Violet swallows return to Huron County thanks to DeVere Sturm

DeVere Sturm is a 91-year-old Huron County resident who lives just outside of Pigeon, and his hobby is bringing the purple martin bird to the area.

“I probably built 80 to 100 of these boxes,” Sturm said. “There is a method to attract them. You use a bird call called the dawn song. You just play it on a boom box under the birdhouse in the spring when they come, and it attracts them.

When Sturm first started getting into bird housing, his goal was to create nesting boxes for bluebirds. However, there weren’t many in the area, so that’s when he came across the Purple Swallow.

“There were very few purple swallows left here,” Sturm said. “I was on the internet and found the purple martins, and I remembered years ago when I was a kid that people had purple martins.”
This is where Sturm comes in. He had been making purple martin houses for 25 years. What started as a small hobby has turned into a renaissance for purple swallows returning to the Upper Thumb. Sturm said he builds about five each winter, depending on whether he needs to do more. His barn currently has seven ready to go.
“I started populating that side (of the thumb),” Sturm said. “Kevin Booms populates the (west) side.”
Purple Swallows have lived alongside people since before European settlement, when Native Americans housed them in hollowed-out gourds because the birds liked to live around humans.
“Purple martins are specifically dependent on artificial nest boxes,” Sturm said. “Originally they roosted in hollow trees, but there are no hollow trees here, so they rely specifically on nest boxes.”
Sturm explained that the purple swallow is in the region from mid-April to mid-August, then migrates through South America to the rainforests of Brazil.
“They only raise their young when they’re here in North America and sometimes they go as far north as Canada,” Sturm said. “They’re flying all the way to Brazil, and they’ll come back to that exact location and take the same compartment if they can.”
Each nest box has several compartments and can house up to 12 different families of purple swallows. Each family produces four to seven eggs in each compartment.
“I have a friend about four miles away who had one this spring and he played the dawn song and now he has three of his (compartments) filled,” Sturm said. “It’s a gradual process.”

One thing Sturm notes is that purple martins have predators, and those looking to deal with them will need to take precautions.
“I’ve had issues this year with raccoons, it’s never happened before,” Sturm said. “They climbed the poles in the middle of hatching season and killed most of the babies. I set raccoon traps now and have since caught 13 raccoons.
In addition to the raccoon traps, Sturm also installed post guards to prevent raccoons and other predators from climbing the posts. Other threats to purple swallows are sparrows and starlings, which will occupy places in nest boxes and lay babies and eggs.
The Purple Swallow has been in steady decline since 1966 according to Michigan Audubon, which is Michigan’s oldest bird conservation organization. On his website, you can find behavior patterns, food choices, and how to identify birds. You can also save purple swallow colonies if you have one.
If you would like a birdhouse from DeVere Sturm, you can contact him by calling his phone at 989-453-2300.

Correction: In a previous version of this article, DeVere Sturm’s name was misspelled. This is corrected in the story.

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