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No place like home

Posted: Friday, Jun 28th, 2013

At left, an adult male purple martin surveys his terrain from one of the nesting boxes, like those above, located near the top of pilings at the Port of Siuslaw docks in Old Town.

Since the 1990s, biologist Eric Horvath has maintained single-family homes in Florence that attract a particular group of part-time residents, which, in turn, attract a special group of tourists.

The homes are nest boxes for purple martins, the nation’s largest swallows, which, statewide, number about 1,000 nesting pairs, most of which reside in manmade dwellings.

“They nest in boxes created for them,” said Horvath. “Right here in Old Town is a great place for people to observe the birds. A number of birdwatchers know about the nesting boxes and stop to see them.”

The adult males over 2 years old are a glossy steel blue, the females, a subdued gray.

Once the birds have successfully nested, they return the next year to the same dwelling. The local colony comprises 15 to 20 pairs that arrive in Florence in April and stay until the first week in September.

They spend their winters in Brazil. Instead of their cushy, riverfront metal-roofed local homes, they rough it in South America, congregating at electrical substations, where they spend their nights perched on wires.

“They like to roost together,” said Horvath.

The birds can be footloose and fancy-free in Brazil because there are no eggs or young to worry about, but it is a different story when they return north, where they require homes that protect them from predators.

“Humans use the word nest almost as a synonym for safe, but for birds, the nest is the most dangerous place they will be their entire lives,” said the biologist.

For the complete article see the 06-29-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 06-29-2013 paper.

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