21 July 2016

Legacy of Martin Houses Continues at Valentine

The legacy of some martin houses providing nesting sites within Valentine has continued for years after being were built by Les Dooley.

There are three known purple martin houses that continue in use as seasonal purple martin nesting locales, decades after first put in place. Now – in mid-July – young are fledging from ornate structures at Wacky West RV park, north Ray street near 6th and at 900 west Candice.

The martin houses were built about two decades ago in the backyard workshop of Dooley. He’d retired from the construction business and after doing some research, decided to build and sell the big houses used by martin. Many of them included homes for ten or more pairs.

“He used many unique designs,” said Dan Mayhew, at Wacky West. A house was then sold for the cost of materials, and to get funds to build another.

A benefit of having many martins was the reduction in flying bug pests, as insects – especially mosquitoes – are a preferred prey of the birds.

Dan and Phyllis Mayhew got one of the last remaining houses when it was purchased a dozen years ago. There were no martins present the first year after the house was erected, but they have returned each year since.

“It is a joyful occasion,” when the Purple Martins return in the spring, Dan Mayhew said. “We really enjoy them, as they are a beautiful bird.” He especially likes to watch their behavior when they first arrive in mid-April. “A scout bird arrives first, then about a week later a bunch will return.” Some of our patrons also appreciate the martins and may spend time looking and listening to them.

Three of the last remaining houses were purchased from Marie Dooley, Lester’s widow, and given to the kids of Dan and Phyllis.

Some of the martin houses did not remain in Valentine, having been bought for country ranches, including the Duck-Bar Ranch of the Beels, near Kennedy in Cherry county. Marianne Beel did a story on Dooley in 1994, and reported that some houses went to California and Montana. Small wooden churches were also being built to provide homes for the House Wren, she said.

At one time, Dooley had five houses placed in the back yard of his home on Ray Street, and had forty pair of nesting martins.

There are two other known martin houses in the Heart City, one near 5th and Government Street and at 6th and Valentine Street. The Mill Pond is one locale that does not have a martin house but would be a good place to erect one, because of its proximity to water.
Purple Martin house at Valentine. Built by Les Dooley.
Subsequently issued in the Valentine Midland News issue of August 3, 2016.