Pantex biologists saving purple martins

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Pantex biologists are partnering with area universities in an effort to better understand the migration patterns of purple martins. By doing so, they are helping save a declining species of bird.

“We want to know what’s going on, where they stop during migration and where they spend the winter,” Jim Ray, Wildlife Biologist for Pantex, explained.

The purple martin is an insect-eating bird that biologists and bird enthusiasts have concerns about since their numbers have been declining.

“We all need to be concerned if insect-eating birds are going down, you know what’s going on in the environment or what would we do without birds that eat insects,” Ray stated.

Ray said the purple martin’s population decline doesn’t only affect them, but people as well.

“That’s more insects. We would probably need to use more chemicals to control insects,” Ray explained.

Catching the birds is a process that takes a lot of effort and time.

“We have a couple of traps set on the houses where the birds fly in and set the trap off. We just lower the house and pull the bird off,” James Ray, a volunteer, said. 

Once the bird is captured, measurements and weight are documented.

When that’s done, a GPS tracker is put on them to follow their migration patterns in hopes to figure out what’s causing the drop in numbers.

For many student volunteers assisting in banding and tagging, this was the first time some had actual hands-on experience with wildlife.

Through the years, Pantex biologists have tagged many birds and even bobcats in efforts to protect wildlife.

So far, the program reports that 40% of the tagged purple martins have returned.

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