Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

'Landlord' Shows His Passion for Area's Purple Martin Population

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

'Landlord' Shows His Passion for Area's Purple Martin Population

Article excerpt

BRENTWOOD * A quarter century of residency in the St. Louis area notwithstanding, John Miller's favorite bird is not the one perched on a baseball bat.

Nor is it the state bird prominently displayed on his Missouri license plate.

Make no mistake. Miller is not averse to cardinals and bluebirds.

He just prefers the purple martin.

The evidence of Miller's affection for the largest bird in the swallow family can be found across Forest Park the site of 70 purple martin habitats erected and since maintained by the Brentwood resident.

Forest Park is believed to shelter the largest urban population of purple martins in North America.

"The truth is, we wouldn't have purple martins in the park if it weren't for John," says park ecologist Peter VanLinn III.

Miller, 61, is also the force behind the ornithological architecture that each year draws flocks of martins to "houses" at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Cahokia Mounds, Creve Coeur Lake Park and the parking lot of O'Connell's, a popular south St. Louis restaurant and pub.

"He can't stop," says Louise Chambers, communications director of the Purple Martin Conservation Association. "He's always looking for new places."

In purple martin circles, Miller technically falls into the category of "landlord."

He eschews that term, opting for the more generic "hobbyist."

But "evangelistic" his term may be the most accurate description.

Miller says a degree of zealotry is imperative to secure the survival of a bird that is "totally dependent on humans for housing." If it wasn't for the man-made houses, the birds seek shelter in things like woodpecker holes and other natural crevices.

Knowing that, Miller starts showing up on a daily basis at Forest Park in early March.

The purpose of the initial visits is a sighting that signals the advent of spring the landing of the first martins from their winter home in Brazil.

Those early arrivals often require more than housing.

When a late winter chill last year all but eliminated the birds' primary source of food flying insects Miller stepped into the breach. …

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