Spring on its way

Published 12:33 am Monday, February 22, 2010

VIDALIA — It’s been a wet, cold couple of months, but last Thursday Vidalia resident James Stigall got his yearly reminder that spring will always follow winter.

He saw the first purple martin scout of the year.

“The scouts come in earlier than the rest of the birds, but it is kind of a sign of spring for me,” he said. “I have been raising martins for 45 years.”

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The scouts initially come in and check out his nesting boxes, trying to find a suitable home, and the females will make the journey back to the area in a month or so, Stigall said.

Purple martins belong to the swallow family, and migrate to the area from South America, where they live during their non-breeding season.

Every year, they migrate to North America to nest in man-made martin houses, hollowed gourds and woodpecker holes. The birds will nest at the same location yearly if conditions are right.

According to information from the Purple Martin Conservation Association, the birds are almost exclusively dependent on man-made housing east of the Rocky Mountains.

Their diet is based on what insects they can catch in flight, including but not limited to June bugs, bees, grasshoppers and stinkbugs.

While for the past two years, the birds have come back in mid-to-late January, Stigall said the Feb. 18 return was more typical of their patterns.

“Normally, it is Valentine’s Day at least before they come in,” he said.

When the females return, the males will have already set up in the martin boxes.

“They will watch the skies, and when the females start coming in they are very boisterous, they make a lot of noise and greet them in the air and try to get them to come to their nesting site — a lot of like humans,” Stigall said.

For a while following Hurricane Katrina, in which some of the birds’ habitat in South Louisiana was destroyed, Stigall had as many as 40 birds nesting in the area surrounding his martin house, but since then the crowd has gotten smaller every year, he said.

“They thinned out after a while, and the nesting pairs that normally come still come,” he said.