Throughout the years, there have been many myths
and misunderstandings about purple martins that have been passed
down from generation to generation. Many times these myths
have been detrimental to the health and welfare of the
martins. In this section, I'd like to address a few of them
and give explanations as to how they were developed and the truth
Martins eat 2000 mosquitoes a day:
Probably one of the biggest misconceptions that people
have about purple martins is that they eat thousands of mosquitoes
every day. In order for the aluminum house manufacturer's to sell
their products, they came up with the statement, "Purple Martins can
eat 2000 mosquitoes a day". Well, I hate to say it, but they
are correct. Purple Martins CAN eat 2000 mosquitoes a
day. Unfortunately, the truth is, they don't. In
fact, the statement is very carefully worded so that the uneducated
public believes that if they buy one of their houses and attract
purple martins, then their mosquito woes are over.
Just like any other creature of nature, martins are
opportunistic eaters and will take the largest and most readily
available food at the time, and according to the
studies done by
James R Hill III, Founder of the Purple Martin Conservation
Association, mosquitoes are no where near the top of that list.
done by the PMCA (and other organizations) showed that
mosquitoes were less than 2 % of the martins' diet.
Now, let's dig a little deeper into this subject.
First, let's put our heads together and stop to think
about something. When is it that mosquitoes become the
worst? After dark! And, when do all daytime birds go to
sleep? At dark! So, there's one reason the statement is
Second, mosquitoes like to stay close to the ground,
where there's bushes to hide in and it's damp. Martins like to
eat high in the air, sometimes as high as 300 feet. Another
reason they don't cross paths.
Third, the favorite prey for a martin is a dragonfly, the
mosquitoes' worst nightmare. Dragonflies prey on mosquito
larva, therefore, the martin is actually helping the mosquito out by
killing it's aggressor.
And forth, the mosquitoes hang out in your back yard, in
your bushes and near your house. Martins are known to feed a
rather large distance away from their home site so as not to attract
the attention of predators. Again, they do nothing for your
own personal welfare as far as mosquitoes are concerned.
Now this is not intended to dissuade your beliefs
about martins. I'm simply presenting the facts taken from studies
done on the subject. This in no way detracts from the fact that
these birds are still a joy to have around. If they weren't, I
wouldn't be here trying to persuade you to try and attract them.
And, if you really have a mosquito problem I highly
suggest you look into some other form of control. Purple
Martins are not the answer. I have a fairly good colony of
martins and I also have a fairly good population of mosquitoes.
Scouts come, check out the area and then go back and get
the rest of the flock:
This myth come about because people would see the first
scouts return for the year and then disappear for a couple of days
and then suddenly show up with more birds. However, they
didn't go back to get the rest of the flock. The first martins
are simply here because they are usually the most mature birds and
are the first to return. Then, since they are wild birds, they
are simply being wild and flying around and still roosting in trees
somewhere. Once more birds start returning, (on their own),
they begin congregating at their home sites and begin staying at the
houses and gourds. Thus, it looks like the first scout went
back to get them.
Aluminum houses are good because the aluminum doesn't
harbor insect pests like wood does.
Absolutely false. True, the insects can not burrow
into the aluminum to hide, but insect pests hide in the nesting
materials, not in the housing materials and since ALL houses have
nesting materials, then ALL houses contains insect pests, mainly
mites, blowflies and fleas. Another sales gimmick directed at
the un-informed public.
Just put a house or gourds up and they will come.
Unfortunately, this is no longer true. Martins have
many predators and two of the worst are the European Starling and
English House Sparrow. These two introduced species are very
aggressive and will not only usurp the martin's cavity, but will
often kill the martins in doing it. A lot of work has to go
into protecting a martin colony and some of the old ways are no
longer viable for keeping these birds. Today, if a potential
landlord wants a colony of martins, they have to educate themselves
with all the new findings and discoveries in the hobby and then
follow them so that the martins will be able to raise their young
without too much aggression from outside forces.
Martins can take care of themselves when other birds nest
in their houses.
Again, this is false. At one time in history, this
might have been true, but in recent years, European Starlings and
English House Sparrows have become such strong competitors for
housing that the martins are now having to constantly fight them
off. Both the Starlings and Sparrow have very strong beaks and
in one on one battles, the martin will lose every time. In
fact, the starlings will not only destroy the eggs and kill the
young, but if they are able to trap the adult in the compartment,
then they will kill the adult birds also. As for the Sparrow,
they will "pin" (peck small hole) in the eggs and that renders them
These two reasons alone should be enough to insure that
no other birds nest in your martin housing, regardless of what
anyone else tells you.
The proper size for a purple martin compartment is 6" x
6" x 6" with an entrance hole of 2".
Old school and incorrect. Once again, let's stop to
think. An adult purple martin is approximately 8" long and
about 2" wide. It takes two adults to make and raise a brood
of young birds. If we do the numbers;
First, the adult birds can't fit properly into a 6" space
(very comfortably). 8 just doesn't go into 6.
Second, if both parents are in the compartment at the
same time, then that's 4" used up of the 6" width that's
available. That leaves only enough room for 'one' more
bird. But the average clutch for a pair of martins is approx 4
young. (Numbers taken from houses with larger
compartments). Therefore; where are all the other young birds
going to stay. One baby per adult pair isn't even enough to
sustain the species from natural attrition. Recent research
has shown that martins will double their clutch size when
compartments are enlarged. Today, it's highly recommended that
the small compartments in the aluminum houses be enlarged to 6" x 6"
x 12" by removing the middle panel and turning two compartments into
one. (Some aluminum house manufacturers will not make the
change because retooling would cost money and would affect their
bottom line profits).
Third, the round entrance hole is no longer the
recommended type of hole to use for purple martins. Again,
recent research has shown that the major majority of European
Starlings cannot access the new crescent shaped entrance
holes. This one discovery alone has changed the entire purple
martin hobby from being a pain to being enjoyable again. No
longer does the landlord have to fight off all the starlings that
are constantly trying to take over his housing. With this one
species held at bay, the landlord can now concentrate on the other
pest species, the English House Sparrow.
And four, the deeper compartments allow for the martins
to back out of the way when danger comes calling. With the
smaller compartment sizes, the martins are in easy reach of
predators and were easy meals. But with the 12" deep
compartments, the martins can hide in the back and are well out of
harms way. One more reason to make the change to larger
European Starlings don't like to nest in gourds because
Pure and total BUNK. The only reason starlings
won't nest in gourds is if they are TOO SMALL. Starlings like
a lot of room for their nests and in fact, will fill an entire five
gallon bucket with nesting material just to make a nice roomy
Now, if you don't believe me, a simple little test can be
done. Under your martin housing, hang a small 6 or 7 inch
gourd. Then, right next to it, hang a nice 10 or 11 inch
gourd. Paint them both white so that there is no difference in
them other than the size. Now, sit back and watch what
happens. If there are starlings in the area, they'll find
those gourds and 100% of the time, they'll pick that large
gourd. In fact, the test can be even expanded. Add a
proper sized crescent shaped SREH hole to the large gourd only and
watch what happens. Even though the smaller gourd has a 2 inch
entrance hole, the starlings will literally struggle to enter the
larger one with the SREH.
This is also why starlings don't like the smaller
compartments in many of the aluminum houses that are on the
market. Small compartments keeps them out, NOT the swinging
So now you know the truths about a few of the myths about
purple martins. Next time you talk to someone that passes on
these myths, you'll know that they are probably un-informed about
the subject and should be corrected. However, be
forewarned. Some people hold onto these myths pretty hard
because, "that's the way the old folks believed" and just simply
refuse to change their thinking to modern research findings.
If you like, print out this page and hand it to them if you want to
reinforce your statements.
Back to Chuck's Purple Martin
This page created and
by Chuck Abare
The Registry of Nature Habitats
Copyright 1999 -
All Rights Reserved