In a dizzying display of bird chaos, thousands of purple martins are again swarming the evening sky above the Nebraska Medical Center.
It's official: The popular backyard bird has again chosen Omaha as a place to congregate in one massive flock before migrating south.
“Amazing,” said longtime birder Jim Ducey as he gazed at the sky one evening last week.
Ducey estimated that 25,000 martins were swirling above the medical center. Over the next few weeks, that number could build to 60,000 or more, he said.
“It's one of the top two bird migration spectacles in the state,” said Ducey. “The other being the sandhill cranes, and this is much easier to see.”
Unlike the sandhill cranes, the purple martins gather like clockwork in the exact same spot at the same time in the heart of the state's largest city.
“This is a wonderful family event,” Ducey said. “You can bring the kids ... everybody can be comfortable. And as we saw Wednesday night, it's easy to be wowed by something that's free.”
The martins begin congregating in small numbers about 8 p.m., eventually building into what birding aficionados like to call a purple martin storm. As darkness falls, they pack themselves densely into the handful of trees at 44th and Farnam Streets.
Ducey and fellow birder Justin Rink can often be found by the J.P. Lord School on 44th Street, willing to share information with the public.
The purple martin is an acrobatic little bird whose survival depends on the kindness of humans who erect martin houses in their yards. That's because, unlike most other birds, the martin has lost too much nesting habitat to thrive. And that means that these birds, which come from an estimated 100-mile radius of Omaha, are “family” to Midlanders.
The birds are drawn to the medical center by the dense trees along 44th Street, the sheltering and warming effect of the nearby tall buildings and the availability of staging sites in the surrounding neighborhood.
Although the medical center allows visitors to gather on its campus to watch the martin, the roost creates minor headaches for officials. Each morning, workers must hose down sidewalks to cleanse the area of feces. Each roosting season, the medical center must install banners on windows to minimize bird deaths.
Additionally, the roosting site is along the main ambulance entrance to the hospital.
Paul Baltes, spokesman for the medical center, asks that visitors not block the road, either by parking or standing in it. Instead, the medical center opens to the public a parking lot one block east of 44th Street. The entrance to the lot is along Farnam Street, just past the Clarkson Doctors Building South.
Ducey complimented the medical center for its efforts.
“Park where you are not in the way,” Ducey said, “and appreciate and respect that the medical center is letting us enjoy the roost.”
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