There are a number of questions about purple martins that
are asked over and over by people interested in attracting them. On
this page I've placed the answers to a few of them in hopes of
helping folks understand this hobby a little better.
If you have a question, take a look and see if your
answer is here. If not, then by all means, email it to me and
I will attempt to answer it for you.
If you like, print this page out and put it in a 3 ring
binder so you can refer back to it if needed. It should help
make keeping martins a little easier, not only for the beginner, but
for the experienced landlord alike.
Also, the answers on this page are using the latest
information gleaned from research that has been done on purple
martins in recent years. The answer to your question may
differ from other answers that you may have heard, but I strive to
stay with the latest technology in this hobby and therefore, my
answers might be a little different. Where possible, I will
state what the old answer may have been and why the new answer is
Where can I get house plans?
I've been asked a number of
times for plans by people interested in building purple martin
houses. Depending on the style of housing you're looking for,
there are a number of different sources for plans.
if you are interested in building them a rack for gourds such as you
see here, then you'll find that information here:
Plans To Build A
If the gourds appeal to you and you think you might want to
grow some but don't know where to get the seeds, here's a way to get
some free ones sent to you. If you get me an envelope as
described, I'll fill it with enough seeds to grow a ton of
Some Free Gourd
Wooden Martin House
If you're interested in building them an actual wooden house,
then there are a number of different options.
I have a set of plans for a house that I designed to slide
vertically up and down a round steel pole. That's located
Build A Wooden Martin House
If you want to build a T-14 as shown below, then the
plans can be obtained from the Purple Martin
Conservation Association. They sell the plans. This
link takes you to their page and the information to obtain their
catalog is found there.
The Purple Martin Conservation
However, their designs call for a square wooden pole and I
feel wood warps over time. I've designed a yoke to convert the
house to fit a round steel pole as shown. That's located
here. Mounting a
If you wish to build them a house that is a little
simpler, then there is an entire heading devoted just for purple
martin housing on my Links Page. Once
there, scroll down to the heading "Purple Martin
Housing". However, let me add one thing. If
you're intending to build a house for martins, then there are some
rules that need to be followed if you plan to do it right. A
lot of housing today wasn't designed to take care of the birds and
any plans used should be modified so that you can. Read on for
more details. The same rules apply for man made
If you're interested in purchasing a house, there
are a number of different links to commercial house manufacturers
from which you should be able to select a house that interests you.
Since there are too many to describe here, you'll just have to check
out the links there and see what interests
I do not want to tell you what type of
housing to use, that's your own personal preference. But please
remember, if you're going to purchase a house, be it wood or plastic
or metal, there are a few NEW standards that should apply to martin
housing and these new standards should be utilized where ever
One, first and foremost, make sure it is a quality built
house. Many houses on the market today are terribly designed
for keeping purple martins. They are built out of weak
materials and will barely withstand a good gust of wind let alone a
good blow. Remember, this house has to protect baby
Two, the housing should be easily accessible,
without tipping, to clean out pests and do nest
checks. This means vertical raising and lowering of housing
with a rope and pulley or cable and winch system of some sort.
The inside of the house should be easily accessible via doors or
removable front panels.
Three, if the house contains 6"x6"x6"
compartments, then insure they are expandable by removing a middle
panel, or drilling a large hole in it making the compartment
6"x6"x12". It's a proven fact that martins do much better in
compartments that are larger. 6"x6"x6" compartments simply are
not big enough for martins regardless of what any housing
manufacturer says. Remember, they are selling houses for a profit
and will tell you what you want to hear to make that sale. If
the housing does not have this feature, then please consider another
Four, make sure the housing is white. White will help
attract the martins while at the same time, repel the heat of
Five, 2" diameter round holes are no longer recommended for
martin housing. The new crescent designed holes are now much
more advantageous in keeping out some predators of martins. If
the house has round holes, then it should be retrofitable to the
SREH's. If not, then continue looking elsewhere for a
Too many times an unsuspecting landlord 'wannabe' purchases
one of these houses and then for many years, wonders why martins
will not come to his house. If a martin does not feel secure
in it's nesting location, then it just won't choose that place to
nest and will look elsewhere. Spend some time and learn about
the martins 'before' you spend the money on housing.
Then, make a choice of good quality housing and put it up.
Good quality housing might cost you a little more to begin with, but
in the long run, you'll be glad you did.
like to start a Purple Martin colony. Is there anything
special I should know?
Yes, I'm afraid there is. Keeping purple martins can be
a very gratifying and enjoyable hobby, but it's a lot more
complicated than just putting a house on top of a pole and letting
them come. Sometimes, if certain rules aren't followed,
martins may never come and the house is then taken over by either
English House Sparrows or European Starlings, the martins worst
nesting competitors. Many people today just buy one of those
little martin houses that are on sale at all the local retail
outlets and then stick it up on a pole and that's about the worst
thing one could do. A good many of these houses are very
inadequate for keeping purple martins and the intended landlord
needs to be aware of a lot of things before spending any money on
The first thing you have to do is educate yourself.
Read, read and read some more. Find out everything you
possibly can about them BEFORE you purchase and put up any
housing for them. Read and understand the rules for attracting
them and why people lose them. Find and talk to people that
have martin housing and ask them questions. Look for different
styles of houses and find out what the results were. Are the
landlords happy with the results? Has the landlord had any
martins settle? Is the quality of the house they have
good? Only after you are prepared to take care of them, defend
them against nest competitors and understand them should you begin
setting up housing for them. So many people today want to get
into the hobby, but don't take the time to educate themselves and
understand the birds and their habits, that they end up actually
hurting the hobby. Other pest birds are pestering them so much
that they give up and the pest birds win and the martins lose, so
please, if you're going to do it, then please, "do it
should I place my housing?
This is a
personal preference and may even depend on the type and location of
the housing. Assuming that your location meets all the needs and
spatial requirements of the martins, then the most favorable height
is around 12'. The housing can be placed as high as 18', but
remember, the higher it is, the more susceptible it is to winds and
also, the less you'll personally be able to enjoy them. I have a few
friends that have their housing down as low as 10' and they are full
If you have a telescoping pole, then obviously,
you will want to keep it lower. It would become very awkward and
tiring to try and stretch a telescoping pole to 18'.
do not mind nesting close to the ground as long as they feel safe,
hence predator guards are a must. I've even seen them nest in a
gourd that was attached to a 4' high page wire fence near a horse
Shoot for the 12' range in height and your martins will
do just fine as long as you keep any predators away.
should the entrance hole be for martins?
According to most specification sheets available on
this subject, the entrance hole for purple martins can be anywhere
from 1 3/4" to 2 1/4" in diameter. Most commercial houses are sold
with the 2 1/8" holes in them. If you're building your own, then the
decision for the entrance hole is yours.
However, Please Note:
Because of the recent increase and infestation of
European Starlings, it is now highly recommended that these round
holes be changed to crescent shaped Starling Resistant
Entrance Holes (SREH). A lot of testing
went into a couple of different shapes to create an entrance hole
that would keep starlings out of martin housing, one being the
oblong, the other, crescent. It was found that in many cases,
starlings could negotiate the oblong and that shape was quickly
eliminated as a martin entrance hole. However, the crescent
shaped hole (shown below) has proven to be very effective as a
deterrent for starlings and is quickly becoming the new standard
for entrance holes for purple martins. If you purchase a
house or directions to build a house with round holes, then they are
well behind the times and you should make the change to the new
crescent holes. My entire site has been changed to these
crescent shaped SREH's and is now starling free. (See the
gourd rack above). In fact, many sites in my immediate area
have changed to crescents and they are no longer bothered by
starlings entering the martin housing. The dimensions for the
hole are given below. Using a compass and a sharp utility
knife, a pattern can be made from a piece of sturdy plastic and then
used to trace the hole to where it is wanted. Please be
accurate with the dimensions. They are important. (I
made my pattern from a plastic mayo jug).
But I'm just starting out. Wouldn't it be better to start
with round holes and then switch over to SREH's after the birds are
It was originally thought that a new site should start
with the round holes and then change to the crescents after the
birds settle in, but that theory is also now old school.
It's being proven every day on new sites that
martins, looking for nesting sites, will readily accept the crescent
shaped holes and the round holes are being eliminated.
Martins do not look at the geometry of a hole, they only see a black
opening and once they look in, know that there's an empty cavity
suitable for nesting behind it. It may take them anywhere from
a few minutes to an hour or two to figure them out, but martins are
fast learners and quickly learn to accept and negotiate the new
style holes. The following links will give full instructions
on how to make the new crescent shaped starling resistant
For gourds and housing that already have round holes, this
link will tell you how to change them to crescents. Changing to
Crescents It even shows how to change the
new plastic gourds to crescents.
This page shows how to add these crescents to new gourds and
houses. Making New Crescents
One other note. If you start out with Crescent SREH's,
it will eliminate any problems you have with starlings right from
the get go. In fact, you'll actually enjoy watching the
starlings as they are bewildered at these holes they can't get
Here's a couple of pictures showing how easily martins learn
to negotiate these holes...
Trust me, these really work and your new martins will be
sliding in and out of them before you even know it.
one final note:
all birds come in different sizes, even an occasional smaller
starling may figure out how to get into one of these holes, but that
is rare. 98% of all starlings are not able to negotiate these
crescent shaped holes when cut to the right size and that's a heck
of a lot better than letting the 100% in. In all my time of
having crescents at my site, only one starling was small enough to
make it in, however, he is no longer with us today. That's why
their called 'starling resistant' and not 'starling proof'.
I've tried the new crescents on my gourds
and they work great, but I've noticed one thing. The birds go
in real easy, but seem to struggle when coming back out. Why
The reason your birds seem to be struggling to come out of
your crescent SREH is because the nest level is too far below the
'bottom' of the entrance hole. Martins do not build a very
elaborate nest and sometimes it's quite a bit below the bottom of
their entrance hole. This is especially true with deep gourds
where the hole is high on the side. An easy fix for this is to
add enough nesting material so that the nest level is about 1/2"
below the hole bottom. If you do not normally add nesting
material to your housing, then this is a good time to start. I
always add fresh nesting material to all my housing each spring and
the birds seem to really appreciate it. I keep some extra on
hand just to build the nests up a little just in case they pack down
too much. Their constant walking on them will soon pack the
nesting material and this is another good reason for using material
that drains well. I also keep a raised platform with more
material on it just in case they want to add any final touches to
their nests. (See below).
Which is better for martins, gourds or
This is a question that has been debated for
years by purple martin lovers and it still isn't answered today, so
let me just say this.
What do you want to
I have three different kinds of houses at my
site, wooden houses, plastic and natural gourds and I can honestly
say this. The martins seem to prefer the large, white natural gourds
first and then they select the other two types of houses second. But
this is in my area, martins in your area may prefer something
different. And as for aluminum houses that seem to have
problems attracting martins, I do know that hanging 4 large natural
gourds under them will help attract them faster. The martins
usually end up filling the gourds before they will move into the
house. And one more thing, if you've purchased or have an
aluminum house that only has the small 6" x 6" compartments, then
they need to have the center wall removed and one of the two holes
plugged thus doubling the size of the compartments. Tests have
proven that this will also help attract your martins much
faster. The new deeper compartments allow for the martins to
back out of the reach of most predators that come
Also, one more thing. When you enlarge your
compartments, make sure you make the change to crescent entrance
holes. Starlings also love those enlarged compartments and
will move right in on you if given the slightest chance.
If you want to see a lot more information on the subject,
read all the information on this and my Ďgourdí pages. And another
issue is a factor of 'area imprinting' to be considered.
Martins in the northern latitudes are much more used to wooden
houses while many martins in the southern latitudes are used to
I simply say that if the martins in my area choose the
gourds over any other housing offered, then why not supply them
large, natural, thick walled gourds to nest in, period. They've
already made 'their' choice.
Still another issue to bring into this debate is the
arrival of the new plastic gourds and houses. Again, this is
personal preference and you will have to decide which you want to
use. The best thing to do is supply a variation of housing and
see what the martins in your area prefer.
I want to use gourds, but don't know how
to hang them.
Here ya go. This shows how I hang mine. Let me add one
thing. Make sure when you complete the hanging that the gourd
'swings, without twisting'. Although the swinging won't
prevent the starlings from nesting in them, sometimes it
helps. Starlings also love to nest in large gourds and this
applies especially to the ones that are hung horizontally and tied
down where they are stable. As far as all tests show, the starlings
will take these horizontal gourds first and once established, will
not vacate them. Although this method may look aesthetically
pleasing, it makes for a starling haven. Also, if there is a
starling problem, then SREH's should be added to your
my house. Now, where should I put it to have the best chance
of getting martins?
This one's hard to answer without actually being there and
seeing the setup, so here are a few quick tips on locating any
purple martin housing:
-Martins like wide open spaces, so with that in mind, the
house should be placed in a very open area, but within site of your
-Martins hate tall trees. The house should be no closer
than 40" feet of any tall trees, further if possible.
-Martins like water, (not bird baths), so if you have clean,
open water available (a pond or river) within a mile or two, then
that will be advantageous in attracting them.
-Martins like power lines. If you have some readily
available, they will use these to perch and preen on.
-Martins like to see people, so the house should be located
near your own house. 30' is not uncommon with the average
being under 100'.
-Martins like activity. No, it won't hurt to have the
kids running around or you out in the garden. Near a driveway
or back deck is also good.
where some folks say that PVC pipe could be used to make less
expensive martin poles. Is this a good product to use for a
pole for my housing?
As far as I'm concerned, NO. PVC,
(Poly Vinyl Chloride) pipe is no where near
strong enough to use for martin housing. Here's a couple of
One, PVC becomes very brittle in sunlight. Most PVC
pipe does not have UV (Ultra Violate) inhibitors and will quickly
become extremely brittle. Once this happens, even just a
sudden change in temperature could make it fail and the next thing
you know, your housing will be on the ground. Although
seemingly strong when new, this quickly changes when the sun starts
shining on it for any length of time.
Two, PVC pipe has a very low Modules of Elasticity (one of
the numbers used in the calculation of material strength) and thus,
has no structural strength. Because of this, a sudden wind
could quickly snap the pipe.
Three, a long piece of PVC pipe is very flexible and the
house would become very unstable, especially in any kind of
storm. A sudden strong gust at the wrong time will put your
martin housing on the ground, along with everything in
I am a Mechanical Design Engineer by trade and believe me,
the best thing to use for a martin pole is a good schedule 40, (or
80) round steel pipe. (NO, square and
triangular pipes are not stronger than round
pipes of the same size). Some come with a galvanized coating
and may be used just like that or may be painted to your favorite
color. It might cost a few dollars extra to get a good pole,
but the piece of mind that comes with it is worth every
Want to see the actual numbers proving it... look
here... Structural Martin Poles
I've read where I should wait 4 weeks
after I see the first scouts to put my housing up. Why is
It was originally thought that the only way a new colony
would get established was with the returning SY birds.
Supposedly they were the ones that colonized new sites. Plus,
it was thought that if you put your housing up too early, the pest
birds would inhabit it long before the martins got back. But
that way of thinking has now changed. It's now 'suggested'
that you put your housing up when the scouts arrive because some of
the older birds just might find your site more attractive than their
old one and move. Martins have a very strong site fidelity for
their home sites, but if for whatever reason it becomes run down and
infested with pest birds, it is now recognized that they will move
to another site. Therefore, don't wait. Put your housing
up when you see the scouts. And make sure you use SREH's and
noticed that all your gourds and housing are painted white. Is
there a reason for this?
and in fact, there's actually a number of reasons for
martins nest in the summer and that's the hottest time of the
year. White is the most reflective color we have and thus,
reflects the heat of the sun. We all know that the darker the
color, the more heat is absorbed, so with that in mind, try to
imagine a baby bird in a dark colored bird house with all that heat
and being unable to escape it. For that reason alone, all
martin housing should be painted white.
there is more;
white stands out. Incoming martins can see it from a long
distance away and it really helps to draw them in. Then, once
they arrive, the dark entrance hole really contrasts the white gourd
or house and they can zero in on it when making their landings.
white just plain looks good. Kind of like sparkling clean so
to speak. When you see something white, it reminds you of 'new
heard that the light interiors helps keep starlings out.
Should I paint the insides of my house white, also?
that's not necessary. All birds like to have the interior of
their nesting cavities dark. That thing you heard about the
light interiors keeping starlings out is another one of those
statements from the manufacturers of aluminum housing to try and
sell their products. The reason starlings don't like to nest
in their houses is the fact that the compartments are too
small. Starlings are no different than any other bird, they
like large, roomy compartments too. But if that's all that is
available and they want to nest in that house, then they will,
bright interiors and all.
went to buy an aluminum house, the saleslady said that aluminum
helps keep the nests free from mites. Is this
Absolutely not! She is only trying to make a
the lady at the bird house store needs to be educated about the
birds she's selling housing for. (Or at least be
truthful). Mites will infest any type of bird housing
REGARDLESS of the type and that includes the aluminum houses
she is trying to sell you. Mites are found in the nesting
material and since all martin housing has nesting material, then you
can have mites.
Second, there are a number of different myths being passed
around about martins and their types of housing, and unfortunately,
a lot of them are not true and this is one of them..
You'll also hear that the bright interiors of aluminum
houses helps keep out starlings. That also is false. The
only thing that helps keep out the starlings is the 'small'
compartments in some of the commercial houses, which by the way,
also works to keep martins out of the housing as well. Many a
potential landlord has emailed me wanting to know why martins will
not nest in their aluminum housing like the advertising stated and
all I can do is be truthful and tell them that, most of the time,
it's the small compartments in their houses.
Just remember, when you are purchasing a martin house, the
person selling it to you is a 'salesman' and will tell you
'what you want to hear' so that you will buy his or her
product. This is why we, as potential landlords, have to
educate ourselves about this hobby before we begin spending
time and money...
I've stated before, this is the way myths get started. Someone
that has no idea of what they are talking about, says something off
the wall and of course, it spreads throughout the martin
world. This is why I say, talk to the experts, not your
neighbor and definitely, not a sales person.
there a perfect martin house?
'perfect' martin house would be very difficult (and expensive) to
design and build but I will say this, we are getting there.
Some of the houses built by newer and more educated manufacturers
today are much better than others. With today's
increased knowledge of martins and keeping them, there have been a
number of very good improvements in the housing industry by 'new
manufacturers' that have the martin's best interest in their
products. However, there are still some that refuse to improve
their houses and some of these that are offered for sale are
absolute death traps for martins and in my opinion, should not be
allowed to be put on the market for sale. I just wish there
was a 'code of conduct' required for martin house
manufacturers to follow, but there isn't. Their 'main goal' is
still the 'bottom line'.
won't mention any names, either good or bad, but as I've stated
before, please educate yourself first. Then, look
for quality. Some houses just aren't fit for purple
martins and in fact, even the starlings won't nest in some of
them. You might have to pay a little more up front for a
quality house, but many years down the road, that quality
house will still be doing it's job where as the cheap ones will just
be adding to the sparrow and starling slums or the junk piles.
should I look for in a 'quality' martin house?
Although I say this throughout my pages, here's a condensed
summary of what to look for in a good quality martin
-First, look at the over all design and structure of the
house. Is it sturdy? Is it made from strong materials
that will last for years out in the elements? Cheap houses are
much more costly than good quality houses in the long
-Does it have the new recommended 'deep' compartments?
Compartments that are at least 9" or 10" deep to allow the martins
to back out of the way of any entrance hole dangers.
-Does the house either come equipped or have the capability
of changing the holes to the recommended Starling Resistant Entrance
Holes? If it only has the capability of round holes, the look
for another house.
-Does the house raise and lower vertically on a pole?
Houses that tip or worse yet, are hard mounted are not good designs
and you should stay away from them. These type of houses are
bad in the fact that they are not easily accessed and the other
competitor bird species will soon take over your new house and there
goes your chances to get martins.
-Does it open easily for nest checks and maintenance?
Houses that do not open easily should not be used for
Houses that do not have these features should be left right
on the shelves. Somehow, the retailers have to get the point
that these houses are not any good for martins and if we hit them
where it hurts... (in their pocketbooks), then just maybe they'll
get the message. Yes, a quality house will cost more
initially, but in the long run, it will cost you a lot less that
replacing junk housing every couple of years.
When should I put my housing
When should I open my
Both of these questions go hand in hand and
again, the answer to these questions have changed. It was once
thought that if you don't already have an established site, that you
should wait 4 weeks after the arrival of the first scouts and then
open your housing. But, that thought is now different.
First, look at the map on The Bio Page . Find
the area on the migration map where you live and the approximate
time the scouts (first birds to return) come through your area and
have your house up and open. Many times you'll pick up some
birds that were misplaced from other sites. If nothing shows,
it won't be long before the SY (Second Year) birds will be coming
through your area and they are the ones that usually settle new
sites, but not always.
According to all reports, the scouts are
already through my area. Is it too late for me to get martins this
No, as a continuation to the answer above, just because the
scouts are through your area doesn't mean you've missed your chance
to get a colony. In fact, you still have some more waiting to
do. All new colonies have to start somewhere, however,
although it does happen occasionally, it's usually not done with
'Scouts' or mature birds. Scouts are nothing more than the
first mature birds to return north during migration. These
mature birds usually return to the site they successfully nested in
the previous year. Often times, they will even spend a night
or two in your house and rest, but then will usually move on to
their home site.
What normally happens is SY (second year) birds usually begin
arriving about 3 or 4 weeks behind the scouts. Usually, these
are the birds that will begin to colonize your site. Then, for
the next 4 or 5 weeks, more SY birds will continue to migrate north
and hopefully, they will find your site. If you get word the
scouts are thru your area then relax, you still have another 4 to 8
weeks to attract martins.
our housing up for years and have never gotten martins to nest even
thought we seem to have the perfect place for them. They come
and visit and will even hang around for awhile, but always leave
without staying. What's wrong?
There could be any number of reasons, but if I had to guess,
I'd have to say it's probably the housing.
First, does your housing have small compartments? That
could be one of the major reasons. Although the housing
manufacturers say that the 6" x 6" x 6" compartments are
recommended, they are wrong. (6 x 6 x 6 compartments are
cheaper to manufacture). Martins need more room. This is
one of the major problems in the martin house industry and many are
still refusing to change.
There could be other reasons, but first, enlarge your house
compartments, then be sure and add the crescents, and then sit back
and watch what happens the next time a martin visits.
is new and the very first bird to visit is an all black male.
Does that mean that he came from another site?
To be honest, there's no telling where he came from, but here
are a few possible answers.
-He could be from another site that was either lost or over
run with pest birds.
-There's even a good possibility that he and his last year
mate tried to nest in that old site but were unsuccessful and he
decided to find a new one.
-He could be a SY male from last year that was unsuccessful
in attracting a mate and decided to look elsewhere and your site
just happened to be it.
-He could be a migrating male that simply decided to not
return to his original site and decided that yours looked better to
him and he wants to stay.
As you can see, there are a number of different scenarios
that could be looked at and all are just guesses. These are
wild birds and there's no telling what they have on their minds or
what makes them move or stay, but at least you have an idea of what
the thought process is that you have to go through to figure it all
Which direction should I face the holes
in my house?
I personally donít see any difference as far as the compass
direction. However, I do see a difference when it comes to
accessible flyways. My racks offer 360 degree accessibility and
almost always, the gourds chosen first are the ones that are most
easily accessible. Face your house to the open flight paths and you
should do just fine.
One other thing to note. I have noticed that with my
own colony, the birds will often pick the larger gourds that are
facing my own house. I can't prove anything with this, but
just maybe they want to see their landlord and know that he or she
is around. It might have something to do with the protection
thing, and it also makes for much better viewing on my
have a night security light on my property. Will this bother
not at all. In fact, I also have one and it's less than 5
paces from my nearest rack and house. I don't see any
difference in their nesting habits at all. In fact, the main
power and T V cable lines to my house use that nightlight pole and
so do they for perching. I have a number of pictures with them
sitting right on top of the light. Martins are not the least
bit afraid of man's modern technologies. They only know that
some of it keeps predators away and that makes them feel a lot more
to go with plastic gourds, but they're very white on the
insides. Should I paint the insides with dark
that is not required. Martins will use them just the way they
are. In fact, since the introduction of the 'larger' plastic
gourds by the 'responsible' manufacturers, the martins have loved
them. With these new gourds and their easy accessibility, it's
a very good way to keep martins.
besides, these new gourds are made with polyethylene with UV
inhibitors, and they're so slippery that your paint would fall off
within a short time anyway and now you'd have paint chips in your
one thing I would add is a good thick bedding of pine straw or wheat
straw. The insides of these gourds are so slippery that the
martins will not be able to get a good foot hold, so a thick layer
of one of the above will make them feel a lot more at home. I
add enough to bring the level up to the bottom of the entrance
hole. They will work them to what they want and it will save
them time in nest building in the long run.
What in the world is meant by HY, SY and
These are nothing more than acronyms or, shortened terms, for
a quick way of expressing the age of the birds you're dealing with
and is determined by the plumage. Hatching Year,
(birds born this year), Second Year, (birds born last
year and still having adolescent plumage), and After
Second Year, (birds born at least two years ago and
have now attained their adult plumage).
Other terms you'll see a lot is SREH.
(Starling Resistant Entrance
Hole). This has to do with a new type of entrance holes
used to help keep starlings out of housing.
Another is S&S (Starlings &
Sparrows). A short way to describe two of the martins
Birds spent the night in my house. Will
Birds keep coming to visit, but then
disappear. Why won't they stay?
These questions are asked by a lot of people that have put up
new housing and want to become purple martin landlords, but to be
honest, I canít answer them. We are dealing with wild creatures and
I have no clue whether they will stay or not. They might just be
passing through, or they may actually be looking for a place to set
up housekeeping. If the former is the case, then they will be moving
on to the site where they nested last year. If the latter is the
case, then they've found your site to be interesting enough to
investigate. This is why, as potential landlords, we should do all
we can to insure that our houses are as good and safe as can be. If
the birds think the same thing, then there is a good chance that
they will stay.
I've read that martins like
eggshells. Will this help attract them?
No, not really. Yes, it's true that martins like
eggshells, but this is usually only during nesting and brooding
periods. The females use them for grit and a source of calcium
which they need to make their own eggshells stronger. They
also feed the to the young for the grit and calcium. Putting
eggshells out before martins arrive will only attract all the other
birds in your yard. However, that's not all that bad
either. If they are friendly birds, then they too will need
and use them for the very same reasons. My visiting barn
swallows love them just as much as the martins.
If you have an established colony and want to offer
eggshells, then simply make a small platform feeder and fill it with
crushed eggshells. They are easy to prepare and your birds
will love them. Wash your eggshells with plain water to remove
the inner membrane. Then, stick them in a preheated oven for
about 2 or 3 minutes. They can also be placed in a Microwave
for a few minutes. Then, after they cool, crush them and put
them in the feeder. That's all there is to
eat that many eggs at our home. Is there another way to get
There sure is. One way is to have some of your friends
keep eggs shells for you following the cleaning and cooking
procedures described above. You pick them up every now and
then and add them to your stash.
You could go down to your local restaurant and have them save
you some. This could be a McDonalds or Waffle House or The
Corner Cafe', whatever your local restaurant might be. When
you explain what you want the eggshells for, most are more than
happy to help out. However, if you do it this way, remember to
make it easy on them. Bring them a plastic 5 gallon bucket,
lined with a large plastic garbage bag that they can just drop the
eggshells into without too much trouble. Remember, it's a
business for them and they need to make money and time is
important. Then, when the breakfast period is over, go pick up
your bucket of eggshells and take them home. And don't forget
to 'thank' them...
Now, you got a mess, right! Well, yes and no.
First fill the bag with 'plain' water to just cover the
eggshells. Then slosh the eggshells around with your hand or a
sturdy stick for a few minutes. (If you use your hand, you
might want to use a thick rubber glove for protection from sharp
edges). This will remove the membranes from the shells.
Don't worry about breaking the eggshells because you're going to end
up doing that anyways. When done, slowly pour out the water
and the floating membrane. Now, you'll need a pillow case that
zips closed or that you can securely tie closed. Pour the
eggshells into the pillow case and zip it shut. The excess
water will simply drain through the pillow case. Hang it
somewhere and let it drain until the dripping stops. Now,
simply toss it into the family dryer and let it run on hot for about
15 or 20 minutes or until they are dry. Viola, you now have a
large amount of eggshells for your eggshell feeder an they're
already crushed from the rolling around in the dryer. It's as
simple as that.
about perches? If I add them to my gourds, will it help me
No. Do not add any kind of perches to any of
your gourds. This will only help the pest birds and
predators get a foot hold on taking over that gourd. Perches
under entrance holes are the results of humans thinking they are
doing the birds a good turn when in reality, they are actually
harming their tenants. Pest birds such as Sparrows and
Starlings use these perches to trap the legal inhabitants within the
gourds and then attack them. Think of what they dealt with
before man came along. Old woodpecker holes in hollowed out
trees. There were no perches or porches of any kind on them
then and they don't need them now.
However, they do need roosting arms and these are
usually placed away from the entrance holes. These can be long
rods in starburst patterns and placed over the housing so that the
birds have something to land on when they fly into the site.
From that point, they will fly down and light in the entrance hole
clinging to the front of the gourd with ease. Martins have
very strong tail feathers and can pry themselves into their entrance
holes very easily.
What are predator guards? Should I
Martins are communal nesters and of course, when you get a
large group of any kind of birds or animals together, then there are
predators that take notice. There are a number of different
flying and ground based predators that martins need to be protected
from. Snakes, raccoons, cats, squirrels to name a few.
Owls are also a major night time predator that can wipe out a colony
in short order. The proper guards need to be in place to keep
them from gaining access to your martin housing. And, should
you use them, absolutely! It only takes one attack from a
predator to make a hard earned colony vacate a site and in some
cases, never to return.
We have some birds staying in our house,
but we're not sure they are martins. How can we tell for
The two birds below are a mature pair of Purple Martins, male
on the left and female on the right. If the birds in your
house don't look like them, then you don't have martins. The
first thing you have to do is determine what the birds are.
Next, if they are friendly birds, then they should be persuaded to
move on. Usually removing the nesting material a few times
will do it. If not, then close up the house for a day or two
until they move. If they are another cavity nesting species
such as Bluebirds or Tree Swallows, find out what type of housing
they require and then put it out for them. The only reason
they're in your martin house is because they can't find housing of
their own liking and requirements. Supply it, locate it
properly and they'll more than likely move right in.
However, if they turn out to be either European Starlings or
English House Sparrows, then I strongly suggest you eliminate them,
period. Trapping, shooting, whatever it takes. These two
species of birds are mortal enemies of martins and will prevent any
martins from nesting in your house if they're given the
have martins that come by during the day, but then disappear at
night. Why won't they stay?
could be a number of reasons for this. They could be birds
visiting from another site and are enjoying your site a little more
than their home site and just might be looking yours over, but site
fidelity is making them return to their home site for the
night. If they continue to spend days at your site and like it
more, then they may just make the switch and stay.
if it's early in the year, they may not be ready to settle down just
yet. Remember, these are wild birds and are used to sleeping
in trees or on power lines and radio antennas and aren't ready to
settle in just yet. They just need some time.
had some martins come by and stay a couple of days, but now they're
gone. Where did they go?
be honest, I don't know, but here are a couple of possible
they could very well be just passing through and found your site to
rest for a few days. This often happens with older birds since
they are headed back to the site where they nested last year.
The will often take a day or two during their migration and stay at
any available house that's along the way to rest a little.
it could be very early in the season and they just aren't ready to
settle in a house yet. Remember, they are still wild birds and
usually the only time they stay in housing is when nesting is taking
if these are young SY birds, then there could be any number of
reasons. They are the hardest to predict. Younger birds
just don't seem to be in a hurry to nest and even when they do,
their hearts aren't fully in it. However, once a nest is
completed and eggs are laid, then they will start putting more
effort to the task at hand and most of the time, they will succeed
in fledging young.
We have martins staying at our new house
but they aren't nesting yet. What's wrong?
Nothing. One thing that new martin enthusiasts run into
is 'impatience'. Remember, these birds are just returning to
their northern home and it's been a long flight for them.
They're in no hurry to start nest building upon arrival. Give
them some time. They need to rest a little, get to know the
neighborhood and to also get to know each other. We as humans
want them to stay and nest, but we want it to all happen NOW and
that just isn't going to happen. There are things we just
don't understand about wild creatures and when they, the weather and
the time are right, they'll begin nesting. In the meantime,
just relax and enjoy their antics. Watch them and learn as
much as you can about them. Little by little, you'll begin to
understand and also become a little less impatient, and before you
know it, they and their young will be gone.
We finally have some martins that are
staying in our housing, but they disappear during the afternoon and
then come back in just before dark. Where do they
They went to eat. Remember, martins eat flying insects
and have to go in search of them. (No, they do not eat seeds
from bird feeders nor do they drink from bird baths). They
will often eat a little early in the morning and then hang around
the site for the rest of the morning chattering and socializing and
then they are off into the air to eat around noon or early
afternoon. Sometimes, they may travel many miles in search of
food and of course, that takes them well away from their home
site. Martins love to fly and they may go as far as 5 or 10
miles in search of their prey, but not to worry, they will always
find their way back to your site before dark.
I've read where it helps to put nesting
material out for the birds. Does this really
Absolutely. I do and a lot of other landlords I
know also do it. There are a number of
different materials that can be used. Two that I highly
recommend are Pine Straw (dried pine needles) and Wheat
Straw. Both are usually available just about anywhere at
garden shops and Co-ops. Others are available, but make sure
that whatever you use doesn't get wet and stay wet. The parent
birds won't stay in a nest that stays wet. The two I mentioned
will quickly drain off any moisture should they get wet.
I'm not a fan of the different varieties of sawdust and
chips. These hold water much too easily and drain very slowly
once wet. And no, the cedar chips do nothing to ward off small
insect pests, regardless of what you've been told about smells and
odors. In fact, in many instances, the parent birds will toss
these cedar chips out of the nest and then replace it with their own
materials. The sawdust and chip varieties of nesting materials
are very unstable in some housing, mainly the metal and new plastic
gourds, and the birds just feel un-secure with them under foot and
they will often discard them in favor of more secure footing such as
pine straw or wheat straw or what ever other material is available
So, how do I use it?
I use both the pine straw and wheat straw. Both are
very abundant in my area simply for the raking and bagging.
However, both can also be obtained at just about any garden shop in
bales. You many not need that much for the martins, but the
remainder makes great mulch for plants.. I start the year out
with pine straw by putting a good base of it in all my cavities
before the birds return. What I do is place enough material in
the compartments to 'come up to the bottom' of the entrance
hole. Martins are short legged birds and are not able to jump
very well, so I make it easier on them by placing enough material so
that they can simply step up on the edge of their
hole. Then, when they return each spring,
they have something to rest and sit on for those first few cool
nights. Their walking on it will usually settle it down
a little and they'll often add more if needed.
Then, around the beginning of nest building time, I place a
raised platform near their racks. I then cut wheat straw into
about 3" long pieces using a set of pruning shears and mound it up
pretty good on the platform. My martins know what this is and
readily grab it up and use it to 'finish off ' their nests to their
likings. Martins are quick learners and it doesn't take them
long to learn that this is theirs to use and it takes them no time
at all to use it all up. As your colony grows, you'll find
yourself refilling the platform quite often. The picture below
isn't very good quality, but it'll at least give you the
Don't have a platform... then spread it out on the
ground. They'll find it... However, make sure it's safe for
them to land on the ground. Martins are very vulnerable to
predators when on the ground.
As a side note, I've actually had female martins land on the
platform and take material while I was filling it. (Pretty
brassy if you ask me).
We did a nest check and found nesting
material in some compartments, but no eggs. Is this
Although not always, when you find a nest that doesn't
contain any eggs, it is probably the work of a lone male. Many times
single males (called floaters) are known to build a partial
nest in the hopes of attracting a female. If they end up not pairing
up, then the result is an 'almost complete' nest, but no eggs. Pay
attention to the nest. If you see only one bird hanging out there,
then more than likely the empty nest is the work of a
Secondly, sometimes a male will build more than one nest in
hopes of attracting a second female. Martins are not
monogamous and will attempt to attract as many females as they
can. Usually, it's only one, but sometimes, there are
multiples. If he doesn't get a second female, then the result
is an incomplete nest.
We found a nest in our house but we're
not sure if it's a martin nest or not. How can we
The picture below is of a martin nest with 5 eggs in
it. Martin nests are very low profile, often consisting of
sticks and twigs and many leaves. In some of the smaller
compartments, the nests may even contain a mud damn in the front of
it. Although not always, many of the leaves are green when
they are placed in the nest, but turn brown after some time.
They will constantly replace these green leaves throughout the
nesting period. When pine needles, (pine straw), are
available, they will often make the entire nest out of them.
In this case, the nest will be very flat and compact. A
shallow bowl will be at the back of the nest such as shown
below. Often, the eggs will be buried under the
If the nest you have is full of material and goes up around
the sides of the compartment, then it is more than likely a starling
nest. If it totally fills the compartment with only a small
hole to get into and material hanging out the entrance hole, then it
belongs to a sparrow. If you want to see what the nests of
these pest birds look like, Look Here
Our site is
new and all we have are females with the white bellies at our house.
How do we attract any males that are all black?
Actually, what you probably have are both females and
SY males. Both SY males in their second year and
females look very similar in coloration and are sometimes very
difficult to tell apart, even for the veteran landlord. Pictures
located on my, Martin Bio Page show
the difference in the colorations of the different aged birds. Next
year, those SY males will return as ASY males and will
be all black, then you'll have your all black males at your
Below is a picture of a female, (on left) and an immature
male, (on right). Notice the difference in the breasts.
The male has the spots of adolescence on his. Also, the male
will have a much darker 'cap' and his throat will also be much
darker with the beginnings of dark feathers.
We have a pair that has 4 eggs in their
nest. How long will it take before the babies can
It normally takes 16 days from the time the next to the last
egg is laid till they hatch. That's when the female starts sitting
on the eggs full time. Then, approx 28 days after the eggs hatch,
the young should take flight or 'fledge'. That can fluctuate a day
or two depending on conditions in and around the site. This is
another reason that nest checks should be done on martins. You
can keep accurate tabs on your colony and it's well
My birds are diving at me when I go
around them. Why are they doing this?
This 'diving' or 'buzzing' is also called "strafing".
The word is taken from a World War II action when the planes would
dive at the ground spraying opposing ground troops with bullets
trying to prevent them from advancing. Your birds are doing
approximately the same thing. They are unsure of you and seeing you
as a potential predator and are diving at you while squawking at the
same time. This is very common in a colony, especially with new
birds that have not gotten to know you yet. This will also
happen more as fledging time approaches. There really isn't anything
to worry about. Some of mine do it about the time of fledging, but I
have 'never' been struck by any martin. Usually it's only a
bluff, and a condition that still remains in their instincts from
when they were purely wild.
One thing you can do is spend a little more time under the
housing. Do some morning walk-unders or just slowly walk under the
housing and stand there and watch them, and although this may sound
silly, actually talk to them. They will quickly get used to
you and the sound of your voice and the strafing will back off
considerably, if not entirely. One thing I do is ignore them. They
soon start ignoring me back. The whole thing depends on how much
time you spend with them. If you're out and amongst them a lot, they
soon begin to see you as part of the site and will go about their
daily activities as if you weren't even there. In fact, your
birds will become comfortable enough with having you around that
they won't even get off the nest when you do your nest checks.
I actually have to move some of my females so I can count my
I've read on your page where you state that I should do nest
recent years, it has been proven that nest checks have become a very
important part of keeping martins and are a very good way of keeping
track of the health of your colony. The old ways of keeping
purple martins are slowly but surely dying and educated landlords
are slowly replacing these old time landlords. There are a lot
of folks that are beginning to do talks and teach people that want
to learn, the correct way to keep martins. Recently, many
tests and studies have been done on martins and it's been proven
time and again that regular site maintenance and nest checks
considerably enhances the overall health and well being of your
colony. From nest checks, you can tell when nest building
starts and how the progress is going, keep track of the number of
eggs laid and the number of young that hatched from those
checks also help you as a landlord keep tabs on the health of the
young such as, are they being fed properly, are there any problems
with any of them, are they being bothered by pests like mites and/or
blowflies, etc. Predators and pests are other things you want
to keep a close eye on and you can tell whether or not they've been
there. Also, you can keep very good tabs on how many young
made it through and fledged. These numbers are good to know
and can be given to organizations that keep track of this sort of
thing and they in turn can get an overall view of how martins are
doing as a species. A nest check done every 4 or 5 days can do
all this and more. And besides, they're fun to do to.
Ever see the eyes of a youngster light up when they look into a
bird's nest and see a clutch of real live young baby birds...
while you're at it, get yourself a Purple Martin Prognosticator from
the PMCA... It's easy to use and it'll take a lot of guess
work out of the dating of your colony.
old ways of keeping purple martins are subsiding and as landlords
become more and more educated, they realize that they have to keep
their hands into their colony in order to tell what is going
on. The old adage of 'just put a house up and they will come'
no longer holds true. Too many pests, predators and problems
can take hold of a colony and quickly rid it of martins.
...but won't I scare my birds away by disturbing
not at all. Yes, the birds may fly away momentarily, but they
never go far. Then, as soon as you complete your checks and put the
housing back up, they'll return to their duties as if nothing had
ever happened. In fact, if you take notice, while you're doing
the checks, the birds will either be flying right over head or may
land on a nearby perching place and watch what you're doing until
you get the housing back up. Many landlords have never done a
nest check simply because they are either afraid of scaring the
birds away or because they feel the birds can take care of
themselves. This thinking is wrong and all landlords need to
realize that the only way to tell the health of your colony is to do
nest checks. Don't be afraid to check your birds at least once
a week, it will help both you and the birds. (I check mine
every 4 days). They'll get to know you up close and personal
and you'll get to know your birds as well. You'll find out
very quickly that purple martins aren't just your normal bird
species. They actually need humans to interact with and, in
time, will get to know you and will soon start accepting you as part
of the everyday happenings around their homes. In fact, I have
a lot of females that won't even get off their nests when I lower
the racks. I actually have to push them aside to count the
note here. As shown above, keep good records. When you
have young that are within a week of fledging, (flying from the
nest), then nest checks should be stopped. Even though the
parent birds are use to you, a sudden jerk of the housing could
scare the young into jumping prematurely, so if they are 21 or 22
days old, then you should stop the nest checks. But continue
to monitor your site from a distance. This means doing daily
walk-unders and watching things from the ground. If you have
good records, you will know and be able to watch which young will
fledge first. They in turn will get use to you and it's kind
of fun to watch them peak out of their hole to watch you and it's
really fun to anticipate and then watch those first precarious
...but what about the smell from my hands when I do nest
checks. Won't the parents smell where I touched?
Birds in general have very poor smell and in fact, it's
terrible. (Other than birds like carrion eaters such as
Vultures and Condors). I've seen where I've painted a house,
raised it up to dry, and birds were landing on the wet paint and it
wasn't bothering them at all. Regardless of what you've heard about
adding any kinds of smells such as vanilla or onions to help attract
martins, forget it. You're wasting your time and good vanilla
and onions. And as for the birds smelling any kind of predator
and then leaving, that's also false. The birds left because of
the predator, not because of its' smell.
We have a
dog that is penned in our back yard. Will he bother the
martins will pay no attention to dogs around their site, even if
they are noisy. In fact, they soon find them as a deterrent to
predators and accept them as part of their site.
if your dog jumps at the pole, hitting and bumping it in an attempt
to try and get at them, then the martins will definitely have a
problem with that. If necessary to prevent this, make a small
page wire fence that keeps the dog away from the pole. A
little gate will allow you to get in and out easily while keeping
the problem dog at bay.
about cutting my grass. Won't this scare them
No, not at all. Yes, they'll initially fly away,
but soon return to your house. After enough times of your
mowing under them, they'll realize you aren't any threat and will
actually begin to just sit there and watch you. It's kind of
funny to watch them when they sit on the house to first watch you
coming and then pivot to watch you going. And then, before too
long, you'll be totally ignored, just like I am.
mower is pretty loud...
No matter. The noise doesn't bother them. Martins
are not a bit afraid of man's modern tools. However, bumping
or banging on the pole does, so try and be careful with that part of
When I did my nest checks, I found the martins had built mud
dams in the front of their nests. What's the reason for
are a number of different theories on this but to be honest, I don't
know for sure. Some say they're to keep the weather out and
are found on westward facing gourds or compartments more so than on
eastward facing ones.. Others say it's to form a uniform bowl
in the back of the nest for the eggs to set in.
I have my own thoughts on the subject, and I can't prove any of
this, but here they are.
feel they are there for a couple of different reasons. If you
notice, mud dams are found in the smaller sized house compartments
and gourds more so than in the larger ones.. I use nothing but
large 10" gourds and 9" minimum deep house compartments and have
very few (if any) mud damns in my gourds, even the westward facing
ones. Although not always, when you do find them, notice that
they are so close to the entrance hole that they actually cut down
on the size of the hole. I feel this is their way of making it
more difficult for pests and predators to enter the compartment or
gourd. Sort of making their very own crescent shaped entrance
hole... If a predator can't see into the nest, then they can't
see what they are trying to catch. If the access hole size is
reduced, then some pests will have a problem getting into the
they would help keep the weather out and yes, they would help keep
the young in, but my own personal observations make me feel there
are more reasons than just that.
When I did a nest check, I found a whole bunch of little
black bugs crawling all over the nest and the baby birds. What
are chicken mites and, if left unattended, quite often become a
major problem in martin colonies. Mites should be taken care
of promptly or they could result in early fledging of the young or
worse, their death. These mites feed on the blood of the young
and is not a pleasant thing for a baby bird that has nowhere to go
to get away from them. Chicken mites are one reason you see so
many baby Robins on the ground before they can fly properly.
control of mites and the methods used in their control is a very
controversial subject and you'll get many different answers, but
here are two methods that do work to keep them under control.
is done by removing the young and placing them in a softly lined
bucket or shoe box. Then, totally remove the nesting material
from the compartment, wipe it down with alcohol and then refill with
new nesting material, forming a small bowl in the back of the
nest. The alcohol evaporates very quickly and the fumes are
usually gone before you've finished replacing the nest
material. Then, replace the young in the bowl. The
alcohol is said to remove not only the mites in the nest, but also
any eggs that they may have laid, but I've found that the procedure
needs repeating in 10 days.
Apply 5% Sevin dust.
this can get very controversial, I will not tell anyone to use a
chemical on their birds. However, if you want to know,
"this is what I do". I use a quarter to half teaspoon
of 5% Sevin dust powder and sprinkle it just inside the entrance
hole on the nesting material. Then, I gently tap the
nesting material to settle the Sevin down into it. The mites
travel through this going in and out of the gourd and of course, get
it on themselves. This will usually eliminate them within 24
hours and usually only one application is required per nesting
season. Sevin dust is a pesticide so please, let's not overdo
it. A little will do just as good as a lot. Again, this
is what "I Do" because I have too many nests to do nest changes.
DO NOT use any kind of off the shelf pesticides in spray
cans. These are not controllable and when used, infiltrate
the entire cavity and can be lethal to young martins. None of
these spray pesticides should be used in the treatment of mites, or
any other insect pest for that matter, inside "ANY" wild birds
neighbor down the road has had martins for years and said that I
don't need to be going through all this. Is he
yes he is correct. But one of the worst things about any hobby
is overcoming the 'old time' and 'outdated' standards
that are already present in a hobby. Many refuse to change
their ways to modern methods and they may not realize it, but they
are missing so much out of their hobby. It's often thinking
like that, that holds back progress in any subject. I like to
think of myself as a free thinker and look at things from different
points of view. I believe it's how progress is made in today's
your neighbor's standards and way of thinking were always followed,
how would we ever progress in anything? How would we know that
white housing is better because of the much lower heat ratio to dark
housing? How would we ever know about parasite control?
How would we ever have figured out about Starling and Sparrow
control? How would we have ever overcome some of the long
standing myths that have plagued this hobby for years? How
would we have ever figured out that 6 x 6 compartment sizes are much
too small for martins? And much, much more...
Purple Martin is a beautiful 'Native' swallow that has in time,
become totally dependent on humans for their housing.
Therefore; it's up to us humans to fully educate ourselves and
understand them as much as possible. That's why there are so
many organizations, groups and individuals that have dedicated
themselves to studying this bird species and doing testing that has
enhanced the hobby of keeping them.
neighbor may be a nice guy, but unfortunately, his way of thinking
is no longer up to date. Before I take anyone else's word on
something, I first like to educate myself on that subject by reading
all I can find. And I don't just read 'one persons' view on
the subject. I want input from a number of different sources
so that I don't get locked down into one thought or method. I
like to talk to 'experts', get their point of view and then make my
own conclusions. Then, I do it the 'right' way where the most
success has been proven...
Some of my young have fledged and now it
seems as though there's all kinds of fighting. What's going
In just about all colonies, there are extra males that were
not able to pair up with a female. These birds, known as
'floaters", often harass the young fledglings and try to
drive them away from the colony. The main reason is that they don't
want the young to return next spring and become competition for
nesting. This is a very common occurrence around a martin colony and
is part of their everyday life, so just enjoy all the noise and
commotion since there isn't anything that can be done about
How can I insure that my fledglings are
cared for once they leave the nest?
You can't. Some things just simply have to be left up
to the parent birds. We are only able to see to it that they
make it through nesting and then fledge. From that point on,
they are being taught to be wild and self sufficient birds by the
My birds have all fledged and are now
gone. Where did they go?
Nesting and fledging time is the most dangerous time in a
martins' life. They have to nest and raise young to continue the
species just like any other wildlife species and have become used to
using our housing to do so. While they are in the houses, sitting on
eggs and feeding and raising young, they are at the mercy of many
predators and pests. There are innumerable ground and flying
predators and pests that attempt to get at them at this time, so
when the young are able to fly and take care of themselves, they
quickly vacate the site for the safety of trees and power lines.
Remember, they are wild birds and live like this the entire rest of
the year, so it's only natural that they get back to 'living' as
soon as possible. A sad time for us for sure, but then isn't that
why we put up the housing, to have them make more
Why is so
much literature being written about enlarging the compartment sizes
A lot of study has gone into this subject and it's now a
proven fact that martins prefer the larger cavities, say 6" x 6" x
12". A long time ago, some aluminum house manufacturers
decided that the size of a martins' nest should be 6" x 6"
square. How they derived at this number isn't exactly known
because the parent birds are around 8" long, but it probably had
something to do with the cost of building their houses. The
less material used, the more profit for them. That just isn't
enough room for two adults to raise a brood of babies. Modern
testing has now proven that martins, if given the choice, will
quickly take the larger, deeper cavities over the smaller
ones. This allows them to get back out of the way of
predators, something they can't do with the smaller cavities.
In fact, this is one of the major reasons people that have these
type of houses can't get martins to stay. However, if the
compartments are enlarged, they often move right in.
Now that the young have fledged, will the
parents lay eggs again and raise a second brood of
No, martins usually raise only one brood of young per year.
However, should a pair lose their first clutch of eggs for some
reason, some times they will lay a second clutch if it's early
enough in the year, but this is only under unusual
We had a total of 10 young fledge. How
many can we expect to return next year?
According to studies done by banding young, only about 1 in 5
or 6 young will return to the same site. The main reason for this is
that nature has intended the young to disperse to other sites to
prevent inbreeding. Returning young from the previous year
will settle as far away as 50 miles or even further to find a new
home. But don't feel too bad about this. Your birds may be
populating other purple martin sites, but birds from other sites are
coming to yours, thus, all sites benefit and grow.
to add new housing. Is this going to bother the martins when
adding new housing to an active site? Is that a
Absolutely not and in fact, if you already have martins, then
they will be the first birds to investigate the new nesting
possibilities. If you put it up while they are
watching, they'll probably just sit quietly by and watch the entire
project. Then, a moment or two after you've walked away,
they'll start investigating.
It doesn't hurt at all to add new housing to a site and in
fact, it's actually better. It enhances the options the birds
see for nesting cavities and the more they see, the better chances
of either attracting them or enlarging an existing colony. If
you want to enlarge by adding new housing, then go for it.
Adding housing can be done at 'any' time of year, even during
By all means, put it up. It might be just what they're
looking for and could be the deciding factor in their decision to
stay or not.
to move our martin housing to the other side of our house.
Will this be a problem?
Maybe, maybe not. Martins, as well as all other birds,
have very good homing instincts and as far as they are concerned,
that exact spot is their home. If you move it very far, then
they may abandon it. I know because I tried to do this many
years ago when I moved my T-14 and the martins didn't come back the
following year. In fact, they would fly to the exact same spot
and just hover where the house used to be. They never even
looked at the house in its' new location until the following
However; if you move it only a little way, say 50 to 100
feet, then there is a good chance they will except the change,
especially if it's to a spot that's more out in the open. They
will see this as a change for the better and may readily accept the
change. But don't be surprised to still see them flying to the
old 'spot' to look for their house until they get used to the new
But, can the housing be moved
and still keep our colony?
Yes, but there is a method that should be followed. It
should to be done in steps and will take a couple of years.
And, the distance can only be a short one for it to work.
First, you'll need to get another house and put it up in the
new spot where you want the housing to be located.
Second, when the birds return, open all of the new house to
them, but only half of the old house. When they fill all the
available cavities in the old house, they'll begin looking for more
room and will actually look and settle in the new house. (This
is assuming that the new location is to their liking and they will
settle in it). Now you have birds in both houses and they
consider this to be 'one' site.
Third, once incubation has started, plug any compartments in
the old house that are not being used. Now, let the birds
fledge the young from the old house.
Fourth, once the birds have gone for the year, remove the
house from the old location. You now have your martin house in
its new location. If you like, you could even put the old
house up in the new location if you think you want more
We've got problems with Starlings/Sparrows building nests in
our housing. No matter how many times we tear them out, they
rebuild. What can we do?
of the major problems that landlords run into is the infestation of
unwanted birds in their martin housing. Since the introduction
of the European Starling and the English House Sparrow into the
U.S., martin landlords are becoming more and more plagued by these
pests. Once established in your house, they will immediately
build a nest in one of the compartments and then will not give it
up, and no matter how many times the nest is removed, the pests
simply rebuild. This is an ongoing problem and we as landlords
simply have to get a mindset that we are going to eliminate them at
all costs. If not, then they will prevent your martins from
nesting and then you will lose heart and the pests will win, not
only over your martins, but over you as well.
are a couple of things that can be done.
if you live in an area where you can shoot them, get yourself a good
pellet rifle with a scope, site it in and then shoot them.
if shooting is not an option, then you will have to trap them.
There are a number of traps on the market that are made just for
capturing these pests. Check with the PMCA , they have a bunch of
different kinds in their catalog. Once captured, DO NOT
just drive them somewhere else and let them go. They will
often beat you back to the house. Birds have very good homing
instincts. They must be destroyed. Yes, it is taking a
life, but sometimes we just have to take the bitter in order to
enjoy the sweet.
there are some new devices out called Starling
Resistant Entrance Holes and these can be added
to your houses and gourds. They will prevent the starlings
from even entering your housing since the starlings are larger than
the martins. Here's a link that tells how to add them to
gourds. SREH's for Gourds
I find it
very hard to kill anything and no matter how many times we remove
the nest, they just rebuild it. Wouldn't it be alright to just
let them be?
As far as I'm concerned, "NO". I will not let
any bird other than martins get a foothold in any of my martin
housing, 'especially starlings or sparrows'. If they
are a friendly native species, then I will provide housing designed
for them and then encourage them to move on. This can be done
by properly placing housing made for them and then plugging up the
hole of the gourd or compartment they are using and usually, they
quickly find the new housing and that problem is solved.
However, if they are either starlings or sparrows, I will do
whatever I have to, to eliminate them, period. Both of these
bird species are mortal enemies of martins and will destroy eggs,
kill the young and in some cases, even kill the adults. I hate
to be so blunt, but I trap and shoot these birds constantly to keep
them out of my area and my martin housing. I know that, in
some peoples' minds, they are just a 'cute little bird', but wait
until you see what those cute little birds can do to a martin nest
and young. You'll quickly change your mind. In fact, if
you think they aren't much of a threat, wait until you find a
starling nest that has been built right on top of hatched young
martins that have been pecked to death. If you want more
details I have an entire page devoted to this problem. Martin
meant by the term "Anthropomorphism"?
This is a term used to describe 'the ascribing of human
characteristics to non human things'. In this case, we
tend to attach our emotional feelings to wild birds, forgetting that
these are wild creatures and do not have human emotions as we might
think. They instead live primarily by instincts. This is
a study that can get very in-depth and I don't want to get into it
here, but just remember, wild creatures don't show emotions
as we humans do. For some of us humans, this is very hard to
understand, but it's best if we try not to get too emotional about
We have martins nesting under the eaves
of our porch so we bought a house for them. How do we get them to
move to the house?
You don't. The birds that are nesting under the eaves of your
porch are not martins but are more than likely Barn Swallows,
a close cousin of martins. Martins are the largest member of the
swallow family and nest only in man made housing east of the
Rockies. Here are a few birds that are often mistaken for
The Barn Swallow. These birds are smaller
than the martins, have a copper colored breast and sharp "V" in
their tail and usually nest in open barns, sheds and even under the
eaves of porches for a lucky few. These birds will not nest in
houses used for purple martins. "Barnies" usually can
be seen flying very close to the ground when feeding. They may
get a little feisty during brood rearing, but they are only trying
to protect their young. Like martins, if you spend enough time
near or around their nest, they will get used to your being around
and the strafing will become minimal.
(It is often considered lucky to have barn swallows nesting
around your property, especially under your porch or
Here's a link that shows a lot of details on Barn
Swallows. Barn Swallows
Swallow. Another cousin about the same size of the barn swallow
that will use man made housing to nest in. These birds have pure
white breasts, starting just under their beaks and covering their
entire bellies. They don't usually nest in close knit colonies like
the martins, but one pair will take over a small martin house if
allowed to. Housing such as Bluebird housing should be placed
about 4 feet off the ground for them out of the way of your main
Here's a link that shows a lot of details on Tree
Swallows. Tree Swallows
Swift. This bird species is actually a member of the hummingbird
family and usually nests in open topped chimneys. (Some folks call
them 'Chimney Sweeps'). These little birds are all dark gray and
look like little flying cigars when on the wing. They have a
very high pitched chirp when flying and feeding and will usually fly
and feed in family groups. We've had swifts in our chimney
ever since we bought our home in '85. Every year, we have to
replace fallen young back on the ledge of our fireplace.
of these birds eat insects while on the wing and are a pleasure to
have around. There are more cousins around, but these are the ones
most people run across. If you have them, supply proper housing for
them and then enjoy them, they are all very friendly birds and a joy
to watch in the summertime.
Every summer when I cut the grass, I have
martins flying all around me catching insects that my mower kicks
up. Should I put a house up for them?
No, because more than likely they're Barn Swallows.
Martins normally do not feed near the ground and instead, feed many
hundreds of feet in the air. One of the reasons "Barnies" and
martins get along so well is that, not only are they cousins, but
they usually feed at different altitudes, thus cutting down on
competition for food.
When I bought my martin house, the advertising with it said
things like "Control insect pests in your back yard by attracting
Purple Martins" and "Purple Martins can eat 2000 mosquitoes a
day". However, I've read where other statements say that
martins don't eat mosquitoes and yet when they return, the mosquito
population in my area seems to decline. Why is this?
has been a long time myth that was an advertising ploy used
by aluminum house manufacturers to sell aluminum houses and it's
still used today to attract the uneducated public to purchase their
housing. The key word in the statement is CAN.
However, studies have proven that they DON'T. The
statement is used to dupe the uneducated public into believing that,
if they put a martin house up and attract martins, all their
bothersome insect troubles will go away. Not true at all.
are the facts on the subject:
it is true that martins are fully capable of eating 2000 mosquitoes
a day, the truth is, they simply just don't. Studies on
stomach contents of martins showed that less than 2% of the martins
diet contained mosquitoes. Martins prefer much larger prey.
It's the same all throughout nature, the larger the prey, the more
reward for the effort and energy spent catching it. A mosquito
is so small that the nutritional value of one wouldn't be worth the
energy spent to catch it.
let's stop to think for a minute.
mosquitoes hang out in heavy weeds and bushes, fly within 10 to 15
feet of the ground and martins dislike bushes and feed anywhere from
100 to 300 feet in the air, then the two don't cross paths,
therefore, how would the martins eat the mosquitoes in your back
you watch your martins sitting on your housing preening, you can
actually see the mosquitoes pestering them just as they do us and
the martins are not snapping them up for a snack.
think about when the mosquitoes become the worst... just about
dark. And when do most of the daytime bird species, including
martins go to bed... just about dark. So, again, they don't
cross paths. As was said earlier, it was an advertising ploy
to sell martin houses and it's still in use today, and since it got
you to buy their house, apparently it still works...
here's one more thought. About the same time martins return in
good numbers, so do 'bats' and, although not all, some
species are a mosquitoes' worst nightmare. That also might
just be one of the reasons your mosquito population might have
declined. Bats feed at night, just when the mosquitoes are at
another. Martins return about the time the spring time rains
are drying up. We all know that mosquitoes need standing water
to breed and as those pools dry up, the mosquito population declines
on its own without the help of anything else...
more, OK. It's a documented fact that martins do not feed near
their colony site so as not to attract the attention of predators to
the site. They in fact feed a long way away from your yard,
therefore, they aren't doing a thing to clean up the insect pests in
your own back yard...
yet one more. I have a pond. I also have a fairly good
colony of martins... I also have a real good population of
mosquitoes. This alone is proof to me that martins are of no
help in controlling the mosquito populations
When can we expect our martins to leave
for the winter?
Parents and young will hang around the site for about a week
or two after fledging. During this time, the parents will
teach the young to feed on the wing and of course, the young learn
to handle flying. Since they are wild birds, then all will
revert back to living in the wild. All will move to a local
communal area with other birds and congregate before the migration.
This could be a power line, a small stand of trees or even a large
radio antenna. Usually this area will be around a small body of
fresh water. Then, one day, some small time clock rings and off they
all go for points south.
The birds are gone. Does anything need to
be done with the housing?
Now that the birds have left for the year, it's a good idea
to lower the housing and thoroughly clean it out. This is a good
practice because it removes any parasites that may be in the nesting
material. Whether it be houses or gourds, remove the nesting
materials, clean out any debris from the inside and then store in a
dry out of the way place until next year. If you are using natural
materials such as wooden house or gourds, this will make them last
many years longer than if they were left out in the open. Storing
your housing also helps to keep the pest birds out of your area
since they have no place to hang out.
My housing doesn't lower. How can I clean
If your housing doesn't lower, now is the time to correct
that. Many "Old-timers" are still under the old time beliefs of just
put the housing up and the birds will do the rest. It has been
proven many times over that this is not the way to properly maintain
a purple martin colony. Tests have proven that landlords who manage
their colonies have healthier broods and much better fledging
numbers than those that just let nature take its
Here are a couple of tips.
If possible, rework your housing so that it can be raised and
lowered, either by means of a rope and pulley system or a winch and
cable system. This may mean replacing the pipe or pole with one that
allows the use of such a system. (Tilting systems are not
acceptable. The eggs or young could be dumped out of the
Rework the housing so that you have access to it once it
is lowered. This should be done so that the nests are not disturbed
when opening the house. This will allow for nest checks and nest
replacements if necessary.
Rework the housing so that it has compartments larger than 6
x 6. This will make room for larger broods and allow them to back
out of the way of danger should it happen by.
If your housing is not of this nature, then serious
consideration should be given to replacing the housing totally.
Nesting time is a very dangerous time in a birds life and we should
do everything we can to keep them safe.
The old ways are a thing of the past. The hobby of keeping
purple martins has advanced significantly and our education of the
subject has also increased. The many tests that have been done in
recent times have proven that a managed colony has much better
results at years end and will grow with each succeeding year. It
also makes the hobby much more fun.
I want to change my housing. Do I take
the old one down and replace it with the new one?
Depends... If you didn't have any nesters in your house, then
it's simply a matter of taking the old one down and putting the new
one up as you said.
However, if you did have nesters, then
it's a little more complicated. Your site is now established and the
birds are familiar with it. Any major or drastic changes in housing
could cause total abandonment of a site by the established birds.
The proper method to change out the housing in this case is to
first, set the new housing up within 10 to 15 feet of the old
housing. Then, let the birds spend a summer getting used to and
moving into the new housing. If not all the compartments in the old
housing are being used, then the entrance holes should be blocked
off. This will help force any newcomers to the new housing.
after the summer is over, the old housing can be removed leaving the
new housing. Now, when the birds return the following year, they
will already be acclimated to the new housing and won't mind the
gentle transition from 'old' to 'new'.
One more thing. The following link will take you to a page
that will describe the everyday happenings around a martin
colony. Take a minute and read it. See if some of the
things that are described there are happening at your site
too. The Daily Habits of Martins
Back to Chuck's Purple Martin
This page created and
by Chuck Abare