May 18 2007

OK, just one more bird post and I’m done

Purple martin hotel. Manor & Chestnut, Austin. May, 2007.

Long ago, sometime after the Jurassic wound down but before the auspicious occasion of my birth, purple martins purpled freely o’er the countryside, feasting on succulent mosquitos so that Native Americans wouldn’t have to invent DEET. Then came the European invasion, bringing, along with genocide, disease, and white supremacist ideology, sparrows and starlings. These non-native opportunists soon took over all the purple martin nesting sites, with the result that today mosquitos ruin everybody’s summer, and the martins are completely dependent on humans to erect these towers of plastic gourds and menace the sparrows with brooms.

Naturally, to meet this emergency, there has arisen a Cult of the Purple Martin. The Purple Martin Forum has 3500 registered users. The Purple Martin Conservation Association has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in their efforts to delay the bird’s extinction, and offers free downloads for information on how to channel your natural paternalism into maintaining a purple martin colony. In Austin there’s a cultist dude who drives around with a purple martin house nailed to the top of his car. He is Danny Sinclair and he sells purple martin houses. He maintains a purple martin sanctuary a few blocks from my bungalow. For $700, he will come to your house and dig a hole and pour concrete and erect one of these hotels. He’s all purple martin, all the time. Result: you can’t swing a dead cat in hippie dippie environmentally conscious Austin without thwacking one of these purple martin hotels.


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  1. Errihu

    Some farmers in my province are erecting purple martin houses on fenceposts. They put them every other fence post, rather than every fencepost, because the martins will maintain a one-fencepost radius of personal space and we’ll have empty houses otherwise. They’re lovely birds and wonderful to have around, especially in mosquito season.

  2. villiers

    Do the purple martin hotels actually attract birds, or are they merely highly visible empty markers of one’s envirohipster status?

  3. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    I work for your government-sponsored space agency. Our facility perches on the edge of a valley where the wildlife kind of abounds. There is a massively fat raccoon who trundles to the dumpster in back every afternoon after lunch, and we watched him clinging halfway up a very slender tree swaying in a windstorm last week. Foxes and coyotes are visible out my office window in late winter. When it gets around dusk in summer, bats flap and flutter around the building’s lights.

    But the purple martins have really colonized the picnic grounds across the street. It’s very pleasant to attend an otherwise dry-as-dust staff meeting in such surroundings and watch them swoop and dive after the frighteningly robust mosquito population.

  4. norbizness

    And those hippies ain’t thrilled with one’s swinging of a dead cat, neither, even if you explain to them that it was dead when you found it, or that it had dissed The String Cheese Incident.

  5. CafeSiren

    All this environmental stuff aside: this is a kick-ass photo.

  6. CafeSiren

    Damn. Couldn’t edit my previous post to add: Did you do the vignetting in post-processing? Is this Holga? Lensbaby? Please tell!

  7. lawbitch

    I’m for anything that eats mosquitoes! I swear some of the mosquitoes in Texas are the size of helicopters! Really!

  8. manxome

    I agree with CafeSiren: this photo is advanced kick-ass. I dream of a day when TwistyPrints will be offered in return for a large contribution toward the establishment of RadFemIsland.

  9. BubbasNightmare

    lawbitch, did you really think those things up there were helicopters?

  10. Sylvanite

    Just another reason to despise house sparrows. Why anyone missed them enough to bring them here is beyond me. They’re like this dysfunctional family that just won’t leave each other alone, even though they can’t get along. Their “song” is also beyond monotonous. Crimony.

  11. Twisty

    Thank you for the foto compliment. I used my Lensbaby, set on “stun,” and a digital SLR for this shot. The Lensbaby effected most of the blur and a bit of the vignetting, but I took it over the top in Photoshop with about 80 different punk rock filters.

  12. tarr

    “Some martin house manufacturers claim that a martin can eat large numbers of mosquitoes. This is true, but research has shown that mosquitoes usually consist of less than 3% of a martin’s diet. The research of James Hill III of the Purple Martin Conservation Association supports this fact. It is true that a martin can eat 2,000 mosquitoes. A martin physically has this capacity, but it is not the norm for them to try to achieve this specific task. If you are interested in attracting martins for mosquito control, you are after the wrong creature.

    Bats are a much more prolific consumer of mosquitoes. Information on bats can be found at Bat Conservation International, Inc.”

    How about a bat house?

  13. Twisty

    Austin is bat-crazy, too. It is my duty as an Austin resident to mention that we have the largest “urban bat population” in the universe. Something like 8,945,625 of them live under the Congress Ave bridge. One of these days I’ll give you a picture of that wacky shit.

    Even with all those bats, there are still a buttload of mosquitos around here.

    And even if purple martins don’t eat mosquitos, they’re still quite attractive little birds. I don’t like to be speciesist, but I admit I prefer them to sparrows. They’re much less vermin-like, somehow.

  14. Pony

    Birds (and a red fox) near Saskatoon:


  15. Ron Sullivan

    Martins for the day shift; bats for the night shift. Copacetic!

    Some poor sod put a purple martin house up in People’s Park, back in the day. Problem is, the nearest decent purple martin population is way up in Gualala; there are a few out on Point Reyes (one habitual nesting spot is in an old tree with an osprey nest on the top) but they don’t nest colonially. Barn swallows we got, cliff swallows we got — there’s a nice colony on the cliff above the old quarry by Long’s Drugs’ parking lot at 51st and Broadway — violet-green (and they are, in the right light)swallows we got, rough-winged and tree and even a San Francisco colony of bank swallows. But no purple martins.

    Know what bats seem to like even better than bat houses? Spanish tile roofs.

  16. stekatz

    Neat. I love bird facts.

  17. Roo

    Interesting, along with the sparrows, we brought the troublesome mosquitoes. Those “helicopter” mosquitoes are probably the Asian Tiger Mosquito, transported to the USA in the 1980’s. It was introduced in Texas first, by way of – get this – the USED TYRE trade. Texas tycoon bought a bunch of used tyres form Asian, and with them came the mosquitoes. Vicious suckers, creeping farther north each year. Another example of economics over ecology.

  18. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Maybe I’m nuts, but I like the bats. I like the way they flap around. I like their twilight twittering. I know they’re mice with wings and everybody hates them but I like them anyway. They’re really shy and difficult to attract. I am even crazy enough to have bat boxes in my backyard.

    Tiger mosquitoes carry all sorts of really nifty tropical diseases.

  19. Danny Sinclair

    I take the blame for being the one driving around Austin with the Purple Martin House “NAILED” to the top of my Blazer. While working at AT&T as a repairman, one of my co-workers dared me to put a bird house on top of my truck to advertise my Purple Martin Propagators business == http://www.BirdHouseInfo.com == After thinking about his comment for a couple of weeks, I did just that, and now it has propelled me into a full-time business of selling & installing purple martin houses, bat houses and other bird-related items. Needless to say, I no longer work for AT&T and now make more in a month than most of the managers make in an entire year. I guess the jokes on them.

  20. Jill

    “Needless to say, I no longer work for AT&T and now make more in a month than most of the managers make in an entire year.”

    It’s all about the Benjamins.

  1. The Hackenblog » Defendez le Purple Martin

    […] Your Purple Martin PSA du jour. […]

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