Mike Gonzales of Bunkie shows off his purple martin bird houses he made from gourds.
Bunkie man enjoys seeing purple martins return each spring
Although the purple martins have been back in the parish for a couple of weeks, for Mike Gonzales of Bunkie, the birds can’t get here soon enough.
Mike is a true purple martin conservationist and has a yard full of gourd houses and apartment houses. Passing through Bunkie on Hwy 115 to Interstate 49, one can’t help but see his purple martin town.
“I started with one bird house,” Mike said, “Gerard Moreau gave me my first one. I repaired it, painted it and put it up.” That was over 20 years ago.
“I really got involved and have enjoyed it.”
You also need a lot of utility lines for the birds to perch and, I suppose, visit with each other. Mike pointed out that since he lives on a corner, he has plenty of lines.
“I’ve seen as many as 50 birds sitting on the wires,” he remarked.
There can be that many birds perching on the wires because Mike’s side yard has 159 cavities. That’s the term for the place where the martins nest.
“I have grown some of the gourds myself and I have also bought some. I made most of the wooden boxes,” he added.
Because he does a lot of research on the birds, Mike shared why there are so many gourd purple martin houses.
“It started with the Native-Americans,” he be-gan, “they used gourd dippers and would hang them, soon they discovered that the martins would nest in the hanging gourd dipper.” From that the gourd style, the purple martin bird house has evolved.
And a martin doesn’t necessarily need a fancy apartment house or gourd, they also nest in tree cavities.
Mike is a very good landlord. When the season is over in July because the birds have flown north, he begins his clean up.
“Most of the houses are on pulley systems, which makes for easier lowering and raising back up,” he said.
“They have to be cleaned out, then I disinfect with a Clorox solution. I touch up and repaint if necessary and cover the entrance,” he explained.
Mike doesn’t want any other bird or critter taking up residence in his purple martin cavities.
By the following January, Mike “collects pine straw and puts it in every nesting site.”
In March he puts dead oak leaves around the base of the bird house pole. It provides more nesting material.
“When they start laying eggs, I’ll put down green leaves from the oak trees.”
The purple martin is no light weight when it comes to traveling, which they do by flapping their wings, where as a human just gets on an airplane.
“They come from Brazil in South America,” Mike pointed out. It takes them four to six weeks to get to North America, “a trip of 5,000 miles.” They will fly as far as Canada.
Their migration north begins in January and the early ones, often thought of as scouts, are really just the early ones, according to Mike.
They know where they want to be so they get there.
And many of the martins want to be back in Mike’s yard where they get good care.
Mike is very diligent about keeping predators away. One would think cats or possums or even snakes would be a natural enemy of the birds but the big worry is other birds.
“The starling will kill a purple martin,” Mike said and “the sparrow wants to take over the nest.” Mike uses traps to catch the sparrows and starlings. “It’s a constant battle,” he remarked.
Mike suggested a website to read and learn about all things purple martin. “It’s the Purple Martin Conservation Association,” he noted. It has everything from the biology of the birds to latest research and even a place to shop for the latest purple martin items.
You would not realize just how many items can be bought in a purple martin gift shop.
There are T-shirts, caps, earrings, tote bags, cameras to place inside a cavity and hardware for putting up the
boxes or gourds, just to mention a few.
The one thing I didn’t see was a coffee mug, the perennial gift. Purple martins don’t drink coffee but they do eat bugs.
Unfortunately, it’s not the pesky mosquito that martins eat; it’s dragonflies, who also happen to eat mosquitoes.
So if you want to get rid of mosquitoes in your yard, don’t depend on the martins. According to one expert, put up a bat house because bats eat a lot of mosquitoes.
Attract purple martins for the joy of having them in your yard doing all the fun things the purple birds do.