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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

BLUEBIRDS, PURPLE MARTINS, BIRDHOUSES, A THOUGHTFUL MAN

The morning sky was laden with overcast clouds signaling a storm was more than likely on its way. I was in my truck on my way to talk with an interesting man by the name of Caroll Cain, a maker of bird houses. Not birdhouses for his home but for his full time worksite. And not just any style of birdhouses -- mostly for purple martins.


A SECTION OF THE CREATED "BIRD VILLAGE" AT THE TRANSFER STATION
Mr. Cain works at a trash transfer station. How this works is that locals bring their trash to this place to load into large metal containers that are eventually hauled away to a land fill. The landscape of the transfer station is serene and was once an old large farm site. Rolling acres now lay fallow with pods of trees emerging on knolls. Here in this picturesque place, Mr. Cain has created a village of sorts for purple martins and eastern bluebirds and other assorted birds. But mostly purple martins and bluebirds.


SKY HIGH PURPLE MARTIN HOUSES
What appears to be the higher of the two above martin houses is the first house that Mr. Cain built for the martins about ten years ago. The one in the above photo with the white gourds hanging from it was bought commercially after a few years into providing housing. The hanging gourds are not real gourds but rather imitations -- more durable against the weather than the old idea of using real gourds out of the garden; a traditional ways of providing housing.


CAROLL CAIN, THE BIRD MAN FROM BEREA, KENTUCKY
Caroll Cain is a man of 72 years and has spent the last 17 years working at the station. We began talking about his birdhouses as the impending storm headed directly toward us. but it held off long enough so that I was able to hear an intriguing story from Mr. Cain.

About ten years ago he noticed purple martins hanging out on the overhead electrical lines near his trailer office at the station. He thought that he would make a home for these birds and began to pick out pieces of trash that people would bring in for disposal. Like pieces of plywood, old wood and other materials that could be used to construct birdhouses. That winter, in his spare time, he worked on constructing a purple martin house. He has since built all the many houses around his work-site except for one commercial purple martin house -- all from recycled trash.

His first season of placing his homemade martin house on a pole was successful. The martins made the new birdhouse their home and have been coming back every season for the past ten years. Also, bluebirds have joined in the bird village atmosphere thanks to Mr. Cain who made and placed birdhouse boxes for them. He also built a few regular birdhouses open to any species.

Apparently Mr. Caroll's fascination with the purple martins was contagious. It led to other folks appreciation of his birdhouses. He began making birdhouses for people using the recycled materials. One man requested 25 bird houses.



ORANGE BLUEBIRD NESTING BOX ON TOP OF POST WITH 3-HOLE PURPLE MARTIN BELOW
I did not count all of the birdhouses that were tucked here and there around his office site. They were all within about an eighth of an acre. To find out about the decline of bluebirds click here.


PAINTED BLUE, A HOME THAT IS ALWAYS OPEN TO ANY TAKER
WITH A BLUEBIRD NESTING BOX LOWER IN THE TREE
Mr. Cain told me that a few purple martins start arriving in the spring about the last of March, they seem to be the scouts. Then the full flush of Martins arrive in April or May. The summer of 2009 saw an increase in their population at the station. By August they have left the site.

I did a little research on purple martins and found that according to a 2001 study that their populations are declining in the northern part of the U.S. while remaining stable or increasing in the south.

A recent migration pattern study found that purple martins migrate to the Amazon Basin and back. Scientists followed two female martins from Pennsylvania -- 9,300 miles to and from the Amazon basin -- that's about a 4,650 one way trip for the birds. The martins were recorded as flying about 358 miles a day during migration.

THREE HOLE MARTIN HOUSE
Mr Cain's purple martin houses, for the most part, are three-holed and can be found on poles at various heights. No longer making birdhouses, he has influenced many that come to the transfer station about the role of birds plus how one can use recycled materials creatively.

The martins had left in August. Now it was time for me to leave as it had started to rain. As I drove home in the rain I was reminding myself that one person's actions can make a difference.

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