By Joe Siegrist for The Island Eye News
In a sure sign that spring is not far behind, the first purple martins of the year have been spotted in South Carolina.
The birds were seen on Jan. 30 in New Ellenton by a purple martin enthusiast – one of many people throughout the Eastern and Central United States who track and report on the birds’ annual migration on behalf of the Purple Martin Conservation Association.
“The purple martins’ arrival in South Carolina show the birds are making steady progress northward since they first made landfall in Florida two days after Christmas,” said Joe Siegrist, president of the Purple Martin Conservation Association. “Tracking the migration is not only fun, it also provides us with valuable information that helps inform our research and strengthen our efforts to make sure we’re doing everything possible to sustain the population of these amazing birds.”
North America’s largest species of swallow, purple martins winter in the rain forests of Brazil before making up to a 7,000-mile migration north into the Eastern United States and Canada. The annual migration is a testament to the martins’ resilience, as well as the unwavering dedication of thousands of “martin landlords,” who maintain multicompartment nest “condos” that are essential for the birds’ survival. Once widespread in rural America, this species, which eats billions of flying insects annually, has been disappearing at an alarming rate, experiencing a loss of one-third of its population over the last 50 years.
“The decline seems to be the combination of a few factors: nesting habitat loss, competing invasive species, decreasing prey availability and climate change,” said Siegrist. “Over the majority of the purple martins’ range, they are unable to nest naturally any longer. Human-provided nest boxes are the only thing keeping the species alive east of the Rocky Mountains.”
Siegrist said the very survival of
the species is due in large part to scores of dedicated conservationists who invest their time, money and hearts into maintaining housing for the martins.
“The landlords provide critical shelter for the martins,” Siegrist said. “In return, they are rewarded with a family-like bond with the birds, who return to the same colony year after year like clockwork.”
To follow along with the purple martins’ migration and learn more about how you can help conserve this treasured bird, visit www.purplemartin.org. People interested in learning more about how to attract and care for purple martins can receive a free booklet by emailing the Purple Martin Conservation Association at info@ purplemartin.org or calling 814833-7656.
Based in Erie, Pennsylvania, the Purple Martin Conservation Association is an international tax exempt, nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of the purple martin through scientific research, state-of-the-art wildlife management techniques and public education. The PMCA serves as a centralized data-gathering and information source on the species, serving both scientists and purple martin enthusiasts. The PMCA’s mission is educating martin enthusiasts in the proper techniques for managing this human-dependent species.