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Wednesday, 20 January 2010 16:12

The Naturalist's Corner

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And then there were none

Atlee Yoder’s purple martin houses are in storage, out of the raw Ohio weather, awaiting spring and the first scout of the new season. But herein lies the rub — Yoder’s houses did not come down until last week.

Yoder, an Amish farmer from Apple Creek in the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country is, like many of his Amish neighbors who eschew most of our modern contrivances and conveniences, quite partial to these organic bug zappers.

Last August just as Yoder’s breeding colony was departing for the balmy climes of South America, a female martin with a late fledgling showed up at his houses. Being neighborly, Yoder left his houses up and the birds stayed — and stayed. September passed, then October and finally in November the fledgling disappeared. But the adult female lingered.

According to posts from the Purple Martin Conservation Association’s Web site forum and their Facebook site and from Ohio birds listserv, the female martin stayed until Jan. 10, 2010. Reports say that Yoder fed the bird on Jan. 10 by tossing mealworms into the air for her to catch as he had been doing for the last month or so. According to those reports the bird appeared healthy at that time, but failed to reappear the next day, or the next and thus appeared to have flown the coop.

And now for the official disclaimer — a purple martin overwintering anywhere in the U.S. should be big news for birders in general and the ornithological community in particular, yet documentation of this bird is sparse and sometimes contradictory. I have no reason to doubt Su Snyder’s (a member of the Greater Mohican Audubon Society) photo, which she so graciously provided for this story but other pieces of the story are puzzling.

According to the Ohio listserv the bird was supposedly reported on the Wilmot, Ohio, Christmas Bird Count. But when I go to Audubon’s Web site and pull up that particular CBC there is no mention of a purple martin. But then the bird is mentioned in a Dec. 22, 2009, Ohio statewide “rare bird alert.”

I have emailed a member of the Ohio Birds Record Committee, the Ohio Ornithological Society and the compiler of the Wilmot CBC but to date have received no replies. I imagine these people are being cautious and working to cross all “t”s and dot all “i”s before commenting in public. There might be questions of the birds’ origin i.e. were they captive reared?

Hopefully, this will be sorted out and I will be able to update you on this seemingly “first ever U.S. overwintering purple martin.” In the meantime if you’re interested in purple martins check out the Purple Martin Conservation Association’s website at purplemartin.org or their Facebook site.

At least it’s not an ivory-billed woodpecker, right?

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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