The Suitcase Lady


August 18, 2015, 10:22 pm

Last Monday we woke up to silence. Our tenants had left on their long southern journey. No longer would our yard and sky be filled with rich, trilling songs.

Anyone who has ever hosted purple martins understands our love for these mesmerizing birds.

We eagerly await the arrival of the scouts in April. When our apartments are chosen, we revel in our good fortune. Once again, our martins arrived right on schedule.

This spring was going well for about three weeks. Then I spotted a starling on the roof of one of our Martin houses. My heart sunk. Starlings are more aggressive and larger than martins. They can take over the martin houses and drive away the martins and kill their babies.

I immediately called a local nature center for advice on how to prevent an invasion. “Starlings aren’t a protected bird,” the naturalist informed me. “Get out a pellet gun and shoot it.”

“I don’t own a pellet gun, and if I did, I would probably hit a martin or shoot out my neighbor’s windows,” was my reply.

I hung up and called Cornell University, America’s leading bird researchers. “We do not recommend shooting the starlings,” was the immediate response. “Unintended bad consequences often occur. Let nature take its course and hope you get lucky.”

Doing nothing is tough advice. We watched a pair of starlings build a nest in one of the upper apartments. The only thing we could do was remove all the suet from our bird feeding station. Starlings love suet, and we didn’t want to put out an invitation for more to come.

The weeks of summer sped by. No more starlings arrived, and our martin flock remained. By late July, little heads were poking out of the house openings and clamoring to be fed. Martins were swooping and singing in our skies from dawn to dusk delivering insects to their youngsters.

Now our flock is on its long migration to Central America or Brazil. Since many more birds left our apartment complex than arrived in spring, we are rejoicing in the birds’ successful parenting.

This winter my husband will have a large carpentry project. Both bird experts suggested building “excluders” for the apartments’ entry holes. These make the holes too small for starlings, but a perfect fit for the more svelte martins.

We are trying hard to be good landlords.


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