and Susie Baker's backyard is for the birds
by Jim McCarty
Baker's efforts to build a better purple martin house led to this
design made from PVC pipe. The design is easy to clean by opening
both ends and pushing the old nest out when the birds head south.
Frank and Susie Bakers home near Mayview and it wont take
long to discover this place is for the birds. First theres the old
piece of wire and two poles that go nowhere. Frank left this old electrical
service up so his pets have a place to roost. Then theres the battered
old elm tree that most folks would have targeted for mercy killing. It
lives for one purpose: purple martins line their nests with its leaves.
there are the two apartment complexes Frank built for the birds. One is
so big it takes four poles to hold it up. It has 128 rooms, 32 on each
side, built in removable boxes.
is made from 24 pieces of 8-inch plastic pipe. It represents the latest
evolution in Franks quest for the perfect purple martin house.
been purple martin landlords for about 25 years, says Frank, a member
of West Central Electric Cooperative. When you get bit by the bug
youve had it. We are purple martin nuts for sure.
constructs purple martin houses at his home near Mayview.
still remembers when a co-worker told him of his evenings spent watching
birds from his back porch. Frank told Susie he thought bird watching was
the dumbest hobby hed ever heard of.
One day Frank paid his friend a visit to see what the fuss was about.
When he left he went straight home and built his first purple martin house,
a pint-sized replica of the garden sheds Frank used to build.
martins, members of the swallow family, are revered for their insatiable
appetite for mosquitoes. But Frank and Susie love them for their acrobatic
antics and beautiful song.
the years Frank moved the martin houses closer to his deck so that he
could better observe them. He says they dont really like being too
close to human activity. But once you have them established you
almost cant run them off.
many people would like to get purple martins established at their homes,
Frank says few people do the job right. Most people put up a pole
and forget about it and then wonder why they dont have birds. They
dont have time to do all the work.
that in mind Frank built a series of houses with the idea of reducing
the workload. Purple martins are picky birds. They want to build new nests
each year. So in the fall, when the birds leave, landlords
like Frank must remove each nest and clean the box.
purple martin "apartment" has 128 rooms.
commercial bird houses make this task difficult. Martins use mud for their
nests and this makes them stick to the box. Often martin houses are placed
on poles that make getting the house down impossible.
it up invites other birds, like starlings, to take over the nest. Frank
quickly discovered how much work is involved after his first season with
used a welding rod with a hook on the end to clean them, says Susie.
He was standing on a ladder pulling stuff out and got a snake.
thought the snake was a hose until it moved. Then he jumped off the ladder
and set out to design a better bird house.
led to the huge structure with peaked roof mounted to four poles. With
the nests built in removable boxes, Frank figured he could take them down
and clean them inside. But the boxes proved time consuming to clean. There
had to be a better way.
down the interstate one day Frank passed a truck hauling pipe. Seeing
that load of pipe gave him an idea. In his workshop he set to work to
design a set of houses made from pipe. He cut the pipe into 12-inch lengths.
This size keeps the martins away from predators like owls.
and Susie Baker
end he put a hinged door made from scrap plastic. This lets him push the
old nests out the other end. He fabricated a floor with angles that match
the curved walls of the pipe. Then he fitted a round door to cover the
opening so the nests could be closed when the martins migrate. He drills
holes in the pipe bottom so rain wont flood the nests.
added one final touch. She guessed the martins would be stressed from
the intense heat that would build up inside the houses during the summer.
So she suggested putting pipe fittings on the back door to serve as a
system worked so well that Frank keeps adding more nests, bolting them
to the ones already in place. He plans to add nine more this year and
continue adding to it until he has room for 100 martin families.
typical year his backyard will be home to hundreds of martins, so many
that they stop traffic on the service road in front of his house and even
draw attention from nearby Interstate 70.
also building a 6-unit pipe apartment for his son. Three apartments
is plenty for the first year, Frank says. Ive never
heard of anyone getting more than two pair in their first year.
martins like to come back to the same nest each year. To attract them
to a new site you have to wait for birds who looked for last years
house but found it gone.
says he hopes to have 100 purple martin houses made from PVC pipe
in place at his home by next year.
not near too late to put up a house, he says. The first year
you get martins it is usually late in the season.
his first pair of martins were so desperate for housing they looked the
house over and started moving mud the same day.
year cold weather kept the food supply away and the martins are slow in
arriving. Normally purple martins arrive in March or April. Frank says
to leave houses up at least until June in the hopes of attracting a new
martins depend on humans for their nesting sites. For more information
you can call the Bakers at (660) 237-4392 or visit the Purple Martin Conservation
Society Web site at www.purplemartin.org.