MARCO ISLAND — Humans obviously could survive if there were no purple martins on the planet, but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun for us.
These critters that sing and soar their way into our neighborhoods and our hearts are smart, brave and innovative as they come visit in the spring and then go be snowbirds in South America in the fall.
Purple martins are common throughout Florida and most of North America. On Marco, many people are purple martin friendly, building appropriate housing for them to mate, procreate and raise little PMs to join the flocks.
The housing thing is important. Martins were here long before people showed up. The birds made summer homes in old woodpecker holes in trees and other natural nests.
When American Indians began to move through North America, they reportedly realized the martins also often nested in old gourds, so the Indians hollowed out gourds to lure the PMs. Why?
The humans watched the martins and noticed they were eating zillions of flying insects, including dragon flies, beetles, flies, midges, mayflies, bees, stinkbugs, cicadas, flying ants, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers and wasps. (Phew).
They also eat mosquitoes, but not as many as some people believe, because mosquitoes generally are low flying and PMs are not. They do most of their feeding between 160 feet and 500 feet high and mosquitoes generally don’t wander up there.
So while the Indians, like the rest of us, figured that the only good mosquito is a dead one, the purple martins also had other attributes that made them good neighbors.
They chased away crows from corn crops. They give warning calls when other dangers lurk, their song is uplifting and cheerful and they put on great acrobatic flight performances to the delight of ground-bound humans.
These days, martins that migrate to and from the eastern U.S. rely almost 100 percent on man-made housing gourds, birdhouses and such. Only out west are there enough natural amenities, tree trunks, et al., to accommodate these winged wizards.
A long-time Marco islander, Terry McCreanor, has been courting these cuties on his property for several decades. This year he has 18 “homes” for the birds, some gourds, some houses.
“Their song is the sweetest sound on earth,” Terry says. “They have one song when trying to find a mate, a very happy song when the mating has begun and a different tune when the babies are in the nest.”
Marco parks have two PM “luxury condos,” at Veterans Memorial Park and Mackle Park.
“It’s all positive,” says Alex Galiana, City of Marco Recreation facilities manager. “These were put up by the Boy Scouts with our full support. People notice the birds and their houses and they enjoy them and say it’s a great idea.”
We guess Islanders eventually will be in bidding wars for the PM’s presence, putting up bird houses and gourds, along signs, in English and purple martinese, “Hey birds, if you lived here you’d be home by now.”
“Imagine PM lovers hiring teens to stand there waving banners and shouting, “Our PM Inn and Pub has happy hour every evening, Dragon Fly Flatbreads Two For One.”
Down the street the neighbor is touting “All you can eat, stinkbugs, cicadas and flying ants, come and get ‘em, plus Free Wi Fi While You Fly!”
Costco will have a complete purple martin accessories section so humans can buy designer white gourds, monogrammed, with openings for papa PMs, Mama martins and comfy straw nesting for the pre-fledgling chicks.
After all, these birds with bling deserve it. They fly thousands of miles twice a year from here to South America and back. After that trip they’d love a nice condo. And they’ll not only catch their own supper, they’ll sing for it.
Chris Curle and Don Farmer have been writing for the Marco Eagle and other area newspapers for more than 30 years. They have a combined total of 99 years experience in major news media in the U.S. and abroad, including ABC News, NBC News, CNN, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers and magazines. Their novel, “Deadly News,” is set partly in Marco Island.