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One man with a team of elementary students work to preserve the home of Missouri songbirds

A man in a blue shirt and brown pants stands by a pole with white, round spheres. The spheres are birdhouses. The man is holding a string to hoist them up off the ground.
Jack Knowlton
Eze Pojmann-Ezeonyilo poses for a photo with his Purple Martin songbird houses at Cedar Ridge Elementary School in Columbia.

Eze Pojmann-Ezeonyilo points out an opening on a round, white sphere at Columbia’s Cedar Ridge Elementary School. He is inspecting a birdhouse for the Purple Martin songbird.

The Columbia resident and recent Purdue University graduate said the bird has a particularly special relationship with humans.

"Due to like, environmental degradation, they've lost a lot of their original nesting sites. And due to competition with invasive species, all the Purple Martins in the eastern U.S. solely nest in human-made birdhouses. So they've adapted to become completely dependent on people," Pojmann-Ezeonyilo said. "So any Purple Martin you see in this area or elsewhere in the eastern U.S., it was born in a birdhouse that someone put up."

A hole in a white sphere shows a nest made of dry grass and pine needles.
Jack Knowlton
The nests do not have any Purple Martins living in them yet, but Eze Pojmann-Ezeonyilo and Cedar Ridge Elementary School are waiting.

Knowing the Purple Martins need housing, Pojmann-Ezeonyilo has decided to help. He’s put up a birdhouse at Cedar Ridge, but not just any birdhouse. The Martins require a unique design and a specific space.

Pojmann-Ezeonyilo maneuvered a rope pulley to pull the white, round birdhouses down for inspection. He explained how the songbirds are attracted to white houses that are high up and away from trees.

"The traditional Purple Martin house, it's a gourd, like a natural gourd with a hole drilled into it and that can be hung up on a tall pole or kind of like on a clothes line situation," he added.

I think that just makes the learning deeper and something that they will remember...
Taryn Brinlee, Cedar Ridge Elementary School Assistant Principal

Cedar Ridge Elementary School's open, tree-free area makes it an ideal location for a Purple Martin birdhouse and also gives Pojmann-Ezeonyilo a chance to work with the school and provide a hands-on learning opportunity for students, an opportunity that excites Cedar Ridge Assistant Principal Taryn Brinlee.

A pole stands alone in the middle of a field. There are four white, round spheres hanging from the top.
Jack Knowlton
Purple Martins prefer homes far off the ground. According to historians, Native Americans hung up empty gourds for the Purple Martin before Europeans arrived in North America.

"Actually being able to see them live in person and have someone who is an expert on it meet [the students] and let them ask questions, I think that just makes the learning deeper and something that they will remember far more than other experiences we can provide them," Brinlee said.

But before students can experience the Purple Martins firsthand, Pojmann-Ezeonyilo needs the Martins to move into his birdhouse. He said Martins stay very loyal to their original nesting sites and many Martins have already chosen other birdhouses around Columbia. With his own birdhouse ready to go, Pojmann-Ezeonyilo is playing the waiting game now.

"What I'm trying to attract are the year-old Martins, the ones that were born or hatched last year. They're now returning," he said. "They look for new nesting sites starting within about five miles of their natal nesting site, so I'm hoping that some of these young—they're called sub-adult Martins—will find this nesting site and then that will grow and become a colony."

While Pojmann-Ezeonyilo and Brinlee wait for the Martins to come, Brinlee says students are already taking interest in the birdhouse. And the hope is to offer a few hands-on lessons during the school year, once they arrive.

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