An Idea Takes Flight

A Mackinac Island resort groundskeeper keeps his grandfather close while working, thanks to a delightful handcrafted birdhouse
The purple martin
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock

Joseph Swatzell thinks of his grandfather, Joel Swatzell, quite a bit during his workday as he looks over the magnificent landscape at Mission Point resort on Mackinac Island. As the grounds supervisor, Joseph continually ensures that all is looking pristine, from the gorgeous swathes of tulips and daffodils that spring forth every year in May to the towering purple martin birdhouse that’s located along the resort’s shoreline. 

The birdhouse is near and dear to Joseph’s heart, thanks to an idea he had in 2022 that involved inviting his grandfather, from Flushing, to build the aviary.

“My grandfather loves purple martins and had a purple martin birdhouse that he made for as long as I can remember,” Joseph says.

“I was out working one day and thought about him. He’s 86 and can’t really come here to see me now, but I thought I could have him near me if we installed a purple martin birdhouse. I did some research on how and where these birds would most benefit from the house and then contacted my bosses at the resort, sharing why we might consider having a purple martin house on the property.” 

Mission Point resort
Joseph Swatzell’s grandfather built the birdhouse to resemble the main lobby of Mission Point resort. Six months after it was installed, purple martins made it their home.
Photo courtesy of Megan Swoyer

The resort’s owners embraced the idea. “I was actually going to purchase one, but then I talked to my grandpa and he wanted to build it,” Joseph says.

That was in November of 2022. “I brought it here the following March. My dad (Paul) came up and we dug a 4-foot-deep hole and secured it with concrete.”   

Recalls Paul: “When we dug the hole, at about 2 feet down we hit an anchor chain. It’s probably been there for at least 150 years. We decided to (continue the installation), knowing we could follow the chain with a metal detector. It was so fascinating that we dug the hole where the chain was.”

By May, several purplish iridescent birds were calling the house home. 

Joseph says the acrobatic seasonal songbirds, which nest in the birdhouse, like to be near water and love open space. “They also like to eat bugs, so I have it located near a wet area. They leave in September.”  

Graceful in flight with musical pre-dawn singing, this big swallow is a favorite among bird lovers. The birdhouse has an extra-special design, as it resembles the massive main lobby of the resort, complete with a high ceiling and a teepee-style shape. 

Joseph Swatzell
Joseph Swatzell, grounds supervisor at Mission Point, brought his heartfelt idea to life when he asked resort owners if he could add a purple martin home to the facility’s property.
Photo courtesy of Megan Swoyer

Known as the largest swallow in North America, the pretty birds leave behind their Amazon Basin winter homes and arrive in Michigan in the spring, in time for breeding, nesting, and raising a family. If the houses are successful and the birds’ landlords follow some simple rules, the season can be a delightful time for watching how these chipper creatures live their daily lives, whether they’re grabbing food, guarding the nest, or fighting off predators like owls and hawks.

Coming into his fourth season at the resort, Joseph says, “Joel is my only grandparent still alive; I wanted him to come up, but he can’t. This is the next best thing — having his handcrafted birdhouse near me as I work.” 

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