Reprinted from: Purple Martin Update 1(1): 36
by James R. Hill, III, Founder
I'm frequently asked, "WHY DID YOU DO IT?" "Why did you give up a good job and start a non-profit conservation organization just to help some small purple bird?" The answer is, I did it because I came to realize what a tremendous need there was for such an organization ....... but let me start at the beginning.
I am an ornithologist, a biologist specializing in birds, and for the past seven years my research has been totally focused on the Purple Martin. A large portion of this time was spent digging around within the great libraries of the world, finding little-known manuscripts on the martin -written treasures if you will, or sitting inside elevated bird blinds capturing photos of martins at their nests. My interest and love for the martin has taken me all around this vast continent where I've had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing hundreds of martin landlords. It also has taken me twice to the martin's wintering grounds in Brazil where I have studied their spectacular winter roosts.
The Martin's Uniqueness
As I began learning more about this bird, I soon realized it was one of the most special North American birds. First of all, it is the only species of bird in eastern North America that, today, is totally dependent on human-supplied nest boxes. This is because, over this vast area, it has completely abandoned its ancestral habit of nesting in old woodpecker holes. Today, about a million people put up housing for martins - an annual tradition started hundreds of years ago by North American Indians who hung hollowed-out gourds for that purpose. This gives the martin the unique distinction of having been managed by man longer than any other North American bird species. Without this continued human assistance, the martin would likely disappear as a breeding bird throughout its eastern range.
Despite having been managed by man longer than any other North America bird species, the martin has no organization to coordinate the efforts of those who try to help it. The Purple Martin Conservation Association was formed, in part, to help instruct martin enthusiasts in the best techniques of attracting and assisting this bird so completely dependent on them. Martin enthusiasts need this help because so many are failing in their attempts to attract these birds. Even successful landlords could be doing a better job of helping their martins propagate, if they only had access to accurate information. Part of the problem is the vast amount of misinformation now circulating about martins. The PMCA hopes to change this situation. It is working to educate martin enthusiasts through its quarterly publication, the Purple Martin Update, and other informational handouts.
In addition to educating martin landlords, the PMCA was formed so that there would be a central data-gathering and information source available on the species, serving both the scientist and the martin enthusiast. Through its upcoming projects, the PMCA hopes to get thousands of martin lovers cooperating in its annual nesting surveys. As pointed out elsewhere in this issue, martins are exhibiting gradual, long-term declines within a substantial portion of their breeding range, despite showing an overall population increase. The PMCA was formed as a vehicle to encourage more people to put up housing for martins (and manage for them properly) - one of the best ways to help their population grow.
Money for Martin$
The PMCA was also formed as an effective way to generate monies to help the martin. It is estimated that over 50,000 commercial martin houses are sold in North America each year, with gross profits in the neighborhood of 1.5 million dollars accruing annually to the manufacturers. If you purchase a martin house from a dealer or hardware store, the money rarely, if ever, finds its way back to martin conservation or research. But now, because of the PMCA's mail-order store and non-profit status, if you purchase your martin products through us, not only will you be helping martins in your own back yard, but you'll also be helping them elsewhere. Proceeds from the sale of PMCA products help fund the research, education, and conservation projects of the PMCA and also run the organization. We hope to generate enough money to fund several worthwhile projects, including a full-scale research program in Brazil studying the wintering needs of the Purple Martin.
And finally, the PMCA was formed as a way of informing others about the sheer joy hosting a colony of martins can bring into their lives.
Copyright 1988 by Purple Martin Conservation Association. All Rights Reserved.
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