Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Purple Martin Housing

A mature male Purple Martin shows the iridescent purple-blue color and large swallow form.
A female Purple Martin shows mostly white underside plumage (photos and map courtesy of the PMCA).
Ready for action, a Purple Martin apartment complex with specialized gourds awaits migrating martins.
A PMCA map that shows the usual date of first spring sightings of Purple Martin scouts.

Purple Martins are popular cavity nesting birds known for their ability to consume considerable amounts of small flying insects, including mosquitos. Famous for their very specialized colony style of cavity nesting, birders have long provided Purple Martin apartment houses or gourd housing to attract a colony of nesting martins to their yard, rural residence or farmyard, and especially to lakeside cabins and homes. The first Purple Martins of spring, often referred to as “scouts,” are already beginning to arrive in some areas of Southeastern states, and they tend to move north as local temperatures warm enough to spur hatches of small flying insects.

First, let’s start with a couple explanations of some terms: A Purple Martin “scout” is the first martin to arrive at an active colony nesting site during early spring. They tend to be the oldest male or female in a population that migrate north as early as weather and food sources allow.

A martin “colony” is an unrelated group of Purple Martins that are attracted to a common nesting site. Individuals that make up a nesting colony don’t migrate as a flock or interact cooperatively. Independently of one another, they migrate north and arrive each spring, and likewise depart independently during late summer.

Are you interested in hosting a Purple Martin nesting colony by providing a martin “apartment complex?” To provide all the best information for you in one location, we refer you to the Purple Marin pros – the Purple Martin Conservation Association – that provides an impressive amount of information about martins, while also conducting state of the art field research. They also provide a variety of quality martin-specific birding equipment including housing, poles, and everything you may need whether you are a beginner or a seasoned Purple Martin landlord. To access all the PMCA has to offer, refer to the Purple Martin Conservation Association

Being a Purple Martin landlord takes a level of dedication that can include a considerable initial monetary investment, unless you are a do-it-yourself person who is interested in building your own “apartment” nesting structure. That can be a very rewarding effort, both during the construction process and when martins choose your structure as their nesting site.

Another important consideration is that you need to be dedicated to managing your apartment facility. This means keeping House Sparrows and European Starlings from using nesting compartments or gourds; mainly watching for any of these birds bringing nesting material to a nesting cavity and removing the material to discourage them from nesting – it can become something of an unpleasant fight at times, so be prepared.

Of course, installing a new Purple Martin nesting facility will require some patience as you wait for nesting martins to claim it, but it’s all worth your efforts when you succeed in attracting a nesting colony and enjoying the activities that transpire throughout spring and summer months. There are some rather novel ways to help attract Purple Martins to a new nesting facility, such as playing a recording of Purple Martins calling and using martin decoys – yes, martins can be decoyed into a new nesting site, so it’s worth a try.

Whether it takes a few weeks, or a year or longer, by providing a Purple Martin apartment-style nesting site and committing to being a martin landlord, you add to an ongoing conservation effort to provide needed housing for this favorite species of colony-nesting birds by a special group of dedicated birders – Purple Martin landlords.

Again, to get an overview about all that you need to know about the specialized requirements of attracting nesting Purple Martins, and a look at the unique equipment used by martin landlords, we refer you to the Purple Martin Conservation Association at Purple Martin Conservation Association

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