For more than 20 years, Winona resident Bill Nepper has had a passion for birds, especially the Purple Martin. And for the past five years, the Hiawatha Valley Audubon Society (HVAS) member has tended to two Purple Martin racks, one near Huff Street and one at Lake Winona Manor. Nepper has kept journals of their life cycle, flying patterns, chatter sounds and nesting rituals. But the racks located on the west side of Huff Street are being threatened by disc golf players, forcing Nepper to search for a new location for the rack.
Photo by Emily Buss
Hollowed out gourds make up the feeding and shelter racks near Huff Street for local Purple Martin bird species. Caretaker Bill Nepper said the location has become unsuitable due to disc golf activity taking place nearby.
The Purple Martin is the largest bird in the swallow family that migrates to North America. Flying up from Brazil to the Winona area twice a year, the birds’ four-month stay entices bird watchers from all over the region, Nepper said.
“They come up about the middle of April, usually tax day is the rule of thumb,” Nepper said. “It all depends on weather, but this year they came much earlier. I’ve kept a detailed journal and last year I saw four nestings and 10 fledglings. So there is a lot of activity.”
A fledgling is a young bird who has left the nest but still relies on an adult bird for food and shelter.
The activity, Nepper said, is being disturbed by some local disc golf players who play on the course near the bird racks. And it’s an ongoing problem Nepper said he has seen first hand.
“I saw a player actually throw a disc at the rack, which isn’t a good idea,” Nepper said. “I had to yell at them to leave it alone.”
The racks are made of hollowed out gourds and don’t provide much support when a hard object is propelled directly at it, which can cause them to break. And the racks have to be in an open area, as Nepper said the flying patterns show the birds like to glide in from high altitudes.
“I really enjoy seeing those flying patterns,” Nepper said. “And listening to their chatter and just the fact that they travel so far is remarkable.”
Nepper said he has seen two nestlings emerge since the early arrival several weeks ago and is looking for help relocating the rack.
“The racks on the east side of Huff Street do much better,” Nepper said. “I’d really like to see them go where those racks are or somewhere on the east end of town away from the playing field.”
The Purple Martin racks are owned by the HVAS and Nepper said any member with more information regarding the relocation can contact him at 507-454-3263.