DENHAM SPRINGS -- Like many Purple Martin landlords, Krista Adams’ fascination with the bird was passed down to her.
It started more than 30 years ago, when her family would routinely make the three-hour drive from New Orleans to her grandparents’ camp in Grand Isle, where they spent many fun-filled summer weekends fishing and crabbing off the Louisiana coast.
Each day when they returned to camp — and after they cleaned the fish — Adams would walk to the porch to join her grandfather, who could usually be found gazing up at the sky as the sun was setting.
She’d soon discover what her grandfather was looking at.
It was on that porch, at her grandfather’s side, where Adams caught her first glimpse of Purple Martins, which were in the midst of their annual 10,000-mile journey that took them from South America as far north as Canada.
The birds, known for their dark plumage and chattering song, would hover around the wooden birdhouse her grandfather had built atop a pole connected to the porch’s edge. For these Purple Martins, that birdhouse was home — a place they returned to year after year to rest from their travels and nurture their young from hatching to flight.
The sight of Purple Martins quickly became appointment viewing for Adams, who didn’t know much about the bird back then but has learned plenty in the years since.
Three decades later, the fascination with Purple Martins is as strong as ever in Adams, a Denham Springs resident who has spread her love for “America’s favorite song bird” to the community she lives in.
Adams built her first Purple Martin house 20 years ago and has since built many more in and around the city, always trying to educate those who are unfamiliar with the human-reliant bird.
When it comes to Purple Martins, there’s no limit to what their landlords are willing to do for them, Adams said.
“We make nests for them inside the house, we will hand-feed them if food is scarce, we will protect them from birds that might do them some harm, and we’ll even take down a tree in our backyard to make room for them,” Adams said.
“Some of us will even wear ‘I Love Purple Martins’ T-shirts,” she added with a laugh, pointing to the birds plastered across her shirt.
About the Purple Martin
Purple Martins, best known for their chattering song, social antics, and graceful flight, are the largest member of the swallow family in North America and are the first spring Neotropical migrant to arrive, according to the Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA).
They start their spring migration from South America as early as December, crossing the Gulf of Mexico into North America for breeding season. Many continue the migration for several months and can begin nesting as late as June in southern Canada, according to the PMCA.
But in south Louisiana, spring is the opportune time for landlords to attract their first nesting martins, Adams recently told students at Eastside Elementary.
Martins depend on human-supplied housing east of the Rocky Mountains, according to the PMCA. They like their homes to be high off the ground and in open-spaced areas — preferably away from trees — and they like to nest in groups.
Since building her first Purple Martin home out of aluminum 20 years ago — and waiting another three years for the first bird to arrive — Adams and her family have had a hand in around 200 nesting cavities scattered throughout the Denham Springs area.
They’ve helped install gourd racks and birdhouses at Eastside Elementary, Freshwater Elementary, Live Oak High and Tanglewood Elementary in Central, as well as Willow Woods Park in Denham Springs.
The Purple Martin craze has even caught on in Adams’ own neighborhood.
“About eight houses in my neighborhood have Purple Martin houses,” she said. “I can walk out in the early spring before daylight and hear their music going on all over the neighborhood. It’s a soothing sound.”
The biggest colony of Purple Martin houses is located at North Park, where the bird can be found in abundance during the spring months.
Krista, her husband Mike, and their daughters Renee and Kristine installed their first gourd rack at North Park in March 2016. The next day, they spotted several martins perched atop the gourds at the new site, signaling the official start of “The Adams Family Purple Martin Project.”
The Adams family added another 20 gourds the next year, and now, there are about 40 gourds at North Park near the pond behind the walking path — an ideal spot away from trees, next to a water source where insects are plentiful, and in viewing distance of park visitors.
The Adams family performs regular nest checks at the sites, jotting down their findings to detect and correct problems that may develop throughout the season. Because Purple Martins are tolerant of humans, they’ve even been able to spot them inside the gourds.
“It’s always a special treat when you open up the gourd and see the mom in there,” Adams said.
For Adams, being a Purple Martin landlord is more than a hobby — it’s a lifestyle.
She works at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine and is a member of several birding organizations, including the Purple Martin Conservation Association, the Louisiana Ornithological Society and the Baton Rouge Audubon Society.
Though she’s been a Purple Martin landlord for two decades and has traveled to roost sites across the country to catch thousands in flight, she still hasn’t gotten enough.
“They’re very entertaining to watch, and they like people,” she said. “You can sit right under the house with them. I can literally stand underneath their house and they just look at me because they’re not afraid of me.”
And just as that love was passed down from her grandfather, Adams has passed it to her daughters, who’ve learned a thing or two about the bird from their mother.
“My daughters Kristine and Renee are purple martin experts,” she joked.
Adams will look to spread her interest even further when she hosts her first Purple Martin event at North Park on Saturday, May 11. The family-friendly educational event will begin at 9 a.m. and will be open to purple martin, gardening and bird enthusiasts, Adams said.
Other groups scheduled to take part in the program are the Denham Springs Garden Club, the Greater New Orleans Iris Society, Louisiana Master Gardeners, Louisiana Master Naturalists of Greater Baton Rouge, and the Live Oak High Environmental Club. Three local elementary classes will also have Purple Martin-themed artwork on display.