Thursday, June 18, 2009

The ride to work

I took some time to visit the Purple Martin houses and the Jarvis Bird Sanctuary, perhaps the most beautiful spot along the entire lakefront. Made beautiful in part by the fact that the public is not allowed inside.

While my skill at identifying bird song is not up to snuff, it's clear just by listening how many species of birds live or pass through that small eight acre paradise that cannot be found elsewhere in town.

It's like comparing Beethoven to Happy Birthday.

The Purple Martin story is quite interesting. Our relationship with them is truly symbiotic. The birds are almost entirely dependent on our building homes for them, as other more aggressive introduced species have taken over their natural nesting sites.

Volunteers there in Lincoln Park maintain the homes, and evict unwanted birds, especially European Starlings. Most amazing is that after their eggs hatch, the Martins happily allow the volunteers to clean out their little rooms on a regular basis, just like in a hotel! After the young are successfully weaned by mid-summer, the birds hang out in the Sanctuary, gaining strength before embarking on their 4000 mile journey to South America where they winter. The houses are then sealed up until they return in the spring.

This wonderful human/bird relationship goes back hundreds of years when Native Americans built Martin homes out of gourds that surrounded their settlements. Any intruder would incite the chatty nesting birds to make a racket, alerting the people to possible trouble.

Today we gain immeasurably simply by sharing our corner of the world with these marvelous creatures. Urban planning at its finest!

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