Purple Martins

Various Purple Martin Houses.

Various Purple Martin Houses.

This is Passport to Texas

Purple Martins begin to travel across Texas this month, stopping to nest in birdhouses designed for them. They rely on our help because they’ve adapted to manmade “nest boxes” originally constructed from gourds by Native Americans.

Yet, opinions vary about how this relationship between bird and man began. Some believe native people placed gourds on the ends of their teepee poles to intentionally attract the purple martins. The birds provided insect control, and chased off creatures that tried to eat game left out to dry by the hunters.

Other martin enthusiasts believe the relationship was accidental. Native Americans hung gourds high off the ground to prevent rotting, and rodents from chewing holes in them. The clever rodents found and chewed holes in the gourds, just the same.

The purple martins, while hunting for a nesting cavity spotted openings in the gourds, and nested inside them. Living close to man meant fewer predators—and they did eat pesky insects. Their symbiotic relationship allegedly evolved from there.

Whatever the truth, today’s purple martin houses are either “gourd-type” single-family dwellings made from polyethylene, or “house-type” multi-family units made out of aluminum, or wood. And they remain a great bird to have around the house.

That’s out show… For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

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