View all of the titles in the
by Stan Tekiela
October 4, 2021
I am no stranger to traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to see, study and document some of natures most wonderful events. For over 35 years I have travels to see the epic migration of Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska, stunning flocks of Snow Geese in North Dakota and remarkable Monarch Butterflies in southern California and the list goes on and on. But over the past couple of weeks, I haven’t had to travel very far to see a spectacular natural occurrence. This natural event has been within an hour or two of my home in Minnesota. And what is even better, it’s a natural event I had never seen before. It’s the gathering of thousands of Purple Martins for an evening roost before migrating south.
Purple Martins are the largest member of the swallow family in North America. As is the case of many birds, its common name isn’t very accurate. The males are not actually purple but rather a blackish-blue. The males’ feathers are iridescent and when seen in bright sunlight they look navy blue and sometimes green. Females are mostly gray with brownish wings. The name Martin comes from French and British pet names and refers to a diminutive of Mars. Pet names where often assigned to familiar backyard birds or as the British like to say, “dooryard” birds.
Martins freely breed across the eastern half of the United States and up into parts of central Canada. There are a few separate populations that breed in California, Arizona, and New Mexico but mostly they are an eastern species of bird. And now for one of the more amazing facts about Martins. They nest in colonies, which means they are nesting in groups of 10 to 100 pairs of birds. All of this nesting takes place in human-made nesting structures. That’s right, they only nest in human-made apartment style or individual nesting gourds that are put out by people. They don’t nest in the wild.
The human-avian relationship is considered synanthropic, which means that the birds have greatly benefited from living in close proximity to people. Over the past couple hundred of years the martins have made a complete transition from nesting in the wild to totally dependent upon and benefiting from people who provide homes for nesting. I am one of those people who provide nesting boxes for martins. For the past 20 years I have dozens of Purple Martins nesting just 30 feet from my house in the housing I provide for them.
Each spring I look forward to my martins returning. They are such talkative birds and I really enjoy hearing them. But at the end of the nesting season, in late summer when all the martins have left my colony, the silence is nearly heart-breaking. But this year, I was fortunate enough to extend the martin season by a few extra weeks by seeking out their evening roosting spots.
They gather in large flocks in preparation for migration. These flocks can number in the thousands. Martins are long distance migrators. In late summer, huge flocks gather and slowly move southward. Small flocks join larger flocks until tens of thousands of martins are migrating south with a destination of the Amazon basin in South America.
When they gather in the evening or when leaving in the morning, the movement of all these birds at the same time is often observable on local Doppler radar. Several of my friends work together to watch the Doppler radar for signs of the martin activity and then go out to find these nighttime roosts.
After visiting one large roost in central Minnesota, I returned a week later with my own boat to see and photograph the gathering of Purple Martins. In just one weeks’ time the number of martins coming to this roost had more than doubled. Arriving just before sunset, I launch my boat with great anticipation and anchoring the boat right next to a large stand of cattails. About 20 mins after sunset, I could see the first few martins flying into the area. Then slowly over the next 20 to 30 minutes hundreds then thousands of martins gathered in the airspace above my boat. The sight and sound of this many birds is unbelievable. The constant swooping and swirling of the birds against the orange glow of the setting sun was breath-taking and hearing that many martins calling warmed my heart.
My camera was in high gear as I attempted to capture the gravity and grandeur of the natural event unfolding above me. Then all the birds gathered high in the sky and then dropped like rain drops into the cattail marsh. Now sky was empty, and the birds were quite. Of course, the pictures don’t do it justice, but the memory will last a lifetime. Until next time…
Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and photograph wildlife. He can be followed on facebook.com, twitter.com and Instagram.com. He can be contacted via his web page at naturesmart.com.
The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.
Every now and then I get an opportunity to work with a species that I don’t have much hands-on experience. These are often rare or endangered species or a species that is difficult to access and lives in areas that makes it hard to get close to. Years ago, I traveled across the U.S. to...
Every now and then I meet a true wildlife superhero. You know, the kind of person who has dedicated their life to understand and protecting wildlife. And even after many decades they are still interested in learning more and doing the hard work that it takes to protect an endangered species....
Blackbirds always seem to get a bad rap and as the late Rodney Dangerfield was fond of saying, “they get no respect” in the bird world. I for one would argue that the blackbirds are an amazing group of birds and that if you knew just how special blackbirds are, you would think they...
Do you have any interesting wildlife in your backyard? Any nesting birds, deer, turkeys, reptiles, amphibians, or other unique wildlife? Or maybe a fox or coyote den?
If so, contact Stan at email@example.com with your backyard wildlife. If he can get a good photo of the subject, he will send you a print of the photo to hang on your wall.
When he's out in the field, Stan relies on his Vortex Razor binoculars and Vortex Razor spotting scope to help find the subjects for his award winning wildlife photography.
Now, contact Stan for your special code to get a 10% discount off, along with free shipping, when you purchase any of the Vortex line of binoculars or spotting scopes.
For thirty years, professional wildlife photographer Stan Tekiela has counted on Hunt's Photo and Video to provide him with professional photography equipment.
From tripods to camera bodies and lenses, Hunt's has been Stan's place for everything that he needs. Personal service and prompt shipping means Stan can count on Hunt's to support his professional wildlife photography career.
Professional Wildlife Photographer Stan Tekiela always uses Feeder Fresh in his seed feeders to help keep the feeders and food dry, clean and mold free.
He also uses Feeder Fresh Nectar Defender in all of his hummingbird feeders. It safely keeps nectar fresh longer.