150,000 Purple Martins roost in downtown Nashville

Thousands of Purple Martin take over the trees near the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in downtown Nashville. {Photo Provided}

NASHVILLE — Due to COVID-19, the Nashville Symphony isn’t currently performing but there’s still a show happening nightly in downtown Nashville. An estimated 150,000 Purple Martins have taken up roost in the tourist district on the plaza outside the Schermerhorn Symphony Center … and they are causing quite the stir.

Purple Martin exist as a staple of Tennessee summers. They arrive each March, many to the same Martin house or box they’ve summered in for years, and leave each September to winter in South America and the Amazon. Each year, the global population of martins gather at just 350 roosting sites to prepare for their winter migration. {Editor’s Note: We reported on the Purple Martin’s return to Moore County earlier this year, to read that coverage, click here.}

Martin and humans enjoy a special relationship. They are North America’s largest swallow and in the East, they are nearly 100 percent dependent on human-made birdhouses for nesting areas. It’s a tradition started by this areas Native Americans who once hollowed out gourds to provide nesting spots. They can be seen in all 95 Tennessee counties but rarely in urban areas.

“Most of the purple martin population no longer nests in natural cavities. The species only continues to exist because individuals invest in and maintain purple martin houses,” said Tennessee Wildlife Federation (TWF) CEO Michael Butler. “When we saw what was happening downtown, it only seemed right to the Federation to share in the cost of their roosting site when it’s hurting a fellow nonprofit already impacted by the pandemic.”

If you’re looking for a fun, social distanced outing, the Purple Martins are putting on quite the show … but it will have a short run. They’re fueling up for a long flight back to South America. Be warned though as the birds swan dive and move in ballet like motion across the sky, they tend to poop … and 150,000 birds create a lot of it. It covers the sidewalks, the fountains, the windowsills, the Symphony Hall, the trees outside … and you might get dive bombed just looking up. You’ve been warned. The flock of birds are also loud and can be heard from blocks away.

Purple Martin are protected migratory songbirds by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, so despite the fact that they’re wreaking havoc, the symphony is being patient if not chagrined hosts. They says once the Martins have traveled South, they’ll break out the press washers. Until then they’re enjoying a bit of entertainment … completely on brand for 2020.

In fact, they’ve partnered with the TWF to raise money to help with the unexpected clean up costs. Without income from performances, the symphony — like many non-profits during COVID — doesn’t have extra cash just lying around. The TWF will match donations dollar-for-dollar (up to $5,000). This partnership transformed the Purple Martin visit from a nuance to a once-in-a-lifetime performance.

“We are profoundly thankful to Tennessee Wildlife Federation, as well as to The Nature Conservancy and other conservation groups, for stepping in and helping raise funds to help us take care of the Schermerhorn,” said Nashville Symphony President and CEO Alan D. Valentine. “This will help us stay focused on the critical work of bringing back the musicians and staff who fulfill the Nashville Symphony’s mission of providing great music and education programs to the diverse population of Middle Tennessee.”

The TWF set a goal of raising $10,000 for the clean up and as of September 1, they’d raised $10,600.77. If you’d like to contribute to help with the clean up, click this link. •

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently owned and operated newspaper that publishes new stories every morning. Covering Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

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