John Jay ---How We Ended Up Hosting Purple Martins


John Jay is an urban campus set in an older residential area. When the school was built in 1969 the area lay on the very western edge of the City of San Antonio. Over the years developement has surrounded and extended well past the school grounds.

In recent years the few vacant lots left around the campus have been developed for new retail outlets and housing units, fiurther reducing the habitat available to native birds and animals


A recent aerial shot of the school (identifiable by the track oval) the gray area to the left of the baseball diamond is a new housing area under construction on what had been the last open area adjacent to campus.


The four lane roadway in front of the school on a typical busy morning.

In order to create a little bit of wildscape on our campus, in 1996 we created a fenced-in garden in back of the school and planted wildflowers and antique roses.


The garden provides numerous opportunities for student photography.


In one corner of the garden we installed a pond which has attracted breeding frogs and toads, and even a garden snake or two.

Black-chinned hummingbirds, house finches, loggerhead shrikes, northern mockingbirds and mourning doves have nested in the antique rose bushes and climbing vines.


In the spring of 1997 we decided to try and attract Purple Martins to our campus.


Our first year we were fortunate and hosted four breeding pairs. Some of these came from an old neighborhood colony falling into disrepair.

Purple martins nest in various sorts of human-supplied housing. We use plastic copies of the gourds originally put up for this species by American Indians. At left is our very first set of Carrol gourds, an old, round-hole design with no provision for checking the nests.


At right is the same pole last year, holding eight Supergourds with Starling Resistant Entry Holes (SREH). In addition to the advanced entry design, these gourds have a separate port for conducting nest checks.

Note the dark pipe around the pole. This is a 10 ft length of PVC conduit pipe, split lengthwise and attached around the pole with hose clamps. When smeared with vaseline this has proven to be an effective deterrent to vandalism.

By our third year it became necessary to add another pole. We were able to enclose an adjacent area in which to place it. In subsequent years a third and a fourth pole were added as our martin colony grew.

Last year S&K Manufacturing donated to us a color nest camera with sound. Thanks to the expertise of our computer guy, we were able to transmit live images to every classroom TV set in the school. This nest cam was contained in a topmost gourd on the pole to the left in this picture.

The final additions to our colony were first one and then a second pole placed in front of the school. The martins quickly became accustomed to the vehicle and human traffic passing immediately adjacent to their nests.

Last year we hosted 36 breeding pairs which fledged 126 young. Since its inception, the presence of this martin colony on campus has served as a basis for numerous lessons and science projects.

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