Ike Kumrow is a Purple Martin landlord. He has 42 apartments on his front lawn near Random Lake, and all he asks for in rent is a little entertainment. “You hear them singing and the aerial antics that they do, the way they come gliding in.”
He’s very attentive. “During the time I eat breakfast, I got my binoculars out there.” Kumrow even makes house calls to make sure everything is in good order, and there are no unwelcome visitors, like sparrows or starlings.
Purple Martins have seen their natural habitat shrink over the years, and now they almost exclusively nest in man-made houses. “They have a bonding with humans.”
Ike Kumrow knows, he’s been raising Purple Martins almost his whole life. “This would be the 69th year that I had Purple Martins.”
Ike Kumrow grew up just a few miles away, back when every farmer had a Martin house on a pole in the yard. “We built this house here in 1960 and I had redwood leftover. So, I thought well, I’ll build a Martin house. So I built it and put it up, and the next morning there were Martins there and they’ve been there ever since.”
Martins aren’t easy to attract, and they can be even harder to keep in an area. “The main thing in attracting martins is three things: location, location, location.”
Ike Kumrow says Purple Martins like open spaces and want to be close to the house. And of course there needs to be room for a whole flock of birds. “They’re colony birds. If you only have one pair, they sort of feel lonesome. The more you can get, the happier they are.”
He says the key to a healthy colony is a little room service from the landlord. These houses have to be made so that you can lower them and clean them out.”
Ike Kumrow keeps a tally of each compartment throughout the season. He knows that cornstalks are the sign of a nest, but green leaves means they’re about to lay eggs.
After the eggs hatch Ike goes from landlord to babysitter. He takes each chick out of the nest and then cleans out the old pine needles, looking for pests. “What I check for on these nests is if there’s any mites or blowfly larvae in here.”
Ike Kumrow says unlike other birds, Purple Martins don’t try to drive him away from the nest or abandon their young after he’s touched them. “Martins you can do that. You can handle them.”
He does this cleaning process twice before the chicks are 20 days old.
In the fall, the Purple Martins fly to Brazil for winter, but they’ll be back the following spring. “They come right back to the same place and the same compartment.”
Last year Ike had 24 pairs lay a total of 138 eggs. “Out of the 124 that hatched, 121 fledged, which is 98-percent.”
Over the decades Ike Kumrow has helped raise thousands of Purple Martins. “I’m happy when I can help them out.”
While his role as Purple Martin landlord requires a lot of time and effort, Ike doesn’t mind a bit. “Some people it does sound like a lot of work, but what’s your hobby? If you think that it’s work, then it’s not a hobby for you. To me, that’s my hobby. Really it’s a lot of fun to have these martins around here.”