Martins are early birds this year

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 28, 2011

VIDALIA — At the end of January, Allie Campbell heard a sound she knew was familiar.

Chirping birds were outside of her house on Mooselodge Road in Vidalia, and the sounds she thought she heard were those of the purple martin scout.

“I thought the sound may have been the birds that stay in the area through winter,” she said. “I didn’t think there would be martins this early.”

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Campbell said she was pleasantly surprised when she saw it was the martins.

“I just always love when they come in,” she said. “They are so pretty, and it’s a bonus to me that they usually arrive around my birthday.”

Vidalia resident James Stigall said the arrival of the martins always coincides with the end of winter and the beginning of warmer weather.

“This is always one of the signs that spring is on the way,” he said. “With the cold weather we have had this year, hopefully it comes sooner than later.”

Stigall said he has been raising purple martins for more than 40 years.

“You have to buy or build houses for them,” he said. “But when they arrive, they will fill them up.”

Stigall said the males arrive first to check out the area.

“The females will arrive in a couple of weeks,” he said. “The males will already be set up in the houses when they get here.”

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.

Martins are the largest member of the swallow family in North America. They spend the non-breeding season in Brazil and then fly north to nest and raise their young.

More than one million families in North America install martin houses for the birds’ visits, which conclude when the young ones are able to make the trip back to Brazil.

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

Campbell said she loves housing the purple martins and has been doing it for years.

“I used to have a competition with my husband’s friend on who would have the martin come in first,” she said. “Sometime I would win, and sometimes he would, but we always had fun waiting on them.”

Stigall said his favorite thing about the martin’s arrival is the reminder that winter does come to an end, and things change.

“My wife and I are bird watchers, and the martins always bring us a reminder that the seasons are changing,” he said. “The cold is leaving, and things can start coming back to life again.”