Purple Martin Rescue

i Jul 18, 2022 No Comments by

Authored by Courtney Rousseau, President, North Carolina Purple Martin Society, member, Wake Audubon

It was Friday, June 17th at 6:55pm. We had completed a hot but successful day of banding martins at Prairie Ridge Ecostation and University club. I had just finished dinner with my kids and we were watching TV at our home in Holly Springs, NC. Outside, a violent thunderstorm with high winds had just passed overhead. I was a bit nervous when I heard the winds swirling around, and looked outside at my purple martin gourd rack and pole. It had swayed a little bit but was undamaged. Our power flickered a few times, but stayed on. The chance of rain and storms that day had been low, so this one was a surprise. We counted ourselves lucky and settled in for an evening of Star Trek while my husband was away. Suddenly, I got a notification on my phone from a lady we had just met at our banding event that morning. It was Andrea Miller. She was frantically messaging me that the worst possible scenario for a martin landlord had occurred: the poles at University Club in Raleigh had blown down in the storm. Shocked, I asked her for a photo. Soon thereafter, I got an email from James Ivankovitch, the general manager out at University Club. He, too, informed me that the poles had blown over.  I Felt panic rising in my stomach as I pictured gourds full of eggs and helpless young martin nestlings on the ground. I wondered how many had been hurt. My two sons and I went to the garage to gather up materials we might need for a rescue, and we started the 30 minute drive over to University Club from our house. While I was driving, I instructed my older teenage son to text the first people I could think of to help in this situation. In turn, those folks contacted others. When we arrived at University Club, we hurried over to the martin colony site to assess the damage. My worst fears were confirmed: Both poles were broken, gourds were in disarray, the house was on its side, and martin eggs and featherless young were on the ground. Upset adult martins circled above the housing. Nests had been tossed around inside gourds, and nestlings were buried under nest material. They were cold and weak. Two gourds were broken; fortunately, one of them was unoccupied at the time. All of the eggs on the ground were broken with the exception of one, which seemed to be hatching. I put it aside for a little while on a small towel, and as folks started to arrive to help, we broke into triage teams to work on individual tasks.

Storm-damaged Purple Martin Colony at University Club, Raleigh. Photo by Phil Doerr.

Damaged Purple Martin housing

Some folks cut away the mangled owl caging. Others untangled gourds and set them right side up so that their occupants could be counted and checked against the nest check data sheets. Another group discussed how to put the broken poles upright again, and some folks brought personal items to help, such as flashlights, headlamps, and Hot Hands, which were used to keep featherless nestlings warm through the night. It began to grow dark. Andrea moved her car over to the course and turned on the headlights so we could continue to work. Surprise helpers showed up in the form of the Hastings family from Burkes Brothers Hardware, just down the street from the University Club. They asked what they could do to help, and brought Gorilla tape, some more Hot Hands, and tools from their store. Armed with a sawzall, Mr. Hastings was able to cut off part of the damaged pole of one rack so that it could be removed and set upright again on a surviving ground stake. The other pole on which the Lonestar house and gourd rack was mounted had a section which was completely mangled and had to be removed. The remaining length of pole was then put upright again on a pole connector. Both poles were now upright again, thanks to the lifting power of so many helpers.

We then began the task of returning nestlings to their gourds and verifying the contents of all of the gourds. I held the hatching egg in my hand during this process. As it began to warm up, the hatchling inside became more active and pushed its way out of the shell. We tried to find a gourd in which to place it, but the gourd that had the smallest young seemed to be empty now, until John Gerwin started to comb through the nesting material. Eventually, we found the two tiny occupants of the gourd. We placed a Hot Hands packet just under their nesting material and placed the young on top of it, to keep them warm. The broken gourd with 4 feathered occupants was temporarily taped and wired closed and hung back on its proper spot on the rack. Purple martins are very particular about their nesting spot; they remember the compass orientation of their nest cavity and will expect to see the cavity they recognize pointing in that same direction when they return, so ensuring the gourds and house were in the proper position was essential to help prevent the adults from abandoning the nest. After all gourds and house compartments were checked, we began the process of moving the wrecked owl cage and pole section debris to the side for later removal. We cleaned up our tools and headed home.

We did not realize how much time had passed; we were all there for a united purpose, which was to save these martins that depend on us for survival. I left University Club around 11:10pm and arrived home shortly before midnight.  I didn’t sleep much that night, wondering if the adults would return to their nests in the morning, and if the nestlings would survive the night. The next morning, I made my coffee extra strong and headed out the door. When I arrived, a happy sight greeted my eyes: adult martins were swooping around and feeding their hungry nestlings. The tiny hatchling from the previous night was snuggled with its nestmates. A passerby on the golf course had stopped to watch the martins with his young son. I explained to him what had happened the night before, and he thanked me and all the other volunteers who cared enough to save these birds. Some of these volunteers gave up their family time, and others missed their dinners that night. Their efforts were an amazing testament to what can happen when we come together to accomplish a conservation goal.

Why did this accident happen? The two inch square poles had been in place at University Club for over 15 years and had survived many storms. However, the owl cages, which were added last year out of necessity, probably overburdened the poles just a bit. We tried to keep this weight issue in mind when doing nest checks, and never raised the racks more than two thirds of the way up the pole, but it may not have been enough. We will be replacing these poles for next season with stronger, larger 3 inch square poles with thick walls to better withstand storms and support owl caging.

I want to thank the following people who came out that night:

Tommy Hastings, Jeff Hastings, and their family from Burkes Brothers Hardware, Phil Doerr, Anne Miller,John Gerwin, Laura Eason, Bob Oberfelder, Andrea Miller, James Ivankovitch
and my two sons Graham and Lee Rousseau, who gave up their Friday night to step up!

We could not have done it without all of you!

2022 Volunteer and Conservation and Environmental Education Awards

i Apr 14, 2022 1 Comment by

We are happy to announce the recipients of our two awards, created to recognize individuals who have contributed to Wake Audubon’s mission through their service as volunteers and through their work in conservation and education.
Wake Audubon honors deserving volunteers with the Paulette Van De Zande Volunteer Award.
Our 2022 honoree is Erla Beegle
Erla Beegle has been a devoted volunteer with Wake Audubon for over 10 years. She has selflessly shared more than 1,000 hours of her time leading bird walks, working on conservation projects, tabling, and organizing our calendar and Meetup group. Engaging within and beyond Wake Audubon, she builds community around birds by sharing her unflagging enthusiasm, mentoring fledgling birders, and inviting everyone into the group. She has also contributed countless hours to science by recording daily eBird checklists and recording NC Bird Atlas data across the state.
Wake Audubon honors deserving volunteer educators with the John Connors Conservation and Environmental Education Award.
Our 2022 honoree is Courtney Rousseau
Courtney Rousseau is the President of the NC Purple Martin Society. She has unselfishly cared for a Purple Martin colony at the University Club for over 15 years and has advised and helped Wake Audubon install Purple Martin houses at Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve, Prairie Ridge Ecostation, and Yates Mill County Park. A respected educator, she has trained folks from Wake Audubon, the NC Museum of Natural Science, and park staff to monitor these and other colonies, protect them from predators, and maintain their homes. Her public engagement and passion fuels the fascination that so many people have for these birds.

Five Tips For Keeping Your Children Connected To Nature This Fall

i Nov 3, 2021 No Comments by

By Kate Newberry

Algebra homework, music lessons, youth group, and choosing the perfect Halloween costume. Fall seems to pass even faster than the leaves fall to the ground. After a slow and relaxing summer and before the harried holiday season, autumn is a great time to pause the chaos and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Encourage your kids to put down the technology, head outside, and enjoy the autumn calm. Especially in a time when the average child’s mental health is suffering, connecting with nature is more important than ever. Here are a few ways to get your kids excited about heading out.

Reserve Time for a Preserve

One way to help young ones connect with nature is by allowing them to learn and experience their environment first-hand. With several outdoor centers and countless trails, Raleigh’s nature preserves offer the space to learn about nature. Pull up a list of native plants on your phone and go on a scavenger hunt. A cell phone picture can’t compare to an actual cardinal flower or purple coneflower.

The first dedicated reserve in Raleigh, Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve, spans 157-acres along the southern shores of Falls Lake. If you’d like to take Fido along for the adventure, pick up his leash and head over to Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve.

Lace-up the Tennis Shoes

Hitting the trails for a bike ride or a casual hike is an easy way to combine nature and physical activity. This duo is a great way to help kids relax and beat the stress of a new school year.

With three miles of trails and 140-acres of vegetation, Hemlock Bluffs is a great park for a family ride. William B. Umstead State Park offers 22 miles of trails, as well as horseback riding and mountain biking trails. These are great options for older children. To keep everyone happy on the trail, pack a few snacks and make sure you have plenty of water.

Pitch a Tent

Camping is one of the best ways to connect with nature and carve out quality family time. From watching the stars appear to waking to the sounds of nature, there’s no better way to commune with the outdoors. While just the prospect of a family camping trip might be exhausting, there’s a simpler solution: keep it local.

Backyard camping is just as much fun for kids and comes with the added benefit of your own bathroom. Build a bonfire and share favorite memories, jokes, and stories while roasting marshmallows. Listen for owls, watch for bats, and talk about how mosquitos are a necessary nuisance. Leaving the technology indoors will give your kids a chance to enjoy the serenity of a North Carolina evening.

Go on a Friendly Hunt

Kids love animals, and animals love autumn. Spend a little time learning about native animals and go on a hunt to spot them. Whether you try your luck with bird watching or turn over rocks to see the worms, kids of all ages love spotting wildlife. (Isn’t it a universal reflex to say “cows!” when passing a field?)

Little ones will enjoy the opportunity to explore and get dirty. Consider buying a bug house or pair of kids’ binoculars, packing some trail mix, and documenting your finds through photos. Focusing on wildlife will allow you to talk about colors and textures with little ones, or diet and habitat with older children. And, if you don’t know much about Raleigh’s critters, take a minute and learn about your finds together.

Keep it Simple

Raleigh offers myriad community events throughout the fall, many of which take place outside. Pausing for a moment of cloud watching is all it takes to appreciate your surroundings. If you have older kids, or ones especially interested in the arts, catch a matinee at Theatre In The Park. After the show, take a stroll and discuss the performance.

Connecting with nature doesn’t have to be a lot of work. Pick up some sandwiches to eat at your neighborhood park and talk about the sights and sounds around you. Take a few books or even a board game outside and settle in beneath a tree. Getting kids outside might even be as simple as signing up for soccer or another outdoor sport. Just enjoying the fresh air and warm sun is enough to help your child feel connected to nature.

In an age of digital learning and endless Zoom calls, it’s even more important to limit screen time. Helping your kids connect with the outdoors now will set them up for a positive relationship with nature in the future.


Kate Newberry writes about camping and hiking for several publications. She and her family have hiked everything from the Big Dalton Canyon in California to Pikes Peak in Colorado and the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. (although her kids claim the Smokey Mountains are just “small hills.”)

2021 Volunteer Awards

i Apr 20, 2021 No Comments by

Authored by Mary Abrams

In celebration of National Volunteer Week, we say “THANK YOU” to all of our volunteers! Of course, we are always grateful for everyone’s contributions, but it’s important to set aside time to crow about the folks who make Wake Audubon great.

This year, we kicked off our celebration early by announcing the first recipients of two special awards that Wake Audubon created to recognize extraordinary volunteers. These awards honor the legacy of two long-time leaders in our chapter, John Connors and Paulette Van de Zande. You can learn more about them and their contributions here (link to awards page).

Marti Kane is the inaugural recipient of the John Connors Conservation and Environmental Education Award. Marti is one of the most energetic, dedicated, and selfless volunteers we know. She has dedicated her life to conservation and education and readily shares her knowledge and love for birds with the community.

In 2020 alone, Marti took over caring for the Bluebird Trail at Wil-Mar Golf Course where she installed predator guards and repaired, replaced, or relocated many existing Bluebird boxes. Overall, she monitored 55 nest boxes between Wil-Mar, Mordecai Historic Park, Durant Nature Preserve, and Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve. Marti also volunteers with the American Wildlife Refuge cleaning cages and rescuing and transporting raptors. She enjoys educating others on how they too  can help birds and is a popular speaker with the Wake Audubon Education and Outreach Committee reaching communities across the county. Marti recently retired from a career in environmental education and conservation culminating as the Director of the Annie Wilkerson Nature Preserve Park in Raleigh, but she’s still working as hard as ever!

Keith Jensen is the first recipient of the Paulette Van de Zande Volunteer Award. We selected Keith because he creates fellowship within the chapter and surrounding community through his hard work and love of birds.

A Research Technician at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, Keith works with many organizations and connects people with birds through several outreach programs. He has served on the UNC Wilmington Painted Bunting Observer Team studying the decline of these colorful birds along our coast and banding birds with his brother. He has mentored WAS Young Naturalists and provided outdoor learning experiences for backyard bird lovers and underserved youth through the Smithsonian Neighborhood Nestwatch program. If you’ve been to a banding demonstration at Prairie Ridge, Keith was the early bird who prepared everything in advance and then shared that special experience with everyone there. Similarly, when we host in-person meetings, he covers all of the logistics including inviting our guests into the Nature Research Center. He is quite an artist too, and his carved Brown-headed Nuthatches and Chimney Swift display have raised community awareness across the Triangle of these declining species.

Please join us in thanking Marti and Keith for all that they do when you see them!

Photo credits: Marti Kane’s photo is by Anne Runyon. Keith Jensen’s photo provided by Keith Jensen.

Awards Honoring Long-time Wake Audubon Volunteers

i Aug 26, 2019 No Comments by

Wake Audubon announced the creation of two awards that will recognize extraordinary volunteer efforts and environmental stewardship carried out by our volunteers. The PAULETTE VAN DE ZANDE VOLUNTEER AWARD honors Paulette for her many years of contributions to governance, fellowship, and fund-raising for Wake Audubon. The JOHN CONNORS CONSERVATION & ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AWARD honors John for his leadership in many of Wake Audubon’s conservation initiatives and his commitment to environmental education.

The full document creating the Paulette Van De Zande Volunteer Award reads as follows:

WHEREAS, it is the desire of the Board of Wake Audubon Society to honor and show gratitude to Paulette Van de Zande for her commitment and many years of volunteer service; and 

WHEREAS, Paulette has been a loyal and devoted member and Board member of Wake Audubon Society since 1978; and 

WHEREAS, Paulette has baked homemade cookies and cakes for refreshments after nearly every monthly meeting for more than 30 years, donating both time and years of expenses to this endeavor; and

WHEREAS, Paulette worked to support Wake Audubon activities through her membership in the Raleigh Garden Club by planning birding outings and asking for financial support for various projects from their members; and

WHEREAS,Paulette supported other Wake Audubon fundraising projects by seeking in-kind and financial contributions; and

WHEREAS,Paulette manages her home landscape for wildlife in addition to feeding and sharing wildlife observations in her yard and garden with others; and

WHEREAS, Paulette’s actions embody the spirit of the Wake Audubon mission, “To foster knowledge, appreciation, and enjoyment of nature; to encourage responsible environmental stewardship; to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.”

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that Wake Audubon Society hereby establishes the Paulette Van de Zande VOLUNTEER AWARD.  Through the establishment of this Award, members and friends of Wake Audubon Society hereby convey the deepest expression of gratitude and appreciation for the volunteer contributions of Paulette. Recipients of the Paulette Van de Zande VOLUNTEER AWARDwill be chosen by a suitable committee of Wake Audubon Society members on an annual basis (or as otherwise deemed appropriate). The recipient will embody a similar spirit of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes and interests and will demonstrate a commitment to the initiatives and goals of Wake Audubon Society to further its mission. 

This Resolution will be entered into the official record and minutes of Wake Audubon Society and in addition will be published in appropriate manners for the public record. 

Presented on behalf of Wake Audubon Society on this 13th day of August, 2019.

The full document creating the John Conors Conservation and Environmental Education Award reads as follows:

WHEREAS, it is the desire of the Board of Wake Audubon Society to honor and show gratitude to John Connors for his commitment and many years of service in both conservation and environmental education activities with Wake Audubon Society and the broader Wake County community; and 

WHEREAS, John has been a loyal and devoted member, Board member, and two-time president of Wake Audubon Society since 1975; and 

WHEREAS, John has been a part of conservation initiatives and environmental education in his professional life as City Naturalist with Raleigh Parks & Recreation, as Coordinator of the Naturalist Center at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences,  and in his personal life through volunteering since graduating from North Carolina State University; and

WHEREAS,John has promoted conservation through his involvement in Trees Across Raleigh, NC Non-game Advisory Board of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, WakeNature Preserves Partnership, and Wings Over Water, among others; and

WHEREAS,John has coordinated the Wake Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count and Butterfly Count for many years; and

WHEREAS,John has worked annually on conservation and education for specific species by organizing workdays to plant milkweed for monarch butterflies, by leading walks and workdays to establish American Woodcock mating grounds, and by helping to install Chimney Swift nest towers at parks and the Chimney Swift roosting tower at Prairie Ridge Ecostation; and

WHEREAS,John has supported and guided park planning efforts for Wake Audubon Society’s participation on Raleigh Parks & Recreation planning boards leading to the establishment of nature parks; and

WHEREAS, John through his professional life has conducted thousands of environmental education programs reaching both children and adults inspiring many to become advocates for birds and conservation; and

WHEREAS, John’s actions embody the spirit of the Wake Audubon mission, “To foster knowledge, appreciation, and enjoyment of nature; to encourage responsible environmental stewardship; to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.” 

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that Wake Audubon Society hereby establishes the John Connors CONSERVATION & ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AWARD. Through the establishment of this Award, members and friends of Wake Audubon Society hereby convey the deepest expression of gratitude and appreciation for the many conservation and education contributions John has made to the broader Wake County community. Recipients of the John Connors CONSERVATION & ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATIONAWARDwill be chosen by a suitable committee of Wake Audubon Society members on an annual basis (or as otherwise deemed appropriate). The recipient will demonstrate participation in conservation and environmental education activities as a result of sharing common attitudes and interests, and a commitment to the initiatives and goals of Wake Audubon Society to further its mission. 

This Resolution will be entered into the official record and minutes of Wake Audubon Society and in addition will be published in appropriate manners for the public record. 

Presented on behalf of Wake Audubon Society on this 13th day of August, 2019: