07 September 2008

Purple Martins a Spectacle at Midtown Omaha Roost

A purple martin roost located has provided a consistent spectacle to bird enthusiasts since it was first located on 23 August 2008.

A skywalk at the site has been a hazard to the gathering martins, with a number of dead and temporarily stunned birds.

This is a stunned bird on the 26th of August, which was captured and kept for about 30 minutes until it was placed on a branch in one of the roost trees.
This is a view of some martins crossing 44th street, just before landing in the trees of the roost.
Picture taken on 2 Sep 2008. The following picture shows some of the martins in a roost tree.

The martins are using 10-12 trees in an urban setting, at the Nebraska Medical Center. Several hundred European starlings and common grackles were also using the roost trees during the first few days of observation. By the 6th, there were probably just a couple of hundred grackles present.

The north roost area, at the southeast corner of 44th and Farnam Streets. These are ash trees.

The south roost area. Pictures taken 4 September 2008.

Watchers at the martin roost on 4 September 2008. The videographer is shooting a news segment for a local television station. The gentleman in the purple hat is Dennis Devine, a martin consultant and enthusiast for more than 35 years. This is the first martin roost he has seen.

This is a view of the swarm of martins in a portion of the sky above the roost site, on the 4th. This evening, nearly the entire sky was dotted with martins.

A peak in the number of martins was reached on the 4th, with an estimated 35,000 present. The spectacle was watched by about 25 people, many which came out in response to the newspaper article.

Lesser numbers have subsequently used the roost, with only about 8,000 martins present on the 6th.

To the east of the roost trees, is a skywalk between the two buildings. After several martin carcasses were noted beneath the walkway, officials with the Nebraska Medical Center were informed, and within a few days, and once additional information was received from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official, banners were placed in the windows to create a visual barrier to the flying birds. There have been deaths subsequent to the placement of the banners. The piece of plywood was already in place, as a temporary fix for a broken pane of glass.

There have been several strikes which did not result in a mortality, and these birds have been kept for a time until placed into a roost tree. Having watchers on the scene has allowed these birds to be retrieved before they could have been runover by a vehicle, since two streets run beneath the skywalk.

Martins Still Present After Two Weeks

KETV channel 7 featured a news presentation on their 5:30 p.m. news, Sunday the 7th. Although the video is not available, there is a brief report.

There are fewer martins at the roost site, with an estimated 7500-8000 present on the evening of 7 September. About 20 people were present on a pleasant Sunday evening watching the martin action.

Sunday Evening Martin Skies

It appears there is a different bunch of birds present, as the martins are behaving differently. There is more swooping around the buildings, and different trees are being used.

After the birds had all settled, there were three fatalities at the south skywalk, and a fourth bird was retrieved and held for a while so it could recover from it striking the glass surface. There have been no barriers posted on the south skywalk to make the clear glass opaque and visible to the martins.

This is a martin that was retrieved from the pavement under the north skywalk and kept for a time until it was ready to leave and swoop into a roost tree.

Tuesday Evening

The number of watchers dramatically diminished but there was a notable increase in birds on 9th of September. Three people watched as ca. 10,000 martins came into the roost trees. The birds acted differently, with more low level flying, and the birds in multiple levels of flight, being above the trees, up at 100-200 feet and at higher elevations in the airspace. This evening there were also more martin "tornadoes" as hundreds of the birds would gather in groups and swirl about in a vortex a few hundred feet above midtown.

Bird mortality continues unabated. There were three instances of bird strikes, with two fatalities. There has been no change in the north skywalk, despite comments from an official from the Nebraska Medical Center on 5 September that something would be done, when he noted four dead martins on the Friday night. Another watcher that has called officials at the Nebraska Medical Center several times and left a message requesting that they call back to discuss the ongoing deaths, has not received any call.

It would appear that the comments made by the NMC official that something would be done to place something different in the skywalk windows were just "empty words." The banners now in place are not effective, based on the ongoing deaths of the martins. There have been more than twenty strikes since the banners were put in place, and the NMC received accolades in a newspaper article for their efforts. How wrong those comments were, based on what has happened subsequently.

This is a series of photos showing the death of one martin on 9 September. The first picture was taken moments after the bird hit the pavement. Note how the tail feathers constrict, as life ebbs for this formerly beautiful bird, which moments earlier had been gracefully soaring in the midtown skies. This was another needless death from a bird strike at an Omaha building!

At this point in time, the martin enthusiasts at the roost just wish the birds would go south, so there would be no further deaths at the roost site...

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