Martin Madness

Purple Martins - Photo Agnieszka Bacal
Braxton Komine

My name is Braxton Komine, and I am an Eagle Scout from Troop 200. One of my passions in life is to conserve and explore the natural beauties of this world, so that future generations can experience the same joys of nature that I did. I do this because nature is a beautiful, yet humbling place, filled with colors, shapes, that evoke feelings that are extraordinary to experience. When thrown into the wild, one loses the sense of power one once had in society, which is a beautiful and humbling experience that makes one realize that we are indeed connected in a symbiotic relationship with nature. The extreme hot and cold of the air, and the fierceness of animals, show us that we, as well as all living things, are at the mercy of nature’s iron grasp.

To honor and serve my community, God’s wonderful creation of Nature, and the Scouts, I set out to preserve Ohio’s Ecosystem. I first started my investigation by seeking out my local church, since I knew they had a large open field and a park right next to the said field. I contacted the church leaders, but I never heard back from them, so I decided to move on. The next place I looked was my local school. We threw around ideas of redesigning the front entrance or enhancing the shot putting pit. Unfortunately, these ideas failed to satisfy my efforts to continue conservation.

Fortunately, my family shared a friend that was in dire need of help. She was searching for a qualified leader to help the Purple Martins, a beautiful bird that was facing a decrease in population for various reasons. Through email, our friend introduced me to Darlene Sillick, and we met and agreed to build two large Purple Martin rigs for the sake of conservation. Yet before I go into detail, let me tell you more about this majestic bird.

The Purple Martin is one of North America’s most social and popular birds. These aerial insectivores are most well known for their aerial talent shows and their distinct jewel toned plumage. In addition, they are also North America’s largest swallow, and they surprisingly enjoy the presence of humans. These ace pilots like to fly all the way down to South and Central America to spend their winters in the Amazon Rainforest.

When talking about this bird’s aerial talents, let me give you a brief update on how often it practices. This bird eats in the air, drinks in the air, hunts in the air and even bathes while at flight, thus providing a spectacular show for whoever cares to watch. Purple Martins are also not too incredibly hard to watch either, since these birds have habitually made their nests near humans in fields and wetlands. Reasons for this go all the way back to when the Native Americans lived off of the land, and laid out empty gourds for the birds to live in. To this day, in the eastern parts of America, this tradition continues, and the Purple Martins are almost exclusively living in man-made housing. 

Unfortunately, these birds have seen a slight decrease in population for a number of reasons. One reason for this misfortune is that they are vulnerable to unseasonal cold or wet weather.  This type of weather causes many of their flying food sources to die, starving the birds to death. Another reason for their population decline, is because of pesticides.  The pesticides kill the bugs, and then the Purple Martin does not have food to eat, or the food that remains, namely bugs, are full of pesticides and poisons the Purple Martins. Other reasons include collisions with man-made objects such as glass, and invasive species such as the House Sparrow and the European Starling, which out-compete them for their nesting sites.

However, not all hope is lost. I and groups such as the Ohio Ornithological Society, along with individual parks such as Liberty Park in Powell, and Deer Haven Nature Preserve in Delaware, recently installed or helped to install large birdhouses to provide shelter to these delicate creatures. Multiple groups and parks are getting involved to protect the American wildlife, and you can be a part of it too. Whether it be through volunteer work, or donating to the cause, you can go to PurpleMartin.org to help, as well as numerous other websites that support the cause.

Martin houses ready to go

All the organizations listed above provided funding for my Eagle Scout Project, which consisted of four separate phases: planning, negotiating, building and publicizing. By organizing in this manner, I hope it will help you understand the depth of the project and answer any questions that may be wondering in your head.

As soon as the greeting between Darlene and I was over, we started to plan out the many questions you ask yourself when starting any project: who, what, where, when and why? When starting, we asked the question of who was going to fund our project and where the basis of our support was going to come from. Luckily for us, Darlene is well known in the conservation world, and landed funding for my project from top notch bird conservation organizations, such as the Ohio Ornithological society, Ohio Bluebird Society and local parks such as Deer Haven and Liberty. I was able to find the handy helpers through Boy Scout Troop 200, who are very skilled in building and engineering.

After Darlene helped me secure the grant, she connected me with the Park Managers of the two parks, and we expressed interest in hosting these tall structures. With their help, we acquired the permits, and met up with other officials that helped to get the job done. Jobs that required expertise or heavy equipment were left to the Park Managers, since it would not be appropriate for the scouts to help in this field. These jobs included bringing in heavy drills to dig holes and pouring concrete, which if done incorrectly, could have destabilized the entire structure.

I revealed my plan to my Eagle Scout Advisor, Mr. Gilliland, and he began to grow worried that since the project came with instructions, it would not meet the criteria for an Eagle Scout Project. So with the help of Ms. Darlene, and encouragement from my mom, we negotiated and agreed that if I were to build forty wooden bluebird houses, the project would be eligible by Boy Scout standards. After that the plans were set, we began construction on the 2nd of November, 2020.

The work team in action

Construction began with the transportation of the materials to my home. As the materials came in, I made sure to number them accordingly so that I would be able to find them when the project commenced. The following day, Scouts from Troop 200 and I loaded the materials, food and tools into trucks and we drove to Deer Haven Nature Preserve. The team unloaded the truck, and manually carried the materials onto the construction site. Once all the materials were in place, I gave a safety meeting and distributed positions of responsibility such as Tool Manager, and Parts Manager to make the process more efficient.  

As work continued, I instructed the process and answered the many questions that came with the position of Project Manager. Since we had a large number of helpers that day, one of my main concerns was making sure everyone had work to do and was not “just standing there.” In response to this problem, I had a number of my assigned leaders help me brainstorm ways of keeping people working. We came up with some good ideas such as starting the construction of the gourds, and having the tool crew lay out the tools in advance for the builders to use. The process of building continued for four hours, and then was followed by pizza and celebration. This process was copied at Liberty Park as well. The second site the next day, definitely went more smoothly since I had more experience from the day before.

The team stands proudly in front of their work

However, the work wasn’t finished. I still needed to build forty wooden Bluebird boxes, and I planned to do just that. I met up with a former Eagle Scout who taught me how to construct the boxes, and called in more friends and Scouts to help. My first action was to ask the mountaineering club teacher to use his class and the mountaineers for help, but it was a very busy season for the club, so using the classroom didn’t work out. However, a few members from the club made my day when they said they were happy to help and even brought their own power drills. So with the help of the Mountaineers, Scouts and my family, we finished all forty bluebird boxes in two days.

In total, the project cost $3,710.89, which was acquired through generous grants from the Ohio Ornithological Society, The Ohio Bluebird Society, Liberty Park, Deer Haven Nature Preserve and private donors. A total of 32 Volunteers worked on the Project with a combined time of two-hundred and six (206) hours. There are a total of 88 available houses/nests/gourds that can hold anywhere from 1-9 birds (Purple Martins can lay up to seven eggs) which will most certainly help the local and original ecosystem. My project gave me great insight into the rewarding process of conservation.

/l

APA_2013 - Purple_Martin - Leslie Scopes Anderson
The results that we hope for: a mother Purple Martin feeding young.