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Bird Enthusiasts Talk Purple Martin Colonies

CORALVILLE, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - Corridor bird enthusiasts are working to assist in the Purple Martin Conservation Associations  efforts to help provide nesting locations for Purple Martins. There are multiple areas throughout the Corridor where colonies can be found for the birds. The most recent of which can be seen at Cedar Rapids Noelridge Park, nearby the lake. That Purple Martin house is made of white plastic shaped gourds in several layers, connected to a pole high in the air. Housing for Purple Martins is usually plastic in a white or light color because it is what attracts Purple Martins best.
Purple Martins first came to Iowa when Native Americans and farmers began providing housing  for the birds. Enthusiasts say they are beautiful birds with a delightful song, so having them around is pleasant. When the Midwest started seeing fewer farmers, there were fewer homes for the Purple Martins. The birds were never endangered, but were headed toward being a threatened species without human intervention.
Thats when enthusiasts like Larry Olsen and Jim Walters got involved. Larry put up the birdhouse in Cedar Rapids at Noelridge last year. So, far that colony hasnt been successful in becoming a colony.  It can actually take several years before birds decide to colonize.  Olson knows how to be patient, because hes experienced the rewards that come along with a successful colony.
"Its kind of neat, especially when you have young kids and you can lower the house, and show them the babies, Olson said.
Purple Martins are the only birds east of the Rockies that won't nest without human provided housing and maintenance. Jim formed the Song Bird Project in Johnson County in 1991. Its an educational project thats helped create multiple colonies of Purple Martins in the Corridor. For Jim, hes exciting to watch the birds that vary in color based on sex and age. All of the Purple Martins have very glossy feathers. The birds with the darkest purple feathers are adult males. Younger birds and females are lighter. Jim said he enjoys watching the birds because theyre beautiful to him. He also said they are great fliers and their song cant be beat.

"Its like listening to a babbling brook when theyre all singing," Walters said.  
Volunteers like Lain Adkins and his wife, Holly Carver, help maintain the nests in successful colonies. They work at the colony at the Brown Deer Golf Course in Coralville at least twice a week. They check on the babies, and remove nest of other birds, such as House Sparrows, that can run Purple Martins out of a colony.
It's magical, its really wonderful," Carver said about working with the birds. As a recreational bird watcher for more than 40 years, she also hopes that her work will make a big difference.
"Anything we can do I think in Iowa to preserve habitat and encourage species, Carver said.
According to the Conservation Association, more than one million Americans put up housing for Purple Martins. If the sites are maintained, once the birds nest, they will come back every year. While Purple Martins will only nest on their own east of the Rockies in human supplied housing, west of the Rockies they nest in abandoned woodpecker cavities. In the Pacific Northwest they are found in gourds and single unit boxes. Their non-breeding season is spent in Brazil.
The birds are very dependent on temperatures because they eat only flying insects. So, if the environment isnt right for the flying insects, the Purple Martins can starve. 
To learn more about Purple Martins, try these links:
 Song Bird Project:
Purple Martin Conservation Association:



















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