by Hugh Frank Smith
[This article appeared first in The Memphis Commercial Appeal, and is reprinted at USADS with permission.]
Why is it that I can't lure martins to my farm in Germantown?
They are scheduled to head this way next month--but will they ignore my first-rate facilities again?
I have done everything the martin experts suggested to help me attract "America's Most Wanted Birds."
First I bought 10 plastic gourds ($3.50 each), which I attached to a metal post ($35.99). Then I bought a 12-room aluminum house ($53.99), which I anchored at the top of a 17-foot pole set in concrete. The three-section poles can be easily lowered to evict nest-stealing sparrows.
John Adams of Collierville said martins like to nest in ďan open area near water" (a pond in my case) and "near human activity." (Surely I qualify.) One authority told me scouts can be expected in my area as early as February 17. He said scouts fly 40 miles an hour from Brazil, select a site, return to Brazil and fly back with their friends in two to four weeks. They lay 4-5 eggs. The babies are ready to fly in about 28 days.
For some additional expert hints I phoned Nature House Incorporated at Griggsville, Illinois. An employee said to wash out the houses and gourds to be sure they contain no order offensive to martins. She said they are good housekeepers and systematically remove waste from the nests to discourage predators. She also said martins sometimes will choose your place if you move the house several feet away from its previous spot.
I read somewhere that martins can eat 2000 mosquitoes a day. Wow! Who does the counting? And how do they come up with such an unbelievable figure? I do know the birds consume a lot of flying insects, their only food.
"Don't get discouraged because you haven't yet attracted those fascinating birds," my daughter, Melanie Taylor, said. "I had martin houses and also gourds hung on poles for nine years. I had given up hope, then two years ago several families stopped at our farm and settled in. They returned again last year. I have been told that the brood that is hatched this year will return with their parents to the same location next year."
My hopes soared one morning last February when I spotted a pair of martins sweeping down to my martin house. They went in and out of two rooms several times, looked all around from their perch for quite a while, then flew away. I of course thought they had gone to tell their friends in Brazil what a wonderful future home they had discovered.
Days went by, then weeks. No martins showed up.
Then one morning in early April, as I anxiously kept scanning the skies from my easy chair, I spotted a pair of martins--maybe the same pair that had visited earlier--swooping down to my martin house. Once again they went in and out of two or three rooms, gazed across the pond and pastures for at least 20 minutes, then flew away.
I kept eyeing the skies every day, but not a single martin ever came around again. By the time June arrived I figured all martins were back in Brazil with their new broods.
When I was growing up at Smith Hill Farm, Alabama, I had no problem attracting martins. Mamma always planted gourd seeds along the garden fence in May. After I harvested and cured the gourds, I cut a bird-size-hole in 8 or 10 of them, hung them on a cedar pole in an open space, and families of martins arrived unfailingly every spring.
Maybe that's what I should do--plant some gourd seeds along a fence in May and replace the plastic gourds with the homegrown variety.
If martins continue to shun me this year, I'm going to try Plan B.
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