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Purple martins at home in N.D.

Brad Halvorson isn't bothered when his tenants get a little noisy or make a mess in his yard. He's just glad they're there. For the past 11 years, the West Fargo man and his wife, Patty, have been landlords for purple martins, a bird almost entir...

Purple martins

Brad Halvorson isn't bothered when his tenants get a little noisy or make a mess in his yard.

He's just glad they're there.

For the past 11 years, the West Fargo man and his wife, Patty, have been landlords for purple martins, a bird almost entirely dependent on humans for housing.

Each spring, the birds return to North America from Brazil to check out the housing market and nest.

If they enjoyed the housing experience the year before, the birds will return to the same place, according to the Purple Martin Conservation Association.

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But if sparrows, starlings or a snake ruined the summer stay, don't expect the feathered friends to come back.

The Halvorsons work hard to ensure their guests return. The birds arrive in mid-April and stay through July.

During their first year, the Halvorsons had five birds. They now have more than 30.

Brad Halvorson said his interest in martins arose after visiting a friend in Fargo to check out a stereo system. He ended up fascinated by his friend's birds.

"They're remarkable little birds," he said. "They have their own personality."

Being a successful landlord isn't as easy as putting a birdhouse in a tree, however. The association lists standards on house color, dimensions and yard placement for the birds' summer homes.

Halvorson bought a kit off the group's Web site. He offers 14 compartments and four gourds.

Each day, he lowers the 15-foot pole the housing is attached to. Starlings and sparrows are bad news for martins, he explained.

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His housing was built so starlings can't get in, but he constantly has to confiscate sparrow nesting to protect his "babies," the martins.

Over the years, Halvorson has also bought crickets to feed his birds when food is scarce and has provided a heat source when it's cold.

"I don't know what it is I find so fascinating about them. Maybe they find me as entertaining as I find them," he said.

Bill Essig of West Fargo also has an interest in the birds and has supplied housing for 30 years. He likes to hear the birds sing and said they're fun to watch.

Essig has seven pairs this year. He used to have up to 50 birds, but human activity has ruined nearby feeding areas.

"I think a person has to seriously look at what we are doing with the environment of the birds," he said.

Purple martins would be rare if people didn't provide housing for them, said John Tautin, executive director of the Purple Martin Conservation Association in Erie, Pa.

Human interest in the birds goes back to pre-colonial times when American Indian villages put up hollowed gourds for martins, he said.

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"Most people really love this bird. They're very vocal. It's fun to watch them fly in and out," Tautin said.

For Halvorson, the birds' personalities are the best part.

"I could sit out here for hours just watching them."

Purple martin facts

- More than 1 million North Americans put up housing for purple martins.

- The birds spend the nonbreeding season in Brazil, then migrate to North America to nest. East of the Rockies, they are totally dependent on

human-supplied housing.

West of the Rockies and in the deserts, they largely nest in their ancestral ways, in abandoned woodpecker nest cavities.

- They eat only flying insects, such as dragonflies, flies, butterflies and moths. Martins are not big consumers of mosquitoes, despite popular belief.

Source: Purple Martin Conservation Association

Online

- www.purplemartin.org

Readers can reach Forum reporter Teri Finneman at (701) 241-5560

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