Bernson's Corner: Purple Martins of Bullitt County
Louisville, KY (WDRB) -- The number of bird-watchers in America is now estimated to exceed 60 million. But mere observation of birds isn't enough for some people including one man in Bernson's Corner who really gets involved with his tenants.
A chilly afternoon in April, and Larry Melcher is gathering his crickets. "Yeah, now what we're gonna do with these plastic spoons, is once these crickets become lethargic in the refrigerator, we're gonna flip 'em up in the air to the purple martins."
Mr. Melcher is simply addicted to these aerial acrobats with forked tails, so he's showing us how to feed the birds when it's too early in the season for insects to become purple martin fast food. He says, "Purple martins only eat flyin' insects."
Every spring, the birds migrate here thousands of miles from the Amazon basin in South America. As April turns to May, and the weather warms up, the martins begin to build homes... inside these 58 plastic gourds attached to 16-foot aluminum poles.
"See that pretty nest bowl in there?" Melcher says. "Those green leaves tell me it's about time to lay eggs."
Each of the residents seems to have its own Twitter account, on which they discuss how Larry's here to help.
Purple martins, you see, are the only species of bird totally dependent on humans for their lodging. If you're a purple martin in Bullitt County, Larry Melcher's the guy you want as your landlord.
"What we have here is six purple martin eggs, that's been laid probably a week or so ago. I keep nest check records. It takes 16 days to hatch, so they're within days of hatching."
Then, as May turns to June, the life cycle is nearing completion. Mr. Melcher keeps his meticulous nest records... and makes sure the hatchlings don't fall prey to hawks or owls. "If predators attack 'em, they'll -- I'll wind up losing my colonies," Melcher explains.
For Larry Melcher, it all pays off: being the birds' personal innkeeper -- providing room and board -- in exchange for what amounts to entertainment. About every day you'll find him sitting in his lawn chair, just watching his martins swoop through the sky.
"These birds are just fun to have in your back yard. I mean, you can just sit and watch 'em for hours." In fact, Melcher says, "These are my babies, these are my pets! These things flew all the way from South America to my back yard to raise their families and then take their family back to South America. It's pretty special."
About the middle of August, the birds with their new fledglings will gather for their return trip to Brazil, leaving behind one devoted human: with memories of the captivating gracefulness and athletic beauty that only nature can provide.
In Bullitt County, Barry Bernson, WDRB News.