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Monday, May 20, 2024

The purple martin house is a welcoming sight at Lake Osborne


By late-October, brilliant colors create a beautiful backdrop for the purple martin house high on a post amid the landscape surrounding Lake Osborne where a walking and bike trail provides a peaceful path to nature. 

Below the birdhouse is a signboard with information about the purple martin and its migratory habits. The plump birds visiting the birdhouse on this day don’t appear to be purple martins. (PN Photo, Oct. 28, 2023)

Other signs suggest all is well for bass fishing (no more than six) and picnicking at the gazebo. 

The walking path along Lake Osborne leads to the back of the Naperville Public Safety Center where flags fly high over a special memorial designating appreciation for public safety and first responders near the entrances to the Naperville Fire Department and the Naperville Police Department.

Busy birds roost in the home built for purple martins. (PN Photo, Oct. 28 2023)

On this Saturday, however, the activity and shrill sounds at the purple martin house are what stopped us in our tracks to take in the sights of another of this city’s natural treasures created to recognize community service. For nearly 30 years, we’ve ventured along the walk at Lake Osborne. Never before in our presence, however, have so many birds flocked to the house designated for the purple martin.

A few notes about purple martins

  • The 8-inch-long birds migrate to Central and South America this time of year, nesting in large groups along the way, such as the “apartment” house at Lake Osborne.
  • The purple martin gets most of its food—flies, mosquitoes, dragonflies and other winged insect pests—in flight. For water, the purple martin skims the surface of a pond and scoops up the water with its lower bill.
  • Purple martins originally built their nests in holes of dead trees. Today, however, they mostly nest in large multi-roomed houses built especially for them and set on posts 12 to 20 feet high, such as the one at Lake Osborne.
  • As stories go about bird watchers, putting up martin houses used to be so common in the 19th century that John James Audubon (French-American self-trained artist, naturalist, and ornithologist who put together The Birds of America book with his beautiful illustrations.) used the distinctive houses to choose his lodgings for the night. In 1831, several sources say he said, “Almost every country tavern has a martin box on the upper part of its sign-board; and I have observed that the handsomer the box, the better does the inn generally prove to be.”
  • Native Americans hung up empty gourds for the purple martin before Europeans arrived in North America. Purple martins in eastern North America now nest almost exclusively in birdhouses, but those in the West use mostly natural cavities such as holes in dead trees.
  • European starlings and house sparrows often push purple martins out of local nest sites, including taking over the houses that people put up specifically for the purple martins.

More than ever, a good getaway with a buddy provides a release from the pressures of daily life.

Coupled with the human need to connect with other individuals as well as the joys of experiencing simple pleasures, this community is blessed with walking trails and water features just steps from every neighborhood throughout the city.

Since 1994, the pavilion at Lake Osborne has been an attractive location for picnics while its shoreline welcomes anglers. (PN Photo, Oct. 28, 2023)

Lake Osborne was named to honor the memory of civic leader Marjorie Osborne, an advocate of water resource management.

When digging into the history of Osborne’s local leadership, interested residents will learn that in June 1972, a referendum caused the dissolution of Elementary District 78 and High School District 107, and the formation of a 32-square-mile Community Unit School District 203 that exists today. Osborne ended up being elected on Aug. 12, 1972, to serve the new district with Daniel Butler, Mary Lou Cowlishaw, John Dahlberg, Dean Davis, Wilma Reschke and Andrew Wehrli.

In the mid to late 1980s, Osborne, a former member of the Naperville Plan Commission, also served as president of the local preservation society.

One more thing: Whether or not purple martins visit the house built just for them, Lake Osborne attracts wildlife, waterfowl and native birds of many varieties worth watching every day of the year. Furthermore, when sitting on the bench along the trail at Lake Osborne near Oswego Road looking west early in the evening, reflections and sunsets can be spectacular this time of year. And, you’ll feel a million miles from Monday right here in Naperville.

Thanks for reading!—PN


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PN Editor
PN Editor
An editor is someone who prepares content for publishing. It entered English, the American Language, via French. Its modern sense for newspapers has been around since about 1800.


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