- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) - Francis Jackson, who is known as a master birdhouse builder, believes he has built the largest purple martin birdhouse in the state of Mississippi.

Jackson, a local electrician, said his fascination with purple martins began when he was 10 years old and a neighbor asked him to help him build a birdhouse.

“A family of martins came, and that’s when my whole thing started,” he said.

Purple martins fly approximately 6,000 miles a year to come to Mississippi, Jackson said.

“They fly 3,000 miles to North America to raise their young,” he said. “The reason they come to North America to raise their young is because they don’t have the food down there for their young.”

Jackson said American Indians were the first to make birdhouses for purple martins by hollowing out gourds.

“It’s really important that a person has purple martin houses because they don’t have any natural habitat anymore. We’ve torn all of their houses down,” he said. “Their environment is leaving, so now they depend on humans for their housing.”

Jackson said the relationship between purple martins and humans is mutually beneficial.

“Once you get them in a house they’ve got that pretty song that they sing and they eat around 10,000 mosquitoes a day,” he said. “Purple martins aren’t scared of people. They actually feel safer when there are humans around.”

Jackson has built many birdhouses over the years, but his newest one houses six families in six large compartments, and took him nine months to build.

“I don’t put too many compartments in my houses because they have to be ventilated in the summer because it’s hot and you have to have heat in the winter,” he said. “I have thermostats and heat emitters, and when it gets below 60 degrees the heaters will kick on and keep them from freezing to death.”

Jackson also installed air vents with sliders to provide ventilation in the summer and extra insulation during the winter.

“The boxes get so hot that the babies can’t stay in there anymore and they’ll jump,” he said. “They call them jumpers. I have railings on mine so the babies won’t jump? they’ll just come out on the porch and cool off.”

Jackson said he also has a camera in his birdhouse so he can watch the birds on his television.

“The wider and deeper the cavity is the more young they have,” he said. “The further back they are, the harder it is for predators to get to them.”

Jackson has designed his newest birdhouse to protect the birds from a number of predators - from the air, English starlings, sparrows and owls and from the ground, snakes, squirrels and raccoons.

Jackson said he recently converted his houses from having standard round hole entrances to new Plastic Conley II plates.

“This is one of the new holes scientists have come up with,” he said. “I was really skeptical at first. I thought how is a bird that big going to fit in that hole.”

Starlings and owls can’t find in the holes and the deeper cavities give the young extra protection, Jackson said.

“The martin gets up there and lays down and crawls in,” he said. “At first I watched and thought he couldn’t get in, but then he was able to.”

After an unfortunate incident involving a snake a few years back, Jackson said he has also installed predator guards on the poles supporting his birdhouses.

“It keeps snakes and raccoons out,” he said “I use predator guards and metal round black poles. If you use a square pole snakes and squirrels can climb up it a lot easier.”

Jackson said he uses scaffolding to install the birdhouses and keep up with the general maintenance.

“In the winter I take the roofs off, and I take a tarp and throw it on top of them,” he said. “I tie it around like the top like a blow pop so nothing can get in it.”

To attract the purple martins, Jackson said he uses decoys and plays recordings of purple martins singing.

“A purple martin doesn’t like to be alone,” he said. “It likes to be with others, like a colony. That’s why they’re constantly calling others trying to get them here. They say if you ever get a pair that successfully raise their young and fly off that same pair will come right back to that same compartment.”

Jackson said purple martins start to show up in late February and they stay until the second or third week in June when the babies are able to fly.

“They’ll leave the box, and they’ll come back for 10 days before heading back to Brazil for nine months,” he said. “You don’t see them anymore until the next year, but the babies always come back to the house they were raised in.”

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Information from: The Vicksburg Post, https://www.vicksburgpost.com


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