Richard Russell and his wife, Naomi, have more than 300 house guests, but they don’t mind. In fact, they couldn’t be happier.
At their home located just outside of Farmington, the Russell’s are playing host to more than 160 pairs of Purple Martins. The songbird, which is the largest of the North American swallows, have taken well to the homes set up by the Russell’s.
Russell began his interest in Purple Martins following his marriage to Naomi seven years ago.
“My wife’s family had placed Martin homes in their backyards. I thought ‘Sure, let’s try this’ and bought the standard 24 hole Martin House and placed it on a pole in the backyard,” he recalled.
But unlike the familiar line “If you build it, they will come”, Martins weren’t flocking to the Russell houses.
At this point, Russell began to research what conditions the Martins would prefer. While in a doctor’s office waiting room, he read an article in “Birds and Blooms” magazine that gave a number of tips on attracting Purple Martins. The article featured a man from Tennessee who has had much success in Purple Martins.
“I got in touch with that gentlemen who then gave me the name of a gentleman in Arkansas,” he recalled.
It was through this contact Russell received the name of Andrew Troyer, a gentleman in Pennsylvania who has built what is called “The Birds Paradise”.
Through all the research Russell found the birds desire a much deeper compartment than those of his first houses. Also, instead of the tradition round entrance hole, a more oblong hole is used in the homes built by Troyer-which keeps the starlings from invading the homes.
Suddenly, Russell began to notice visitors to his new homes.
“After I ordered a house from Andrew and placed it in the yard, we left the house on a Thursday. When we came back that Monday, there was four pair of birds in the new house. The next year, 37 pair were in the houses,” he said.
And the numbers continued to grow. The following year had nearly double the 37 pair of the previous year and this year, 160 pair have made their homes in the Russell’s Purple Martin houses.
“The birds are continually happy and not threatened in these type of homes,” he said. He added it’s a traditional “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” in the bird’s world as well.
He has also placed gourd-type homes for the birds. These have been well-received.
The adult Purple Martins arrive in early March to their successful homesites, followed by birds which hatched the previous year. The birds do not return to the sight from where they were hatched. Instead, these are the birds who, according to the Purple Martin Society, NA, “colonize new martin housing and gourds”.
Russell said some tracking has been done in the past of the young Martins. It was found the closest of some the birds who were tag came to where they were hatched was 18 miles and the farthest distance was 200 miles.
Each pair will hatch five to seven nestlings in their compartment, leaving anywhere from mid-July to mid-August. The Martins diet consist of flying insects and as the food supply dwindles, the Martins will begin to leave. On their return travels to their “winter homes” in Brazil, the birds will gather by the hundreds of thousands in Lake Ponchetrane, Louisiana, as well as the states of Alabama and Texas.
But for now, Farmington is home for a number of the Martins. Russell gives much of the credit for his success in the contacts he has made. He recalled how his father told him “If you want to learn how to win, you learn from winners” when he was growing up.
“I started with the best equipment and best teachers and that is why we have been so successful,” he said.
He added he has been given the nickname “Martin Man”, one which he proudly wears.
And the Welcome signs will be ready for next year’s visitors.