I'm just back from a wonderful trip to Canada. What an amazing country, and it was great opportunity for me to check out how they try to give nature a home, and see if it offers any inspiration for how we do things here.
So, in the first of a little series of blogs over the summer, I thought I'd start with this, which I think is a fascinating story of mankind and birdkind living together.
For this, I purposely chose to stay in the Duck Pond B&B near Leamington in Ontario, where Aad and Marjolein have erected this in their garden:
It sits pride of place right in the middle of the lawn. like a satellite pole covered in large white baubles.
Those who have been to North America might recognise it, but if you haven't, let's go in a little closer:
It is a nesting colony of Purple Martins. And the construction is entirely for them; it serves no other purpose.
Let's look at a pair close up:
About the size of a Starling, so considerably larger than our House Martins, you can see why they are so named: the male is on the right, and it is he that has the glossy sheen to his plumage (although perhaps Blue Martin would have been more apt). His mate is much plainer, and pale underneath.
The astonishing thing about this story is that the Purple Martin in eastern North America is solely dependent on people like Aad and Marjolein providing nestsites for them. They use nothing else but in these custom-made gourds, in a tradition dating back to the original First Nations people. In part of the western American deserts, they still use woodpecker holes in cacti, but other than that the bond with people is absolute; they reminded me of Swifts in the UK in terms of the inseparable relationship.
What I was especially struck by was the dedicated care that Aad and Marjolein give them. This isn't just a case of sticking up some expensive gourds and letting the birds get on with it. The gourds are all lowered a number of times each season, and the nesting material cleared out while the birds still have young so that they can have fresh bedding.
In cold, wet weather, the birds really struggle this far north, so special food is put out to see the birds through.
And Aad keeps meticulous notes of which gourds are used, and how many eggs are laid and chicks are fledged from each:
I was so impressed; indeed, it was quite moving to see the love given to these birds. In return, the birds chatter with the most gorgeous of calls, like the sweetest bubbling. And they help define the seasons - spring arrives when the Purple Martins arrive, and summer is over when one day they all leave en masse heading for Brazil.
I know many of you already do, but if we can get everyone else in the UK feeling the same about their Swifts and House Martins, maybe we can stem the declines of them both, although arresting the calamitous declines of the insects on which they feed needs to be part of the solution.
For Aad and Marjolein, all 16 of their gourds are occupied this year, and by switching to new gourds with arc openings, they have managed to exclude the House Sparrows and Starlings, which were introduced to North America and have proliferated and caused mayhem with all sorts of native wildlife - now isn't that ironic, given the problems they are facing here in their native land!
And I've come away having fallen in love with the Purple Martins, and with a reminder of what can be achieved when we go all-out to give nature a home.
Wonderful. I could not agree more about house martins, swifts and swallows here.
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