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Purple Martins & Jack Gulvin

Jack Gulvin is the building superintendent for Purple Martin condos, where the resident Purple Martins need not lift a talon.

Every few days, Jack lowers the condos from their high-up perch to record the egg and chick counts and change out their white pine needle bedding (which he collects the previous fall and saves for this use). He discards deadly blowfly maggots and sprinkles an insecticidal powder to kill mites and fleas. He even installed a special compartment in the penthouse of the bird condo to catch house sparrows — an aggressive bird that likes to squat in purple martin nests.

Other than bluebirds, Gulvin said, purple martins are one of the only species to require that kind of pampering. The birds used to breed in woodpecker cavities and hollow spaces, but human development has largely cleared swamps and eliminated dead trees where purple martins take shelter.

“They are now, in the major part of the range, wholly dependent on humans,” said Gulvin, who has cared for Chautauqua’s purple martin houses for more than 15 years.

Gulvin retired from the National Park Service at 37, which means he’s spent more than a quarter century doing “whatever [he] feels like doing.” Currently, his summers are split between leading tree and nature walks for the Bird, Tree & Garden Club and caring for Chautauqua’s five purple martin houses — one by the Sports Club, three by the John R. Turney Sailing Center, and another by the golf course cart barn. He maintains a few more purple martin houses near his home in Westfield, bringing the total number of compartments he cares for to more than 130. (Morgan Kinney/Chautauquan Daily)

The Purple Martin Conservation Association

Based in Erie, Pennsylvania, the Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of Purple Martins (Progne subis) through scientific research, state-of-the-art management techniques, and public education, with the end goal of increasing martin populations throughout North America.

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