MAHOMET - The village of Mahomet is helping to rid the community of insects - and providing a home for birds at the same time.
The community used to have a problem with insects, particularly mosquitoes, around its sewage treatment plant, located on the south side of town.
Then Mayor Jeffrey Courson, a bird enthusiast, came up with a solution.
Courson, who has a degree in zoology from Southern Illinois University, knew that purple martins love to eat the very kinds of insects that were infesting the sewer plant area.
"Purple martins are well-known for eating mosquitoes and other insects," Courson said. "With the rise of the West Nile virus (which can be spread by mosquitoes) around the country, I thought it was important to do something about insects around here."
So Courson personally purchased three purple martin houses and placed them around the treatment plant's lagoons a few years ago.
Courson said it took a while for the purple martins to discover their new homes.
"I had to drop by the sewer plant every day or every other day for months to shoo away sparrows and starlings that took up residence in the purple martin houses," Courson said. "You have to be diligent keeping sparrows, starlings and other birds like that out."
"Once purple martins find a home, they will take care of keeping the sparrows out," said Beth Chato of Urbana, president of the Champaign County Audubon Society.
Then several families of purple martins moved into the houses, and Courson says the insect situation has been alleviated.
"The adults keep bringing bugs in to feed their young," he said.
Courson's idea worked so well that the Mahomet Village Board purchased three additional purple martin houses from the National Purple Martin Society this spring in an effort to double the bird population there.
Each house costs about $100, he said.
Courson estimates that more than 100 purple martins have settled in Mahomet since he began this project.
Each purple martin house contains 12 compartments, each of which is large enough to house two adult birds and up to six chicks.
"So we could theoretically get up to 84 birds per house," he said.
On Thursday afternoon, several purple colored birds were fluttering and swooping over the lagoon while mother birds could be seen feeding insects to their chicks.
The entire area was full of merry chirping as the purple martins enjoyed their new roosts.
Courson said he believes the birds should reduce the insect population for a two-mile radius around Mahomet.
"In today's society, people don't think about natural ways of addressing problems," Courson said. "These bird houses are an inexpensive way to take care of insects."
While some human visitors might be revolted by the odors around the Mahomet sewer plant, the purple martins apparently enjoy the smells of their new home, sweet home.
You can reach Tim Mitchell at (217) 351-5366 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.