Griggsville's purple martins get hands-on and financial help from FFA chapter

Griggsville-Perry High School junior Jon Manson cleans out a purple martin house with fellow ag students Friday afternoon in downtown Griggsville. The school’s FFA chapter turned out to help prepare the martin houses for the spring arrival of the birds.
Posted: Apr. 5, 2013 10:30 pm Updated: Apr. 20, 2013 12:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

GRIGGSVILLE, Ill. -- John Manson did his part Friday afternoon as part of the first line of defense for Griggsville's signature bird, the purple martin.

The Griggsville-Perry FFA member and high school junior carefully slid a metal tray out from a purple martin house and scraped off the beginnings of a nest built by a sparrow or starling.

The simple action was important not only to the purple martins, but also to Griggsville, known as the Purple Martin Capital of the World.

Sparrows and starlings try to take over nesting sites of the martins, who already have sent their first scouts to the city that's the spring and summer home for hundreds of the birds.

"Each day we should start seeing more and more martins. The main group that comes in and next should be here toward the end of April," said Brian Fitzjarrald, vice president of Citizens Assistance for Purple Martins, or CAPM.

By then, the martin houses along Griggsville's main boulevard need to be "opened" after being capped for the winter and cleared of nests built by other birds, and CAPM got some help, both hands-on and financial, from the local FFA chapter.

"Last fall we took everything down, cleaned everything out, and we're reopening them so we can get purple martins back in town because that's what our town is all about," FFA President Wyatt Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw, Vice President Alex Tedrow and chapter members also presented an $1,800 check, thanks to a grant, to CAPM for 10 new and easier-to-maintain martin houses.

The funding came through a $2,200 National FFA Living to Serve Grant from CSX Railways. Seventy-three grants were awarded to FFA chapters in 28 states, with Griggsville-Perry and Seneca the only Illinois chapters funded.

FFA adviser Chris Miller said the chapter initially hoped to repair some of the existing martin houses, but thanks to CAPM's contacts, it was able to buy new houses at a discounted price. The houses boast a winch to easily raise and lower the units for cleaning.

Chapter members also worked with CAPM to maintain houses, and they hope to use the remaining grant funds to erect a purple martin house on school grounds, educate students on the history and significance of the purple martins, and start monitoring the martin population.

"It's a good thing to do, helping our community out," FFA member Matthew Kennedy said.

Savannah Nash, a high school junior and FFA member, snapped photos to record the work done by chapter members Friday.

"Somebody's got to do it. I wondered who does all that, and now we do it," Nash said. "It makes you feel good to do something."

Griggsville has 60 martin houses along its main streets, not counting the tower boasting multiple houses in the middle of uptown, and maintaining them takes both time and an interest in the purple martins.

The work isn't hard, just time-consuming.

"It takes awhile, but it's not tedious work. It's a lot of fun really," Tedrow said.

"As you get younger kids involved, we can keep it going," Fitzjarrald said. "Our objective in the last few years has been to replace every house on the boulevard with new winch-style homes."

Tedrow likes seeing the FFA chapter help out with a community symbol.

"You go anywhere, and people ask where you are from. When you say the Purple Martin Capital of the World, they say, ‘I've heard of that place,' " Tedrow said. "It's a good deal to keep up the heritage."