Hail Storm Smashes Gourds and Kills Purple Martins in Texas


Reprinted from: Update 11(2)
Emil Pampell

5318 Willow Way

Richmond, TX 77469

On Saturday, March 30, 2002, we were preparing our home (cleaning up, baking, etc.) in Richmond, Texas, because our children and grandchildren were coming to our house the following day for Easter dinner.  At about 6 P.M., my wife, Betty, told me that it was dark to the northwest of us and I had better pick up the tools, mower, and stuff out in the yard.  Shortly thereafter the wind started blowing and it rained a little.  Then we started getting pea-sized hail, so my wife and I stood on the porch and watched it hail a minute or so, then it quickly got bigger and louder, then suddenly the hail got real large, about 2 inches in diameter!  The hail was making so much noise, hitting the roof, gutters, windows, pickup truck, barbecue pit, etc., that it got real scary.  The extremely large hail lasted about 30-60 seconds, and then it suddenly stopped.

I looked toward my gourd racks and martins, but I could see no movement.  So I walked over and could see that many of the natural gourds were broken.  Some of the gourds were on the ground, as were three martins.  Two of the martins flew away, but the third was injured with a broken wing, so I put her in a cardboard box on the porch.

It looked like the hail had completely destroyed about 15 gourds and damaged another 10.  Many of the destroyed gourds were knocked off the racks and were laying on the ground.  I then checked the garden and it looked fine, but my pickup truck had sustained some damage.

It was raining extremely hard and getting dark so I went back to the porch to watch the martins.  They all had come home shortly after the hail quit and many were sitting on top of the gourd racks and houses in the rain.  Some looked agitated.

As it got dark, the martins started going back into the gourds, even into the damaged gourds, but decided not to stay in them.  Then the fights began as some of the martins were forced to look for new places to sleep.  There were enough empty gourds, so eventually, they all found a place to sleep.

I estimate that there were about 140 ASY Purple Martins here at the time of the hail storm (we had 136 breeding pairs last year and a few floaters).  There were some small tornadoes about 40 miles from here that were part of the weather system that dropped the hail.

The next day we learned that many of our neighbors suffered roof and window damage to their homes, and that any automobiles left outside were also damaged.  The hail storm hit about a 1-1/2 mile area.

The following morning, Easter Sunday, while it was still dark, we got up early and went to Easter sunrise church services and breakfast at the church, hurriedly came home, and started preparing for our guests.  As they came, Easter eggs were hidden [see Fig. 3] for the grandchildren and they had the Easter-egg hunt.  The men checked the damaged pickup truck and house, and found some windows broken out on the NW side of the house, and the women started lunch.  My son-in-law, Tim Braunagel, got his digital camera out, and we wanted the grandson to hold the frozen hail that I had put into the freezer, but he didn't like to hold it so we put the frozen hail on the lawn and started taking photos.  In all my years, I have never seen hail larger than a small marble, and very seldom do we have any hail damage in our part of the state.

The day after the storm, I started repairing the gourds.  It took me 3-1/2 days to repair all of them, working about 6 hours per day.  I used 9 tubes of caulk, and put strips of rain gutter guards under the gourd pieces for support.  I was shocked to see all the damage to the natural gourds.  I also found a dead Purple Martin in a double gourd, and the injured martin disappeared out of the cardboard box on our porch.  I think the neighbor's cats found it.

Altogether we had one injured and one killed martin, 14 gourds damaged beyond repair, 59 with holes in them, plus some with cracks (a total 85 damaged gourds).  It was not apparent that there was so much damage until the gourds were lowered and, using a stepladder, we could see the tops.  The northwest sides were damaged the most, and the backsides had very little damage.  On many gourds, the hail went in through the top of the gourd and came out through the bottom, just like a bullet!  Oh how I wished I would have had more plastic gourds, as they probably would have sustained very little damage.  I was happy that there were no eggs or baby birds at the time of the storm.

I have 5 poles, 4 gourd racks with 48 natural gourds on each, for a total of 192 gourds.  Also, I have 1 cedar house with 12 deep compartments with owl guards and excluders.  I had my first martin house in 1968 in Gretna, LA, and I have had martins every year since, except one.  My neighbor, Dale, gave me some old Update magazines, starting with Vol. 2(4), and since then the PMCA has helped me so much.  I got my martins back.  I sure do enjoy watching them (but it certainly is a lot of work with such a large colony).

Emil Pampell is a native Texan who grew up in the town of Dime Box.  He retired in 1988 from working as an Electrical Engineer.  He and his wife, Betty, have a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.  They live in Richmond, TX.

Copyright 1998 by Purple Martin Conservation Association. All Rights Reserved.

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