Page 10 - Discover Summer 2021
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      M a r t ins C O NTINUED

      for them to eat. Therefore, the sight of a purple      Schieffelin, who fancied himself a naturalist,
      martin in early or Mid-March is a pretty good          decided to introduce English House Sparrows,
      indication that spring is upon us.                     and later, Starlings, into North America. He
                                                             belonged to one of several societies that believed
         Purple Martins are the largest species of
                                                             there was a benefit to the cross-introduction of
      North American swallow, known for their
                                                             alien species. They did not realize the hazards
      graceful flight, distinctive low-pitched gurgling
                                                             of upsetting the balance of nature in a given
      song, and their appetite for flying insects.
                                                             environment, and the results were disastrous.
      Humans have valued their presence for centuries,
      and have been managing them far longer than               Both of these “alien” species are secondary
      any other species of songbird. Long before the         cavity nesters, and both are extremely aggressive
      arrival of Europeans to this continent, local          in nature. They will stop at nothing to kill
      natives would attract the Purple Martin to their       Martins, destroy their eggs, and throw nestlings
      villages by hanging up hollowed-out gourds as          out on the ground in order to steal their nesting
      potential nesting sites. Since                                              sites. This has decimated
      martins are “secondary-cavity”                                              their numbers, to the point
      nesters, this began a mutually                                              where in 1992 the estimated
      beneficial relationship.                                                    Purple Martin population
                                                                                  was only about ten percent
         Cavity nesters are birds
                                                                                  of what it had been in the
      who instinctively nest inside
                                                                                  mid-1800s. The result is that
      hollowed out areas. Primary
                                                                                  Purple Martins have become
      cavity nesters “excavate”
                                                                                  entirely dependent upon
      their nest sites every year.
                                                                                  humans for the survival of
      Chief among these is the
                                                                                  the species.
      woodpecker. They normally
      prefer to make new cavities                                                    Enter the Purple Martin
      every year, which leaves the                                                Conservation Association.
      existing ones available to                                                  Founded in 1987, their
      secondary-cavity nesters,                                                   mission is to promote
      who lack the necessary “equipment” to dig out          the management and propagation of these
      their own nest cavities. It is easy to see why         fascinating and appealing songbirds. It may seem
      Purple Martins were attracted into forming             strange to think of a species of wild bird that is
      their “colonies” around Native American Indian         easily managed by humans, but purple martins
      villages. They are the only secondary-cavity           are unique in this respect. Their long association
      nesters in North America that are also colonial        with humans has made them relatively tame.
      nesters                                                They are one of the very few species that man
                                                             has never hunted or intentionally exterminated.
         European settlers quickly adopted the
                                                             Therefore, they have never had reason to develop
      practice of managing Purple Martins, and we
                                                             a fear of man.
      continue to do so today. Unfortunately, Western
      civilization also unwittingly dealt them a dealt          Before humans appeared on this continent,
      them a stifling blow. In the 1800s, a wealthy          Purple Martins nested exclusively in old
      and eccentric businessman named Eugene                 woodpecker cavities, and natural cavities in trees

      8      Discover Smith Mountain Lake  SUMMER 2021
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