By Kate Quesada

River Hills residents may be seeing more rare birds this year, thanks to funds from Hillsborough County.

The Valrico community recently installed 27 new houses for Purple Martin Swallows which make the journey to the area from South America as the weather heats up here and cools further south using money its homeowners’ association (HOA) received from a county grant.

According to River Hills HOA secretary and director Libby Trautman, Purple Martins are the largest swallows in North America and have been steadily building a population in Florida since late 2012.

“They are more numerous here than in most states to the north, but in general their population has shown a steady decline over several decades,” said Trautman. “They are totally dependent on human-provided housing and reduced numbers can be attributed to declining traction of erecting such housing.”

In early 2016, the River Hill’s Town Advisory Council (TAC) decided to use the funds from the county grant, which they matched with their own funds, to build a platform for Ospreys and housing for Purple Martins within the community.

“The projects began in March and TAC worked with Rich Crete of Rich’s Backyard Birds to determine suitable areas and commenced a detailed investigation into appropriate housing,” said Trautman. “Rich unselfishly shared his knowledge and enthusiasm of birding which allowed us to proceed with the projects. Upon Rich’s untimely death in May of 2016, Brian Bisesto stepped in to help complete the projects.”

The Osprey platform was installed in July 2016 in the community’s Pond Nine. Shortly after, a group of TAC representatives took on the project to replace the outdated Purple Martin birdhouses in Shadowood Park with a new, more easily cleaned birdhouse, as well as installing two new houses at the retention pond at the Fairway One entrance.
Hillsborough County Neighborhood Relations Department gives out grants annually to improve communities, strengthen neighborhood associations and encourage civic involvement.

The application period for these grants opens this month and requests are due in August. Check out next month’s edition of the Osprey Observer for more information, or visit

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Kate Quesada
Assignment Editor Kate Quesada started working at the Osprey Observer in 2004 after graduating from the University of South Florida with a masters degree in Mass Communications. Since then, she has held various positions at the paper and has been working as the assignment editor since January 2020. She lives in Lithia with her husband Mike and sons Dylan and Max and stays active in the community on school PTA boards and volunteering with local organizations.