Ohio Martin Breeds in SW Pennsylvania

From: Ken Kostka, info@purple-martin.org, PMPA, Pittsburgh, PA
Date: 2/26/02
Time: 2:20:12 PM
Remote Name:


For about the past twenty years, I have informally studied a small martin colony at a public golf course in Sarver, PA. It is the only active site within a 25 mile radius of my hometown in southwestern, PA, where I’ve tried to establish a colony site since 1980. During the 2000 season, as I was looking over the birds with my high power spotting scope, I noticed that one of the subadult females had a USGS aluminum leg band. I was very excited because I had long wondered about the possible “sources” of martins for this 8-10 pair colony site in this martin-starved corner of the county. Here was a chance to discover where a martin breeding only 8 miles from my own “would-be” colony site had originated.

It was impossible to read the band at first, because she was feeding small young and would zip in and out of the compartment, not pausing long enough to let me see the numbers on the band. Also, since there were nine digits, the band had to spin around to expose all the numbers. The house did not raise and lower vertically or have compartments that opened, making it impossible to temporarily trap the bird. After several hours, I decided to give up and come back when the nestlings were older and would be sticking their heads out the entrance hole, allowing the female to feed them from the porch, and giving me an opportunity to get better looks at the band.

I returned several weeks later. The martin house is located right at the tee for the first hole, and it was amusing to overhear people speculate about what I was doing. Some thought I was “filming” the golfers (I think I made quite a few golfers a bit nervous); some thought I was filming or taking pictures of the martins; some thought I was surveying the golf course! The few people who asked were kind of dumbfounded to realize I was trying to read a band on a bird’s leg!

Several hours later, I had read all nine digits. Weeks later, I discovered that this bird was banded as a nestling in Holmesville, OH, at the Amish farm of Roman Miller, about 112 miles west of Sarver, PA. He would be surprised to know that one of his martins was breeding on a golf course to the east over 100 miles from home. I also informed Lloyd Getty, the 91-year-old former constable who started this golf course colony site over thirty years ago. He is an “old school” landlord: stationary housing, round holes, small compartments, but he has maintained this martin oasis through the years. I thought it interesting how this martin somehow connected these two men from across state lines and across two cultures, and I feel a debt of gratitude to both the Amish and the old-timers, who have played a large role in helping the martin tradition to survive around here through some hard times.

Ken Kostka, PMPA 

Thanks to Master Birdbander Mark Shieldcastle of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, under whose permit this martin was banded as a nestling.