An Intro to Purple Martins and Housing – Wild Bird Store Online
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An Intro to Purple Martins and Housing

Posted by Wild Bird Store Online on

Purple martins are some of the most elegant and desirable backyard guests with their glossy blue-purple plumage, graceful and acrobatic flight and voracious appetites for insects. Martins are a very desirable guest for many reasons.  #1 is their cheerful melodies and graceful and entertaining acrobatics.  #2 is certainly their appetite for eating bugs and other flying insects.  #3 is their amazing ability to return to their exact nesting spot year after year upon their 4,000 mile migration to Brazil each winter. Adding a purple martin house to your property is the ideal way to invite these birds to take up residence. Be forewarned, however, that they can be picky houseguests and you need to be sure their new home meets the proper requirements to keep the birds happy, safe and healthy. We can help you do just that! 

Types of Purple Martin Houses

Purple martins are colonial birds that prefer to live in large groups. Because of this, classic "apartment" houses with several levels that share walls are ideal martin housing options. Another popular and effective type of housing are purple martin gourds, and multiple gourds – even dozens of them – can be hung to create a cozy martin community.


6 room suite with large compartments

There is a lot of variation in the different types of purple martin houses, from smaller, economical Birds Choice 6 Room Suite (left) to the much larger Nature House Purple Martin Castle System with room for 24 bird families in a six-sided structure.  Individual gourds, like the Purple Martin SuperGourd only house one martin family at a time, but can be grouped on a gourd rack system.  Martins are happy to nest in either system with safety for the nest being the most important aspect.

 

Martin House Placement - Location, Location, Location

Because martins feed in flight, a large, open area is essential, and the house should be set in the middle of the open space, at least 30 feet from the closest trees or brush. Installing a purple martin house close to your house isn't necessarily bad – these birds are used to living in close proximity to humans.

 

How high do you put a purple martin house?

Ideally, position the house 12-14 feet above the ground, though houses up to 20 feet in the air can also be suitable.  If there are trees in the area taller than that be sure to place the house at least 30 feet from those trees.  Telescoping poles such as the Birds Choice 12-Foot Heavy Duty Telescoping Pole With Ground Socket are a great option, and the deep ground socket provides good stability to keep the pole safely upright.

 

Making a House a Home 

It takes more than a good house in a good location to really appeal to purple martins. If you want to attract a thriving colony of these gorgeous birds that will return year after year, there are more factors to consider to make their house even more attractive… 

  • Welcoming Entrance
    A home's front door is the first impression it makes, and your first impression on purple martins needs to be a good one. Do you best to keep sparrows from nesting in the compartments before the martins arrive.  In fact, it's advisable to cover your home or seal the entrances each fall after the martins leave and only open the home when you know martins are returning to your area.  A home with an existing nest is not at all inviting.  Door openings can be circular or crescent-shaped with size openings relatively standard.  We generally recommend SREH (starling resistant entrance holes) if you have starlings in the area. 
  • Square Footage
    A house has to be the right size to meet a family's needs, and while purple martins don't need even one square foot, the interior of their home's compartment should be at minimum 6x6 inches. Larger homes of 6x9 and 6x12 are recommended if budget allows.  The larger compartments allow for the nest to be some distance from the opening thus keeping it safer from predators such as owls.   
  • Porches and Porch Dividers
    A porch can be great for sitting outside in nice weather, and purple martins will certainly use porches – if they are at least 3 inches wide so the birds can walk and perch comfortably. Most all conventional homes also have railings which are used for perching and also help to keep babies safe when they first venture out.  Porch dividers are as welcome on a martin house as the fence between you and your neighbor.  Porch dominance can be common and so dividers are ideal.  If you end up going with gourds you’ll want to look at adding these Heavy-Duty Bolt-on Porches for Crescent SuperGourds
  • House Color
    Unique house colors may be nice for us humans, but generally speaking, houses are all white for a reason. It helps deflect heat and keep the nest cool on long summer days.  Insulating the inside of the roof is common on the higher end houses like the Trendsetter 12 Martin House along with ventilation and drainage to really pamper the nest.
  • Security System
    Safety is always a high priority with homeowners, and it should be the same for anyone with a purple martin house in the yard. Avoid houses with large perches right at the entrances, which could provide grips and access for hungry predators. Baffles, like this Predator Guard, can keep industrious hunters from climbing the pole to reach nesting birds. Different traps, blank doors and screw-on caps are also useful for keeping riffraff – sparrows and starlings – out of the houses, but be sure to get the proper styles and sizes to fit your purple martin house. 

Being a Good Landlord 

Once you have a purple martin house set up and ready for residents, be sure you're ready to be a good landlord to these amazing birds. Monitor the houses regularly so there are no unwanted guests or unwelcome residents, and contact a local birding group, purple martin society or Audubon chapter to see about reporting your results. Avoid insecticide use on your landscaping that would hurt the birds and deplete their food sources, and take steps to protect local habitats such as clean water sources that purple martins need. With care and good effort to create a happy home, you'll soon be hosting your own colony. 

For questions or comments contact us here.


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