The Suitcase Lady


May 4, 2010, 8:34 pm

Last Friday we once again became landlords. Our tenants arrived early in the morning, checked out their little rooms and flitted off for lunch. We are delighted to have them back.

Our renters are Purple Martins, the largest swallows in North America. Despite their name, martins are blue-black (male) or blue-gray top and dirty gray belly (female).

Hundreds of years ago martins in the eastern United States were attracted to hollowed out gourds that the Native  Americans put out for them. Now all eastern martins are dependent on supplied housing for nest sites. In the mountainous areas of the West, martins use traditional nesting spots such as tree cavities or old woodpecker holes.

Our handsome blue and white martin house was a gift from our catsitter extraordinaire. She offered to give us the house and put it up in spring and take it down in fall. We couldn’t resist a deal this good.

The three story mansion we inherited was made by our friend’s father out of recycled county highway signs. It graced her home on our road until she moved many miles away from Lake Michigan. The martin apartment moved with her, but the martins didn’t follow. They obviously preferred their lakeshore lifestyle.

So we became caretakers of the apartment house. Several years passed, but last year the martins took up residence in our yard. We truly understand why people love these birds… they are enchanting to have around. From dawn to dusk they are gracefully swooping all around scooping up insects. Dragonflies are a particular favorite. But it’s their cheerful songs and chirps that are so exceptional. It would be hard not to be happy when your yard is filled with martins.

By mid-August, with sex and child-rearing accomplished, our martins will depart en masse for a leisurely winter in South America. Some go as far as Brazil. I wouldn’t mind spending a winter in Ipanema myself.

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