Couple creates purple martin habitat outside home in Scott

August 2, 2015


A collection of purple martins find their place on one of the bird homes July 9th in the backyard of Ike Kumrow in Scott, Wis. Kumrow has almost 175 purple martins that fly and nest in his backyard.

SCOTT - Ike Kumrow said there are three things anyone trying to successfully attract and maintain a purple martin population must keep in mind: "location, location and finally, location." Kumrow and his wife, Jan, have lived on their five-acre "little slice of heaven," about nine miles north of West Bend for nearly 55 years. But Ike has had an enthusiasm for purple martins for even longer. Growing up on a farm, he saw many of the birds and became passionate about them.

Kumrow has almost 175 purple martins that fly and nest in their backyard, the Daily News reported.

That's not by accident. The Kumrows have hosted purple martins since they built their home in 1960 and during that time, they've developed the property into a perfect purple martin habitat. Ike's constructed martin homes and an environment the birds return to every year. Martin homes must be within 40 to 120 feet of a house so they feel safe from predators, are in direct sunlight and are regularly monitored.

"Martins are one of North America's best-known and most desired birds," Ike said. "I love them for their graceful flight, the antics they perform, their gurgling song and insect-eating habits." Purple martins migrate between Wisconsin and Brazil.

"It's a 4,400-mile trip," Ike said. "Usually about mid-April is when you'll see the scout bird all the way from Brazil. He'll check out the conditions to see if it's OK for the rest of them to fly back to Wisconsin. They usually fly back to Brazil in about mid-August. While they are here, a typical pair will lay between four to five eggs." Ike and Jan have passed their passion for martins on to others. Ike was asked to build martin homes for Pike Lake and Harrington Beach state parks.

"At Harrington Beach in 2013 there were only three martins. In 2014 there were six pairs and this year there are 11 pairs with 45 having hatched," Ike said. "The martin population is also growing at Pike Lake." Ike's martin homes are built so he can crank a cable to lower them close enough to the ground that he can regularly check the condition of the nests and the birds.

A purple martin flies near a house with a dragonfly in it's mouth on July 9th over the property of Ike Kumrow in Scott, Wis. Kumrow has almost 175 purple martins that fly and nest in their backyard.

"Then I check to see if there are mites or blow fly larvae," Ike said. "They suck the blood from the young. I clean it by rubbing alcohol under the nests." When he inspects the homes made from gourds he needs his wife's help.

"His hands are too big to reach in and bring out the babies," Jan said.

"Otherwise I keep the notebooks and write down all the information from each of the homes." The Kumrows have records going back decades which show the date, time, number of birds and eggs in the nest, and if any health problems were discovered. They also inspect the martin homes to make sure no starlings or sparrows have invaded and have either produced their own eggs or are harming the martins. Ike said if he finds any birds other than martins in the homes he removes the eggs and disposes of them.

Jan said tending to the martin homes is a great way to spend some of their time.

"I enjoy doing this with him," Jan said. "It keeps us busy and we're able to do more than just spend time watching television. I'd rather watch the birds than watch television sometimes." Ike said the purple martin population is on the decline and needs the public's help.

"They're on the decline because they only usually raise one brood and they have stiff competition now from starlings and sparrows," Ike said. "They also rely on man-made bird houses for egg laying and raising their brood." Kumrow has also constructed homes for bluebirds, too.

The Kumrows are members of the Wisconsin Purple Martin Association which has a goal to increase the purple martin population in the area.

The group is hosting Martinfest 2015 at the home of Greg and Deb Zimmerman in Sheboygan Falls.

Ike Kumrow holds what he believes to be a 10-day-old baby purple martin on July 9th that was born in one of the houses he built in his backyard in Scott, Wis. Kumrow has almost 175 purple martins that fly and nest in his backyard.

Associated Press