ANNAPOLIS – Robert Sladek of Calvert County has been “in the purple martin business” for 27 years. Now he’s made the birds a matter of state business, urging lawmakers to recognize Calvert County as the state’s purple martin capital.
A bill sponsored by the Calvert County delegation and passed Friday by the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee would recognize the county’s hospitality to the birds. The bill would make Maryland the 13th state to have a purple martin capital. It has already passed the House.
State recognition was part of the county’s wish-list to its delegation for the 1995 session.
Sladek has six purple martin houses on his Huntingtown property and is expecting the first of the martin migration to arrive “any day now” — probably by Monday.
Purple martins are the largest North American swallows. Mature males are about seven inches long, all black, and gleam iridescent purple in sunlight. Females are slightly smaller, and gray.
Their houses are distinctive: bird condominium complexes raised on poles. They usually have 24 apartments, but some are built with as many as 300.
Calvert county is surrounded by water on three sides, making it ideal purple martin territory. The county commissioners designated the purple martin as the county’s official bird in 1976, and urged residents to erect houses for them.
Since then, many county residents have become purple martin “landlords.”
Martins nest in eastern North America in the spring and summer and spend the winter in South America. The birds depend almost entirely on man-made housing.
Martins have been called semi-domesticated, because they prefer to nest near humans and have interesting family and social habits. Martin landlords anxiously await returning colonies each spring.
Martins’ popularity is partly due to their eating habits. They feed only on flying insects, and can eat 2,000 mosquitoes a day. Sladek’s six houses stand in his garden, and provide natural pesticide.
Sen. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, said that besides taking care of pests, martins “are a real joy and pleasure to listen to.”
Purple martins were once an endangered species and are now protected by federal law.