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Personality: Adolph White

Spotlight on volunteer caretaker for purple martin nesting at Bryan Park

4/29/2018, 1:34 p.m.
Every spring, there is a great migration that one Bryan Park volunteer anticipates and anxiously looks forward to.

To prevent hawk attacks, each house is surrounded entirely with wire caging. The wire allows the purple martins to get in to roost on the birdhouse perches, but is extended far enough from the birdhouses to keep hawks and other predators from reaching in and grabbing a bird. Bryan Park is not alone. There’s a growing national awareness and effort to assist purple martins, Mr. White notes.

The Purple Martin Conservation Association, a nonprofit organization based in Erie, Pa., and founded in 1987, has seen an upswing in participation on its online forums since its website was introduced in 2003. More than 3,000 people have posted questions and comments on 15,000 topics related to attracting and caring for purple martins, according to the website.

Other organizations have emerged in recent years, including the Purple Martin Society of North America and the Purple Martin Preservation Alliance. Countless blogs and YouTube videos also are devoted to purple martins.

Observing nature was routine for Mr. White, when he was growing up in Surry County and living and helping out on his family’s peanut farm.

There wasn’t a whole lot to do, he says. He would walk through the woods observing and being a part of nature.

“You would be surprised how much you will see if you really paid attention to nature,” Mr. White says. “Observing and taking care of these birds helps me to continue to realize how peaceful nature really is.”

Meet this week’s Personality and purple martin advocate, Adolph White:

No. 1 volunteer position: Caretaker of the Bryan Park nesting site for purple martins.

Date and place of birth: Feb. 14 in Surry County.

Current residence: Richmond.

Alma maters: L.B. Jackson High School in Surry County and bachelor’s degree, Virginia Union University.

Family: Two fine children, Demetria Johnson and Adolph White Jr.

Occupation: Retired teacher. I taught French and English in Richmond County for two years and English to eighth-graders for 29 years in Richmond Public Schools.

Purple martins are: The largest member of the swallow family. They are insect eaters. They leave Brazil in the Amazon and fly about 6,000 miles north. They come to North America to raise their young during Brazil’s rainy season so their eggs will not rot and their nest will not disintegrate. They had to come to North America, which is an ideal place for them to raise their young.

Purple martin nests are made of: A purple martin nest is usually low profile in nature and, depending on the area, will start out with pine straw (dried pine needles) or wheat straw (the stalks of harvested wheat) or whatever is available for that region. Many will even contain small sticks.

Purple martins’ diet: They only eat flying insects. These birds are very agile and do a 180-degree turn to grab an insect.

When and why I became interested in the birds: When I lived in Surry County, I was basically a nature person. I always walked through the woods in spring and looked at the bird nests. I paid attention to different bird sounds and I learned a lot about birds. When I came to Richmond, I discovered purple martins roosted Downtown in Shockoe Bottom, about 3,000. They gather in this large number because it helps to evade predators like hawks. I met Jimmy Fitzgerald who had a colony and he told me he was planning to put up a house at Bryan Park and he couldn’t manage it, so I took over.