Retta reports that the purple martin scouts have arrived in our area. She has now spotted them and heard their calls twice in the past two weeks. The scouts are here a little earlier than I had expected them, but now that they are here I had better get their housing in order. Every fall, after the martins have left for their wintering grounds, I cover the nest rooms with plugs to keep out the “pest” birds. When the scouts return, in advance of the main contingent of martins, I open the houses back up again.
Two seasons ago, Retta found an injured martin writhing around on the ground beneath the martin house. She immediately removed the bird from harms way, and discovered that the martin had a broken leg. Retta managed to fashion a cast for the bird’s leg out of masking tape. But feeding the bird became a cause for concern.
Martins are exclusively aerial feeders, performing astounding maneuvers in the sky as they dart back and forth, swooping down upon their airborne prey. Because of their feeding habits, it is not easy to replicate their diet. Retta proved equal to the task, however. With aquarium fish net in hand, she would go about the task of tracking down and catching all manner of insectivoria – including moths off the screen doors.
It was quite amazing, really, to watch her feed this bird live insects with a tweezers, and even more surprising how much it took to satisfy the bird’s hunger.
The martin was a female, so we naturally began to call her Mary Martin. Eventually, the bird became healthy, and one day, while Retta was giving her some fresh air, she simply took off. Fretful at first, we soon realized that she was going about her business in a normal manner, and was raising her own family. She would fly close to Retta whenever she passed. We think this was a sign of thanks from her to Retta. We are very hopeful to see her back again this year.