WILLAPA REFUGE - Purple martins arrived during the last week of May at the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. It's another year in the life of a martin and it's again time for raising their young.
These trim and sleek birds have been on the wing this spring, traveling northward from their non-breeding wintering grounds in South America, from places as far away as Brazil. They are known as neotropical migrants as they follow summer back and forth between our earth s two hemispheres out of necessity to better optimize their best chances at survival.
Summer warmth provides plentiful insects, which equates to a consistent food supply for these energetic members of the swallow family. You soon realize that these birds are tireless and streamlined fliers capable of tracking down any insects near them, over and over again. This also includes mosquitoes, which instantly make them one of our trusted allies in the war against biting insects. They have been known to even forage after nightfall under favorable conditions such as the presence of flying insects, light winds and moonlight.
Male purple martins appear at first glance to have an overall ebony black color that becomes a deep steely blue-purplish metallic sheen when observed at certain angles in sunlight. The females have dark dusky like upper parts while most of the lower portions of her body are somewhat a pale tan to a slightly off-white color. Both sexes measure about inches from tip of bill to end of tail.
They have a huskier appearance when compared to plentiful barn and violet green swallows who also are sharing the same airspace out at the refuge. Martins make somewhat pleasing sounds while mainly in flight would probably just amaze the most seasoned of human travelers of all the sights these migrating martins must have passed along the way while winging it between the earths southern and northern hemispheres.
Returning martins found two new martin houses that were recently placed on the poles under the old houses. These were ritzy appearing dwellings built to exacting specifications that a prospective martin was supposed to find appealing.
The first house was only up for 24 hours before a pair of eager starlings had claimed jumped one of the new housing units for a new nesting site. The starlings seemed so excited about their good fortune in securing a beautifully new manufactured home with a great view of Willapa Bay, but we then promptly evicted them before onset of any nest building activity. The entry holes were blocked from further access until the actual arrival of the martins. The old established martin houses were quickly claimed by some of the more dominant martin pairs. No vacancy had become a reality for the later arrivals. The two new martin houses were then reopened for overflow housing needs.
The remaining martins were checking them out but not moving in. So much for good intentions. It appears that remodeling is in store this coming winter.