Phil Donohue Answers Nature’s Call
Norwalk Citizen-News
Rita Papazian
Published: June 21, 2013

Television’s iconic talk show host Phil Donohue admits while growing up he never really ever asked questions about nature. He really wasn’t that inquisitive when it came to nature. After all, he went to Catholic school and whenever there was a question, the nuns would credit God with their answers. Well, Donohue has gotten “religion,” a new kind of religion. He seeks answers to questions about nature  and he wants to convert you. He especially wants you to care about the population of the purple martin birds. He is so fascinated with them and concerned about their future that he has a web site which he wants you to see and yes, follow

The web site,,  offers a live broadcast of a purple martin colony on Donohue’s former  Beachside Avenue property in Westport. As you may know, Donohue and his wife actress and feminist advocate Marlo Thomas recently sold their home on the Long Island shoreline where they have lived for more than 25 years. However, the purple martin colony is still there for now, until it is relocated possibly to Sherwood Island State Park.

On June 6, Donohue joined Milan Bull, director of science and conservation for the Connecticut Audubon Society in a talk about purple marlins at the annual meeting of the Friends of Sherwood Island State Park.  While Donohue talked, his audience could see a live broadcast of the purple martin colony on the Westport shoreline with the birds fluttering in and out of the gourds where they nest. Donohue invited everyone to tune into this live nature show by accessing his web site.  In doing so, you will also see inside one of the gourds where a purple martin is nesting.  The view is amazing and addictive. You are not only enthralled by watching nature live, but also by the hypnotic sound of Long Island Sound. On June 7, the headline on the web site shouted out: “Eggs  Any Moment.”  Viewers watched patiently for days and finally, the purple martin did lay some eggs. The headline screamed, “Eggs!” Now, the wait continues with the bird sitting on the eggs and we watch waiting for the eggs to hatch.

Donohue, who is co-chairman of Connecticut’s Eagle Festival, admits it has taken him a long time to be curious about nature. Living on Long Island Sound with expansive views of Long Island Sound for over a quarter of a century stirred his curiosity as he “watched the drama out there.” He described how the purple martins feeding their chicks is “a feminist fantasy,” since both parents were responsible for feeding their young. “Those kids open their beaks and say, ‘Feed me; feed me.’” They feed on insects, which are caught in mid-flight. In the East, hey do not nest in natural habitats but rely on people to provide gourds for their colonies.

The talk show host explained the cycle that he has observed.  The purple martins appear in spring; give birth in June and then fly away in August to Brazil.  He marvels at the birds’ ability to fly all the way to Brazil and explained, from his observation, how they’ll fly and then soar. He recalled one year travelling to Venice, Italy with his wife and turning on his computer to the web site. “I saw my own backyard.”

Donohue laments that the study of nature is something that had passed him by as he was growing up and he is determined, “It won’t happen to my grandchildren who have already been here to the Nature Center,” a popular spot for visitors to Sherwood Island State Park, which is part of the state’s park system currently marking its centennial. He believes one’s curiosity in nature leads  to accomplishments in science, even  to winning a Nobel prize.

Milan Bull, offered a little perspective on the purple martin, noting that a number of factors, including habitat loss and climate change are contributing to its decline in population. He said more research is needed to ascertain the factors affecting the decline. He said this would include what is happening to its population in Brazil

On a personal note, it is sad to learn that Phil Donohue and Marlo Thomas have sold their properties and homes on the shore here. For so many years they have contributed  their time, knowledge and presence to so many charitable endeavors in Fairfield County and Connecticut.  As a journalist who has reported on so many events here, it was always a pleasure to see the couple at an event because I would know that not only that their presence and star power can attract lots of money for nonprofits, but also they are so giving of their time to talk to the press.

I will always remember the time I went to the movies in the afternoon at one of Westport’s Fine Arts movie theatres many years ago to see “Godfather II.” Not only did Marlo Thomas and Phil Donohue stroll into the lobby, but also Marlo’s father Danny Thomas and his wife. The crowd was in disbelief. Danny Thomas in Westport?

© Copyright 2013 Rita Papazian All rights reserved.