The youth advisors of the Central Ohio Chapter of the Ohio Young Birders joined Darlene Sillick on July 1 at the Safari Golf Club to check up on the more than fifty Purple Martin nest gourds located there. Our group consisted of young birders, like myself, as well as longtime veterans of conservation in central Ohio, such as Sue Guarasci. Sue even went to the trouble of bringing her own mealworms to feed any runt nestling Purple Martin’s to help them fledge safely and healthily.
We assembled one sweltering afternoon to help with one of these precautionary tasks: replacing the nesting materials inside the nest gourds. This deters parasites and provides a perfect opportunity to record important data about the babies, such as their age. Purple Martins are very susceptible to parasites, and their nests are often overtaken by blowfly infestations, which feed off of the nestlings until they either weaken or possibly die. Often, people are afraid that by removing the parasites and “meddling” with the nest materials, they will in some way deter Purple Martin parents from returning. Not only is this false, but studies by the Purple Martin Conservation Association demonstrate a forty percent increase in fledgling survival in parasite-free nests. This is why dedicated volunteers return every year to clean out these nests and give the nestlings a better chance at survival.
When I arrived to help, I was greeted by the formidable Darlene Sillick, who had come still dressed to the nines from work delegating instructions while zooming around in a property golf cart. She is the best! I was tasked with keeping the little birds in a large plastic bucket, out of the blaring sun and 90-degree heat. As a birder, always looking at birds through binoculars and camera lenses, physically handling them gave me a chance to appreciate the wondrous detail of their feathers and miniature beaks. These tiny wings will grow tremendously over the next ten days, and in just a few months they will migrate 2,000 miles across the Gulf of Mexico.
Physical handling and close-up appreciation of baby birds doesn’t come without its share of excitements; everyone was pooped on at least once. Those of us there for the first time quickly realized why the stack of charts used to measure the birds were laminated! We carefully worked through the gourds one at a time, measuring and aging the birds before returning them to their proper gourd, now filled with fresh dry White Pine needles. Once we placed all the gourds back in their proper spot, Purple Martin parents immediately returned with beakfuls of bugs to feed the chicks. What a rewarding finale to our day of conservation efforts!
Elizabeth Kanzeg is a Youth Advisory Board member of the Central Ohio chapter of the Ohio Young Birders Club.