The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on Thursday that Richmond's annual Purple Martin Festival will be held Saturday, August 24, from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. at the historic 17th Street Farmer's Market, located in Shockoe Bottom.
The festival was originally scheduled to take place about three weeks ago, but due to the absence of the guests of honor this year, it was decided to go ahead with planned festivities this coming weekend.
The annual festival, called the "Purple Martin Festival," started as an impromptu gathering of citizens, come to watch the gathering of the flocks, as the sleek little birds covered the row of Bradford pear trees north of the market in preparation for their migration south to Brazil every year.
In past years, many lucky Richmonders had been present when as many as 20,000 to 30,000 martins have swooped and dived while performing aerial acrobatics for the pleasure of the crowd, before continuing on their long journey southward.
We may never see them again, according to Center for Conservation Biology biologist Mike Wilson. He claims the reason for their absence is still a mystery, but even so, it is a mystery that is being studied at the national level.
More than 1 million Americans put out housing for the purple martins every year. Many of these people are associated with the Purple Martin Conservation Association. Along with biologists and other researchers, the association has been keeping records on migratory habits, nesting and other data.
Martins are aerial feeders, meaning they are insectivores that nab insects in flight. There is speculation on everything from a decline in the number of insects to something as simple as the flock deciding on a totally different gathering place.
But it is also something that has been going on across the country with the martins. Could it also be climate changes coupled with changing weather patterns that have affected the birds nesting and migratory schedules?