins. Ann Parker

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Sheryl! I too am looking forward to learning more about your new tenants!
Kelly Kilgore

Martha Herden said...

Think its going to be a "banner year"for Martins!! For whatever reason, they just keep coming to our houses and we are putting up another house today with the great assistance of our dear friend, James..

But without a doubt, its a JOY to watch these birds... You continue to be an Amazing teacher about Nature, Texas Native plants--showing us how much we have to enjoy!! Keep at it Sheryl--and CONGRATULATIONS!!!

Anonymous said...

Congrats Sheryl! I had a Martin house in Houston for a few years and lucked out with getting several couples the very first year!
So much fun to watch and listen to.
After awhile the maintenance got to be too much trouble. And then there was the time I was cleaning out the old nests and found baby squirrels!! I couldn't bring myself to discard them and put them back. Oh well. Best of luck with yours. HLMN Cathy Hill

Lancashire rose said...

What a story. It is so funny the way we put up houses and then wait... sometimes in vain. Then finally, success. Now we need an owl in our owl house, not squirrels and not ants! Are they bringing in nesting material?

Skip Kiphart said...

Hey Sheryl, great story! Glad they came. My martin house is an earlier version, 2 stories with 3 apartments on each level on both sides (12). It's been up since 2002 and it took a few years before they nested..........I was discouraged and wondering what I did wrong. This year the martins took down the "For Rent" sign.
Most of the apartments are occupied. And Happy Birthday 2 years ago. :<)

Martha Herden said...

If anyone would have told me "you are going to Enjoy Watching Purple Martins"--I would have smiled politely and thought No Way!!

But~~~~they are fascinating, cool, diligent workers, fierce protectors of their "home" and can SING such sweet notes!! We had a pair or two last year (our very first ones-had the house up one year) and this year--well looks like they brought a Bunch of friends with them! We have Seven Couples, and now have three "Guest Houses"up.

It is a joy to watch them coming in to "call it a day" and we are outside, watching, laughing and listening to our Purple Martins!

Its worth the Wait to have them select your house as their home!!

Thanks to Sheryl for teaching us about this Special group of birds.

Martha & Matt

Sheryl Smith-Rodgers said...

Yes, our martins began nesting yesterday, I believe. And it seems there are more this year around Blanco. I'm suppse to get a neighbor's abandoned martin house soon (it's full of sparrows), but don't know if we'll get it up for this year.

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