Frequently Asked Questions

About Purple Martins

 

 


Note:

This page ended up getting pretty big and finding the answer to a specific question became difficult, so for those that don't already know how to do this, here's a trick to search for the answer to a specific question.

 

First, click anywhere at the top of this page.  (The search starts at the top of the page and works its way downward).

Next hold down the Ctrl key and then hit the F key.

Depending on what browser (and software) you use, some form of a Search (or Find) window will open.

In the Search (Find) field, type in a word that best fits your question.  Notice... spelling is important.  If you don't know the spelling of the entire word, do just the first 3 or 4 or 5 letters, it'll find it.   (For Windows7, what you type in the Find field will change colors on the page).

Click on the Find Next button, (or hit the Enter key).

You'll be brought to the first instance of the word...(or the letters you typed in).  If that's not what you're looking for, click the button (or enter) again, and so on until you find the answer to the question that you're looking for.

Once you find it, you can kill (X) the search window.

 

Also, let me add: In some cases, the answer might not be simple and might require more detail and since I already have some of this stuff in detail on my web page, I'm simply going to add a link that sends you to that page.  Hitting the return arrow at the top of your browser will bring you back to this page.

 

 

Terminologies:  Because it helps to know the terminologies used in the martin hobby, I've added a few short descriptions of some of these terms so you'll understand what is being said on this page.  There are of course a lot more, but these are a few of the ones used most.

 

ANTHROPOMORPHISM:  The name given to the humans ascribing human emotions to non-human creatures.

ASY:  Acronym for After Second Year.  These are birds that are in their 3rd year of life (or later) and have achieved their full adult plumage.

BROODING:  The process of birds sitting on their eggs in order to keep them warm.  Female birds have developed a 'brood patch' just for doing this.

CAVITY:  The term used to describe the compartments that martins nest in.  Could be a house or gourd or whatever else is used for housing.

CLUTCH:  All the eggs laid by a single female during one nesting attempt.

ES/HS or S&S:  Acronym for European Starling/English House Sparrow.  Two of the martins worst nesting enemies.

FLEDGLING:  A young martin that has successfully made it thru brood rearing and flown from the nest.

HY:  Acronym for Hatched Year.  Obviously, these are birds that were hatched this year.

JUMPER:  A term used for fledglings that, for whatever reason, have jumped out of the housing, but are much too young to fly on their own.

LANDLORD:  A person that has successfully attracted and keeps/hosts purple martins.

SCOUT:  A term used to describe the very first birds to migrate north in the spring.

SITE TENACITY:  The inbred urge for adult birds to return to the site that they successfully raised a brood at the previous year.

SREH: Acronym for Starling Resistant Entrance Hole, a term describing the new style for martin entrance holes.

STRAFING:  The term used when adult martins are diving at the landlord, humans in general or any other ground based animal.

SY:  Acronym for Second Year.  These are birds that were born last year and are making their first migration back north.

 

 

I would 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, however 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 and of course, the landlord-to-be is left scratching his head and wondering why?

In today's instant society, many people just buy one of those 'cute' little store bought houses, stick it up on a pole and then wait for the martins to come and that's about the worst thing one could do.

 

The first thing you have to do is educate yourself.  Read, read and read some more.  Read this page and read other pages on the Internet.  Find out everything you possibly can about them BEFORE you spend money and put up any housing.  Read and understand the rules for attracting them and why people lose them.  Once you begin to understand them, you can then begin setting up housing for them.  More detail on this subject can be found here  Attracting Purple Martins

 

I'm just starting out, so WHEN should I put my housing up?

 

This is one question I get asked a lot, so I've put it right here at the top of the page.

It was once thought that new colonies were started with Second Year birds (SY's), but that thinking has now changed.  It's well known that Adult Purple Martins (ASY's) will return to the site that they nested in the previous year because of site tenacity.  Because they were successful at raising a brood at that site the previous year, they return to that site.

However; with so many sites falling into disrepair because of landlord neglect or being taken over by pest birds, it is now recognized that ASY birds will now move on to a new site.  Therefore; go to this page The Martin Bio Page and look at the map at the bottom of that page.  This will give you a general idea of when the martins usually arrive in your area.  The dates are an average of when they return to any given area, so I suggest that the housing be up and ready about 2 weeks before that date.  Granted, those are dates for returning ASY martins, but as stated above, some of them just might be looking for a new site to nest in.  OR...just maybe a second year bird was unable to find a mate at a previous site and may well be looking for a new home to try again.

Now I'm not saying that it will happen, but at least your house is ready IF it does.

And even if it doesn't, your house will be ready for any SY birds that arrive 6 weeks after the ASY birds and are looking for a site to set up shop in.

The total purple martin migration lasts for about 3 months, 6 weeks for ASY's and 6 weeks for SY's, so be patient.

 

How big should the entrance hole be for martins?

According to most specification sheets available on this subject, (and where you read them), the entrance hole for purple martins can be anywhere from 1 3/4" to 2 1/4" in diameter but those are usually outdated specification sheets.  And some of the outdated commercial martin houses are still sold with the 2" holes in them.. 

 

However; because of the recent studies on martins and their nesting predators, it's been shown that the old 2" diameter entrance holes are no longer a viable entrance to use.

 

The reason; because of the recent increase and infestation of European Starlings.  They too, are also cavity nesters and these birds are now searching out purple martin houses and are usurping those houses for their own nesting use.

 

Back in the early 1990's, the late Charles McEwen from New Brunswick, Canada also became plagued with the invasion of these starlings and was losing martins to them, so he decided to do something about it.  He spent many years studying and investigating different entrance designs that would allow the martins to enter while at the same time, eliminate the starlings and what you see in the graphic here is the results of his studies.  It's called the Crescent entrance hole and was the very first Starling Resistant Entrance Hole (SREH) to ever be used.  Since then, others have been designed and some do work, but this one is still the most popular.  It's also the easiest for the average martin landlord to make.  And most responsible housing manufacturers are, either using these holes in their designs, or at least have the ability to change to them if you so choose.  If you're building your own, then the decision for the entrance-hole size (and type) is yours.

 

This page will give you a lot more information on them so you can make your own decision as to which to use.  SREH Entrances

 

My entire site has been changed to these crescent shaped SREH's and is now starling free.  In fact, practically all the 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 on the drawing.  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.

 

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 established?

 

This question has 2 answers.

First, if there are absolutely NO starlings around your area, then yes, it's fine to start out with 2" round holes and in fact, use them the entire nesting season.  This is one way to find out if there are any starlings around, because if there are, then they'll find your housing.

 

HOWEVER; if starlings are around, then as far as I'm concerned, the answer is NO:

 

In areas where starlings are present, it was once 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 now old school when it comes to European Starlings in the martin colony. It's been proven many times on new sites that martins will readily accept the crescent shaped holes and where starlings are present, 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 behind it that is suitable for nesting.

However; if the compartment behind the crescent is not to the martins liking, they may not even try to enter.  Many landlords see the martins just looking in and not entering and they think, the martins just can't get in.  But this is not the case.  Many times the compartment behind the SREH is just too small and they really aren't that interested in it to begin with.  Just like any other cavity nesting bird, they like nice, large and deep cavities.  If the cavity is at least 9" or 10" deep, they'll make every effort to enter when they are ready.  Many commercial housing manufacturers still make their housing with the small 6" x 6" compartments and the majority of martins simply will not use them regardless of what the manufacturer says or shows on their advertising.  Martins are fast learners and quickly learn to accept and negotiate the new style holes.  IF you have one of these commercial houses that only has 6" x 6" compartments and cannot get martins to stay, then take a look at this page and do something about it.  It'll tell you how to rework your small compartment house into something that the martins will use.

 

For gourds that already have round holes, this link will tell you how to add or 'change' them to crescents.  Adding or Changing to Crescents

 

A few other notes:

 

If you start out with Crescent SREH's, it will eliminate any problems you have with starlings right from the start.  In fact, you'll actually enjoy watching the starlings as they are bewildered at these holes they can't get into.

 

Crescents are not starling PROOF, but are starling RESISTANT.  This means that sooner or later, a starling that is small enough is going to break your SREH code and enter a cavity.  In this case, that starling will have to be dealt with by other means such as trapping or shooting.

 

  So what kind of SREH should I start out with?

 

That is totally up to you.  There are a number of different styles and options available so investigate them and then make your choice from the information that you obtain.  Again, this page may help.  SREH Entrances

Personally, as I've stated, I like the Crescent shaped holes and have been using them for years.  They've been tested many times over the years, they work and are the easiest to make if you're making your own.

 

I tried the SREH holes, but my martins couldn't make it through them, so I changed back to the round holes.

 

First let me say one thing here.

When martins first get to a site, they may not enter the hole regardless of what kind of hole is present, round or SREH.  They investigate the compartment first by simply looking into it.  They may go from hole to hole, just looking in and investigating.  Then, if they find the compartment that they think is suitable for them, they will attempt to enter.  Some however, having never seen the crescents before will have initial hesitations about entering.  We humans see this hesitating and we instantly decide, "They can't get in."

 

This feeling that landlords get when they see their martins first 'struggling' to get in SREH holes is known as SREH Anxiety.  When martins that have never seen any sort of SREH first encounter these new type holes, they will seem apprehensive and appear to balk at going thru them.  What happens is, the martins feel the pressure on their backs and breasts and they need time to overcome this apprehension.  This may take a couple of attempts to get used to the pressure.  Some will learn quickly, others a little longer, but once they accept the feeling of the pressures on their bodies, and with that cavity behind that hole being so inviting, within a very short time, they will be negotiating them without any problem at all.  Trust me on this one!  

 

My present colony has over 100 pairs in it and every one of them has no problem at all negotiating the SREH's.  I assure you, your martins will learn to use them just like other martins all across the country.  I know it's hard to watch them because we think they're struggling, but believe it or not, the best thing a landlord can do is not watch.  We as humans have emotions that sometimes get in the way, but martins on the other hand, live by instincts and they see that hole and the drive to breed and produce young is very strong and before you know it, they'll overcome the apprehension and begin slipping right in and out.  In fact, that's one of the funniest things...  Once they do figure it out, they'll actually turn right around and come right back out, just to prove that they can enter and exit.  It's like they're saying "Hey, look at me, I can do this."

 

There is a learning curve to everything new, (although SREH entrances have been around for years) so give them a chance to learn to use them and then both you and they will be much better for it.

 

And one more point.  So many landlords are using or have changed over to SREH entrances, the martins that come to visit your site might already know all about these holes and zip right in.

 

  I've read on a couple of different purple martin forums where a few folks say that these types of holes shouldn't be used because the martins can't get in them very easily.  Why do you say differently?

 

Before I answer this, first go to my Contents page and then scroll all the way to the bottom and click on the link Photos from my own colony.  Look at a few of the photos there...  All the photos on this web page were taken from my own colony.  I have over 100 pairs in it and every single entrance I have is SREH of some sort.

Now let me ask you a common sense question.

Do you believe that all these martins would hang around a colony site where they couldn't get in the entrances to lay eggs and raise babies?  And do you honestly believe that thousands of other successful landlords would use them if they didn't work?

 

There are always going to be those few that just have to balk at or criticize anything new, so the only thing I can say is; you can believe those other nay-sayers or you can believe my martins and the martins of thousands of other landlords across the country that use them.

 

  Why all the concern about starlings and using SREH's?  Will they not nest peacefully along with the martins?

 

Plain and simple...NO!   

I've been hosting purple martins since the mid 1980's.  Very early on, I also thought about just letting the starlings nest along with my martins, after all, I had to go to work each day and I just couldn't watch them all the time.  At the time I used the old round holes.  Although I'd been warned not to let the starlings nest in my colony and being a person that doesn't kill something just for the sake of killing it, I decided to let them nest.  Even though I personally witnessed a little quarreling between the martins and starlings, I didn't see any problem with it.  I just thought it was normal spats between bird species.

Then, one day I was doing my nest checks and I came across a beautiful black adult male, dead in his nest.  As I investigated further, I found that his eyes were pecked out and the top of his head had been pecked away.  In the very next nest, I found 2 eggs that had been broken and 2 freshly hatched babies that had also been pecked to death.

I immediately knew what had happened and I was sick...(probably from being so mad at myself for not listening to someone that had warned me time and again about the starlings and their destructive ways).  I had refused to listen and because I let the starlings nest in my colony, I lost 2 nests of martins from that one pair of starlings.

The very next nest I came to was the starling nest.  Needless to say, that nest was immediately destroyed along with all of its contents.

At that instant, I decided to wage war against the European Starling and that war also got extended to the English House Sparrows, especially after seeing what they will do to eggs and young baby martins.  BOTH of these species are non-native to this country and BOTH have a very aggressive and destructive nature towards other cavity nesting species, so from that day on, I swore to destroy any and all the starlings and sparrows I could, and I still do so to this day.  In fact, I do it year around if I get the chance.  I actually keep a little .410 in my wood shop just for that purpose.

 

We have a LOT of sparrows here.  We are constantly pulling out their nests, but they build right back the very next day.  We can't shoot because we live in town.  Is there anything else we can do?

 

Actually, there is.  You can purchase all kinds of traps to fit your housing.  Follow the directions that come with the trap and trap them.  Then once you get them, DESTROY THEM.  NO, don't just drive them down the road and release them.  They'll be right back in your housing before you even get back home.

 

And if you can't shoot, another method that's a little off the cuff, but it works.  And PLEASE, MAKE SURE NO MARTINS ARE NESTING IN THE HOUSE if you try this.  I've told this to other folks, it really works and will work on any kind of housing or gourds.  And this works great for those first weeks before the martins return in the spring.  It works so well that one of my buddies actually put a little aluminum house up away from his colony just to catch sparrows.  (It had small 6x6 compartments and the martins wouldn't use it, anyway).  Here's what to do:

 

First, you'll need to get a few things.

-A 1" square stick long enough to easily reach your housing when standing on the ground.

-A long finish nail

-A 'noodle' that kids use to play in swimming pools

-A small fish net of some kind.  (A small potato/onion sack with small netting holes in it will work just fine, also).

 

NOW, first you have to make a small "L" on the end of the stick.  This allows you to reach over any porches.  Simply cut off about 6 inches and screw it onto the end of the stick to form the "L".  Now drive the finish nail into the end of the L, leaving about 2 inches out of the stick.

Next, cut a 3 inch long piece of the noodle.  Using a sharp knife, carefully form a cone out of it, the larger end being just larger than the hole in your housing and the smaller end just smaller than the size of the hole in your housing.  Then, stick it onto the nail, big end first.  Wiggle it around some so it will be loose and easily come off the nail.  While you're at it, make a couple of them.  If the sparrows are that bad, you'll probably need them.

 

NOW, sit back and watch your house.  Watch which compartment the sparrows go into.  Again, MAKE SURE NO MARTINS ARE NESTING IN THE HOUSE.  The last thing you want to do is upset them in the middle of the night.  I've found that doing this after dark works best because you often get both the male and female sparrow at the same time, plus; during the day, the sparrows hear you coming and often fly before you get to the house.

Once it's good and dark, grab your stick with the cone on the end of the nail, QUIETLY sneak up to the house and stick the noodle cone into the compartment where the sparrows are, forcing it far enough in so they can't get back out.  Slip the stick out of the cone and then simply leave them there until morning.

In the morning, go out, lower the house and stick the 'net' over the hole and pull the plug out of the hole.  The sparrows will come rushing out and get caught in the net.  VERIFY that they are the sparrows and that you don't have any other good birds and if so, then I don't think I need to tell you what to do with them from this point on.

It's as simple as that and works every time they take over your house.

 

One additional note here:  And you don't have to worry about getting any native sparrows because they don't use houses to nest in.  However; Wrens, Bluebirds, Tree Swallows and Finches will use martin housing to nest in, so make sure you don't have any of those.  This should be easy enough to do BEFORE you try the above trick and usually they can be persuaded to move on to other housing supplied for them simply by repeatedly removing their nests.

 

One thing I was wondering is, once they get big enough, can the fledging martins get out of crescents?

 

Absolutely!  Young martins have no problems negotiating crescents at all.  In fact, since they grew up inside them, they don't know of any other kind of hole.  Getting out and back in is a snap.  My site is 100% crescents and my fledglings exit and enter with ease.  

 

  I've heard that the male martins are always the first ones to return in the spring and then the females come later.  Is this true?

 

NO!  Either sex will show up first.  There is no timetable as to which martins will show up first.  It's simply a matter of which ones decided to start out first.  Could be a male; could be a female.  However; it will always be one of the older ASY birds.  They soon learn that the sooner they get back, the better their chances of getting the best nesting compartments.

 

  I've read that when the scouts get here, they check out the colony site and then go back and get the rest of the flock.  Is this true?

 

NO!  That's just an old wives' tail.  A number of the questions I deal with are nothing more than old time myths and this is just another one.  Once the birds get here, they stay here.  Remember, they are still wild birds.  They may not be at the site all the time, but they are still in the area.

And NO, they do not go back south to get the rest of the flock.  And besides, think about this.  The migration for purple martins lasts for about 2 1/2 - 3  months, therefore; birds will be filtering in throughout that entire time, so there's no flock as one might think.  The older ASY birds get here first with the younger SY birds following later.

Also, martins do not fly in family units of any kind.  They simply show up in 1's,2's and 3's throughout the migration time period and then pair up after they get here.  Sometimes there'll be groups of more, but usually it's very low numbers.  Some will come early in the day and others will be later

 

According to all reports, the scouts are already through my area. Is it too late for me to get martins this year?

 

Absolutely Not!  Just because the scouts are through your area doesn't mean you've missed your chance to get a colony. Because the scouts are the very first birds to reach your area, you still have considerable more time left.  Remember, the migration lasts for approximately 3 months.

 

I've read where I should wait 4 weeks after I see the first scouts to put my housing up.  Why is that?

 

It was originally thought that the only way a new colony would get established was with the returning SY birds which usually begin returning 4 - 5 weeks behind the ASY's.  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 those 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, removed or infested with pest birds, it is now recognized that they will readily move to another site.  Therefore, don't wait.  Put your housing up when you see or hear news of the scouts.  Or go to my bio page and look at the map for the approximate arrival dates in your area.  And make sure you use SREH's and sparrow control.  Because your house is empty, they'll also find it very attractive and they have to be kept out at all costs.

 

  Will martins always use the same cavity from the previous year?

 

NO!  Yes, they will if they liked it the previous year and are the first to return, select it and then defend it.  But the majority of the time, there is always some fighting for the best cavities and it may not be the one they used the previous year.  It happens in every colony.

 

  What do you mean by "best" cavity?

 

By the term best cavity, I mean that the martins will select what they think to be the best cavity.  It might be the best location in the site or it might be the largest cavity or the easiest that they think it is to get to or it might be the one where they have the best view.  It could be any number of other reasons.  It's they that make that decision.

However; I do notice that the first cavities to be chosen at my site every year are the ones where they can see us humans the best.  They of course, are the ones that face our own house.  The ones facing away from our house are usually chosen last by later arriving birds.

 

So, when do martins get their 'all black' look.

 

All birds molt every year and replace their old feathers with new ones.  Martins molt during the winter months while in their southern hangouts.  The females will look pretty much the same from year to year with maybe just a little change as they get older, but it's the males where the change is most noticeable.  SY males will get their darker back, neck and cap plumage along with a few black feathers on their breasts and thus the term, SY.  Only after molting from their second trip south will they achieve their full cloak of all black plumage, thus the term, ASY.

 

Do the martins nest while in Brazil?

 

No!  Purple martins nest exclusively here in North America during our summer.

 

Martins spent the night in my house. Will they stay?

 

To be honest, I canít answer that question. We are dealing with wild creatures and I have no clue whether they will stay or not. They might be just 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.

 

One additional note here.  I know this goes against all normal birding rules, [to stay away from them while they are nesting] but purple martins are a little different.  They actually like people and want to see human activity around their site.  SO... if you're just starting out, and you see a martin or two investigating your site, actually go to where they can see you.  That's doesn't mean walking right up under them first thing, because they'll fly away.  They need time to get to know you and that you're not a danger.  Instead, just walk around, so they can see you but at a distance, say 20 or 30 feet.  In fact, act like you're ignoring them.  I'm not saying it'll make them stay, but at least they'll know that there's human activity around this site and that often does make a difference.  And then 'just maybe'...

 

I have old bird nests in my housing.  Should I remove them?  What kind of soap should I use to clean out the compartments?

 

If you've had martins, or any other bird for that matter, nest in your housing, then yes, you should remove any old nests and all you have to do is remove the nesting materials.  No, you do not need to go into any kind of detail such as washing it all out or using soap, disinfectants or anything like that.  All that precaution is not necessary.  However, if you had nest mites from the previous season, then you might want to take some alcohol and wipe down the compartments.  Or get a spray bottle and mist the compartment.  This method is the easiest, especially with gourds.  Alcohol kills the mites.  I advocate doing this in the fall.  No sense leaving an old nest in the house to deteriorate over the winter months.

 

I've read that martins like eggshells.  Will this help attract them?

No, not really!  Yes, it's true that martins like eggshells, but that doesn't mean it'll help attract them.  The females use them for grit and a source of calcium which they need to make their own eggshells stronger.  They also use them for grit for the young during brood rearing.  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 native birds, then they too will need and use them for the very same reasons.

 

If you have an established colony and want to offer eggshells, then simply make a small platform feeder (similar to the one shown here) 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, after they dry, crush them to about the size of your small finger nail and put them in a Ziploc bag.  Once you get a bunch, put them in the feeder.  That's all there is to it.

 

We don't eat that many eggs at our home.  Is there another way to get some.

 

There sure is.  One way is to have some of your friends keep eggs shells for you following the cleaning procedures described above.  You pick them up every now and then and add them to your stash. 

 

Or...

 

You could go down to your local restaurant and have them save you some.  This could be a Waffle House or Corner Cafe, what ever your local restaurant might be.  When you explain what you want the eggshells for, most are happy to help out.  However, if you plan to acquire some this way, remember to make it easy for 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 so their time is important.  Then, when the breakfast period is over, go pick up your bucket of eggshells, thank them and then take your eggshells home. 

 

Now, you've got a mess, right!  Well, yes and no.  First fill the bag with plain water to just cover the eggshells.  Now, slosh the eggshells around with your hand (use rubber gloves to protect your hands from the sharp edges of the eggshells) or a sturdy stick for a few minutes.  This will remove most of the membranes from the shells and will help bust them up.  The membrane will float to the top of the water.  Slowly pour out the water along with the membrane.  Now, you will need some form of bag, a 'cloth' pillow case works great, (just don't tell the wife).  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 (usually overnight).  Now, toss it into the family dryer and let it run on hot for about 30 minutes to an hour or until they are dry.  Viola, you now have a large amount of eggshells for your eggshell feeder and they're already crushed from the rolling around in the dryer.

 

Another way to dry them is to spread them out on some plywood or flat pavement and let the sun do it for you.  (I do it this way, my wife won't let me near her dryer).  Then you simply sweep them up and put them in bags.

 

It's as simple as that.  This usually ends up being a lot of eggshells.  You may need to divide them up into smaller zip lock plastic bags and sticking them on a shelf somewhere until the birds use them.  Or, you could share them with other martin enthusiasts in your area.

 

What about the oyster shells?  I've heard they like them too.

 

I've tried them and unfortunately, my birds don't like them as well as they do the eggshells and in fact, I've ended up dumping them out at the end of the season.  However, try a few of them.  If your martins like them, then use them.  They work just as well as the eggshells if you can get your martins to use them.

 

What about perches?  If I add them to my gourds will it help me attract martins?

 

Actually, this is now a recent discovery.  PORCHES, not 'perches' are now considered a must for housing using the new Starling Resistant Entrance Holes.  Testing has now proven that both internal and external porches set between flush to 1/4" under the bottom of the SREH entrance hole enhances the compartment or gourd and also allows for much easier access into them.  Pest birds such as Sparrows and Starlings will also use these porches, but if the SREH works, then the starlings can't get in anyway.  Also, if the sparrows sit long enough on the porches, they make easy targets for pellet guns or guns of other sorts.

 

NO, I'm sorry but I DO NOT advocate using ANY style of SREH without using porches.  I tried it and my birds simply had to struggle too hard to get in and I honestly think some of them may have moved on to other places where entry into the housing was easier.

 

Now, martins LOVE roosting perches and these are usually placed somewhere convenient to the gourds or housing and they will be used quite extensively by the martins to do their sunning and preening and just general socializing.  These can be long rods in starburst patterns or crossed bars or what ever you decide to make yours look like.  Put it on a separate pole from the housing and it gives the birds something to land on when they fly into the site.  From that point, they will fly down and light at the entrance hole.

 

We have some birds staying in our house, but we're not sure if they are martins.  How can we tell for sure?

 

The two birds shown here are purple martins.  The female on the left, the male on the right.  If the birds in your house don't look like them, then you don't have martins.  (For more detailed descriptions of all ages of martins, check out the Purple Martin Bio Page).  The first thing you have to do is determine what the birds are.  Next, if they are friendly native birds, then they should be persuaded to move on, mainly because most native nesting birds are not communal in nature and will chase off other birds that try to nest near them..  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 some 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 elsewhere.  Usually supplying a house made for them about 60 - 100 feet away from your colony site will make them move right in once they find it.

 

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 given the chance.

 

We have martins that come by during the day, but then disappear at night.  Why won't they stay?

 

There could be a number of reasons for this.  More than likely the birds visiting might be from another site and are enjoying your site a little more than their home site and just might be looking yours over, but for whatever bird reason, (usually site tenacity) are returning 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.

 

Or, it could be birds from other colonies visiting your site looking for mates.  If it's males, then they'll try and draw the females away to their site.  If it's females, then they'll be looking to stay at your site in the near future if they find a mate.

 

Also, 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.

 

We had some martins come by and stay a couple of days, but now they're gone.  Where did they go?

 

To be honest, I don't know, but here are a couple of possible answers.

 

One, 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 successfully nested last year.  Martins sometimes take a day or two during their migration and stay at any available house they find along the way to rest a little.

 

Two, 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 place.

 

Three, 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 sometimes 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.

 

My neighbor has a colony of martins and I would like to attract some of my own, too.  Will I have any problems if I try?

 

Assuming you put up housing with the new and proper standards and you follow all the rules for attracting martins, then I see no reason why not.  Remember, purple martins are communal nesters and are a very gregarious and social bird species.  This means they like to have a lot of their kind around when nesting.  If your site is as favorable as your neighbor's, then you should have no problem attracting a colony of your own.  In fact, his having martins just might help because of all the birds being drawn into the area.  Start by reading all the information you can about them.  Educate yourself on the do's and don'ts of keeping purple martins.  Then, following those rules you just learned, offer good, quality housing with deep compartments and I'm willing to bet that you'll have a couple of pairs your very first year.  Keep any pest species out of the house and read all about doing nest checks and take care of them.  You'd be surprised at how quick they'll come.

 

We have martins finally staying at our new house but they aren't nesting.  What's wrong?

 

Nothing!  One thing that new martin enthusiasts run into is impatience (myself included when I first started).  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 humans 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.  Where do they go?

 

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 return and 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.  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 miles or more 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 help?

 

Absolutely.  I do and a lot of other longtime landlords 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 (the stalks of wheat after it's been harvested).  Both are usually available just about anywhere, garden shops, co-ops, Lowe's, etc. in bales.  You may not need that much for a small colony of martins, but the remainder makes great mulch for plants.  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 if they get wet.  You may have heard of using cedar shavings for nesting materials, but I don't like them because they get wet and soak up water and thus, stay wet.  Plus, in the new plastic and metal housing, these are very slippery for the matins to walk on.  The first two I mentioned give very good footing and plus the female can move them around to make her nest the way she wants it.

 

So, how do I use it?

I have used both the pine straw and wheat straw.  Both are very abundant in my area simply for the raking and bagging.  (Some folks would love to have you come and rake the pine needles from under their pine trees).  I personally prefer the wheat straw and start the year off by putting a good base of it in ALL my cavities before the birds return.  What I do is cut it into about 3" or 4" lengths with a pair of pruning sheers.  This makes it easier for the females to move it around when working on her nest.  Then I place enough material in the compartments to come up to the bottom of the entrance hole, or in my case, internal porches.  ALL my housing has internal porches.  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 the porch.  Then, when they return each spring, they have something to rest and sit on for those first few cool nights. 

 

Then, around the beginning of nest building time, I place a raised platform near their racks and houses.  Again, I cut the wheat straw into 3" or 4" long pieces and add a good quantity to 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.

 

You said you don't use shavings, but I've heard that they help with preventing nest mites?

 

Sorry, but that is incorrect.  Cedar shavings will do nothing to prevent nest mites.  (Another myth).  It was originally believed that the natural resins in cedar prevented nest mites, but it has since been proven, time and again, that this doesn't happen.  The adult birds themselves pick up the mites in their travels and then bring them into the nest where they propagate and become a pest to the young.

 

Here are my reasons for not using cedar shavings, nor any other kind of wood shavings.

...Cedar does have natural resins in it to protect the wood however; these resins are caustic, and although fine for the older birds, they could be harmful to the very young.

...Wood of any kind will absorb water and the nest will not drain well and thus, will stay wet.

...Shavings make for very unstable footing and the martins feel very unsure when they try to walk on them, especially if the housing has slippery floors like plastic or metal housing.

...And, back when I was starting, I tried the cedar shavings and the martins literally thru them all out and replaced them with pine straw.  I've since learned the reasons why and no longer use them.

 

We did a nest check and found nesting material in some compartments, but no eggs. Is this normal?

 

Depends!

If it's very early in the season, the female may not have started laying eggs yet.  Again, give her some time.

And, although not always, when you find a nest that doesn't contain any eggs later in the season, it's 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 with a female, then the result is a partially 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 floater.

 

We found a nest in our house but we're not sure if it's a martin nest or not.  How can we tell?

 

This is a question that's hard to answer.  Depending on where you live, the materials they use to build their nests may be different.  The picture below is of a martin nest with 5 eggs in it from a friend of mine in Florida, but your nests may look different because of where you live.  For instance, in my area, they use a lot of pine straw and green leaves.  The Martin Bio Page will show a couple of different nests to compare with.

In general, martin nests are very low profile, often consisting of sticks and twigs, if they can find them, and many leaves.  In some of the smaller compartments, the nests may even contain a mud damn in the front of it to hide the nest from prying eyes.  As the nest nears completion, many of the leaves are green when they are placed in the nest, but turn brown after some time.  Or, they start out with brown leaves as shown and then add the green leaves later.  And then sometimes they don't use any green leaves at all.  If they do, they will constantly replace these green leaves throughout the nesting period.  When pine needles 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 here.  Often, the eggs will be buried under the leaves.  As you can see, it's just about impossible to describe a normal purple martin nest.

 

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 the material 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

 

  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.  Second Year males look very similar in coloration to females and are sometimes very difficult to tell apart, sometimes 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 and then you'll have your all black males at your site.

 

Here's a picture of both an immature female, (on the right), and an immature male, (on the left).  Notice the breast of each bird.  The male has a fairly white breast, but it has at least one spot of adolescence on it.  Also, look at the throat area, much darker than the female.  And, although not easily seen here, the cap on the head of the male is much darker than the female.  Now you can understand why it's so hard to sometimes tell them apart.

 

And just so that you know, just females or just males will not populate a site.  You have to have both.

 

We have a pair that has 4 eggs in their nest. How long will it take before the babies can fly?

 

It normally takes 15 or 16 days from the time the 'next to the last egg' (penultimate egg and sometimes called the 'pippin' egg) is laid till they hatch. That's when the female starts sitting on the eggs full time. Then, approx 28 to 32 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 being.

 

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 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 seeing you as a potential predator and are diving at you while squawking at the same time. This is very common and will usually happen more as brood rearing and fledging time approaches. There really isn't anything to worry about. I've had some of mine do it about the time of fledging, but I've never been struck by any martin. Usually this is done by martins that are fairly new to the site and don't know the landlord.

One thing you can do to prevent it (or at least lesson it) 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 soon go about their daily activities just 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.  Needless to say, I spend a lot of time around my colony and there are times during nest checks that I actually have to move some of my females so I can count my eggs or see what's going on in the nest.

 

I've read on your page where you state that I should do nest checks.  Why?

 

In recent years, it's 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 (passive) landlords.  There are a lot of folks that are beginning to do talks and teach people that want to learn, the proper 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 eggs. 

 

Nest 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 purple 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 too.  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...

 

And 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.  An inexpensive tool that is invaluable in hosting martins.  I have one and I use it.  It just makes life so much easier.

 

The old ways of keeping purple martins are slowly falling by the wayside 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.

 

My Nest Check Page will tell you how to do them and what to look for in much more detail.

 

  I don't mind doing nest checks, but do I have to keep records?

 

No, it's not necessary to keep records.  It's just something I like to do (as well as many other landlords).  It keeps me informed as to what's going on in my colony and plus, many of the major purple martin organizations, such as the PMCA, can use the data to help with keeping tabs on the health of the overall martin flock as a whole.

But even though you don't keep records, it is suggested that you at least do the nest checks.  It tells you what is going on in your colony and if a problem arises, you are able to fix it that much faster.  You'd never know you had nest mites if you didn't do nest checks, or the young jumped early because of them.

 

...but won't I scare my birds away by disturbing them?

 

No, not at all.  Yes, the birds may fly away momentarily, but they won't go far.  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 favorite nearby perching place and watch what you're doing.  As I've said before, purple martins are very curious.  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.   Many landlords have never done a nest check simply because they are either afraid of scaring their birds away or because they feel the birds can take care of themselves.  I can assure you that this thinking is false and archaic and all landlords need to realize that the only way to tell the health of the 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 man 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.

 

One note here;  

As I stated above, although it is not necessary, one good thing about keeping records, you'll know when you have young that are within a week to 10 days of fledging, (flying from the nest).  At this time internal 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 22 days old, then you should stop the direct 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 and it's really fun to watch..  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.

 

...but what about the smell from my hands?  When I do nest checks, won't the parents smell where I touched?  Should I use gloves to touch them?

 

No!  Birds in general have very poor smell and in fact, it's terrible (other than specialized birds such as carrion eaters like Vultures and Condors).  Regular birds do not live by smell any more, thus their sense of smell has all but disappeared.  They now live by using their sense of site and hearing.  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 smelling any kind of predator and the birds leaving, that is also false.  The birds left because the predator got at them, not because of its' smell.  And no need to wear any kind of gloves.  Simply wash your hands with a good hand soap when you're done.

 

  When I did a nest check, I found a female still sitting on the eggs.  What was wrong with her?

 

Nothing! She's simply gotten to know and trust you enough to stay put while you're doing the nest checks.  Consider yourself lucky that your birds trust you enough as a non-predator to stay put when you are around.  That's what it's all about.  It happens to me all the time and I've actually showed many other folks visiting for martin talks what it's like to have a wild bird trust me enough to stay put.  Many times during heavy brooding there are almost always some females that will simply refuse to get off their nests and because I keep records, I already know how many eggs are under them and will often just move on without disturbing her.  I can always catch up on any number changes with the next check if she isn't around.

During one talk I was giving, this one woman was terrified that I was lowering my housing for 'show and tell' with birds in it.  She was adamant that I was going to scare my martins away.  Then, once she looked in and saw a female sitting on her eggs, she simply stated out loud, "I'm not believing what I'm seeing."  In all the years she'd kept martins, she'd never once done a nest check and never knew what she was missing out on.  I made her pledge to go home and do a nest check on her one-house colony.  (She agreed).

 

  So how do I count the eggs when she's sitting on them?

 

Easy! In the south, we have a delicacy they call Corn Dogs.  They come on a long pointed stick.  I cleaned one of these up (after eating the corn dog, of course...with mustard) and use it to gently poke around the nest and leaves and yes, I sometimes even gently move the female just enough so that I can look under her to make sure all things are good.  However; I will state that most of the time, I just leave her alone and wait till next time.  If I don't have to bother her, I won't.

If you don't like corn dogs or can't get those sticks, then get a 1/4" diameter wooden dowel (or smaller if possible) and sharpen one end of it like a pencil.  A pencil sharpener works wonders for this if it's small enough to fit.  Sand to a dull point so that it's not too sharp, don't need to hurt any eggs or babies.  Make it about 15" - 18" long.  Then you can use that to gently poke around the nest.  Martins have a tendency to bury their eggs in the leaves and nesting materials when they leave the nest and this long pointed stick makes it very easy to move things around so you can see what's there.  This also helps greatly to keep big hands out of the way when trying to see into the nest.

 

Is there a best time to do nest checks?

 

Yes! The best time to do nest checks is early in the afternoon between 12.00 - 3.00 PM.  However that is not always possible, so do them when you can.

One note:  I never do nest checks before 10.00 AM or in the rain.  Females usually lay their eggs in the morning and I don't want to bother them.  More detailed descriptions of how to do nest checks is given on my nest check page.

 

  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 these?

There are a number of different theories on this.  Some say they're to keep the weather out and are found on westward facing gourds or house compartments more so than on eastward facing ones, but when I've found them, there really doesn't seem to be a directional intent.

Others say it's to form a uniform bowl in the back of the nest for the eggs to sit in.  I've seen this and this could be one possible reason, especially if the compartment is a small one.

 

However; one thing I've noticed when I did find them, they were usually built towards the front of the cavity, and because of this, I have my own thoughts about mud dams.  I feel they are there for a couple of different reasons.  If you notice, they are usually found in the smaller sized house compartments and gourds, rarely in the larger ones, (although it does happen).  I use nothing but large gourds and deep compartments and have found very few mud dams in all the time I've been keeping martins.  

 

Although not always, when you do find them, notice that they are usually 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 either see into or enter the compartment or gourd, sort of making their own SREH so to speak.  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/predators will have a problem getting into the nest.  Owls are notorious for looking into nests to see their prey before reaching in and snatching it out.

 

Another thing I've noticed.  I help tend two other colonies in my area and I've noticed that if one of the females builds a dam, others copy her and build dams in their own gourds.  Some of them are pretty pitiful, but they are present.  I honestly believe that it's something in their genes from the past that makes them still want to build them.  Other swallows, such as Barnies and Cliff, use mud to build their nests and it could be something that's simply inherent in the swallow family.  The one shown here is in a nice big horizontal natural gourd, but I placed the entrance somewhat low on the gourd and thus, I believe she's hiding her nest from any possible prying eyes.

 

We have a dog that is penned in our back yard.  Will it bother the martins?

 

Normally, martins won't pay any 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.

 

However; 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 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.

 

And I'm sorry for all the cat lovers out there, but purple martins hate cats.  It's as simple as that.

 

What about cutting my grass.  Won't this scare them away?

 

No, not at all.  Yes, they'll initially fly away when you walk or ride directly under them, but they soon return to their house.  After enough times of your mowing under them, they'll realize you aren't any threat and some 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. 

 

But my mower is pretty loud...

 

No matter.  They get used to it.  I'm not going to say that they won't fly off, because they will.  But I assure you, once you finish, they'll be right back.

For the most part, martins are not a bit afraid of man's modern tools and toys.  In fact, I have a friend that has a son that has a motorbike and he rides all over the place and the martins don't pay him any attention at all.  However, bumping or banging on the pole does, so try and be careful with that part of it.  

 

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 these?

Those are Chicken Mites (also called nest mites) and if left unattended, quite often become a major problem in martin colonies.  Mite explosions, called blooms, happen practically overnight, so it's important to not allow too much time from nest check to nest check.  Nests that are infected with these mites should be taken care of promptly or they could result in early fledging of the young or worse, their death.  Mites feed on the blood of the young and it's 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 prematurely jump to the ground before they can fly properly.

 

Is there anything that can be done about them?

 

The control of mites and the methods used in their control is a very controversial subject and you'll get many different answers depending on who you speak with.  Some agree with me, some do not.  The following are two methods that do work to keep them under control and it's up to you to decide which you want to use.

 

First their method:

 

One.  Nest changes.

Requirement:  Housing that is fully accessible.

Nest changes are 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 the compartment down with alcohol and then refill with new nesting material, forming a small bowl in the material where the original nest bowl was.  Some folks even replace a few green leaves back in the nest bowl.  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 box, but also any eggs that the mites may have laid there.

However; this does nothing to get rid of the mites that are on the birds themselves and you're simply putting them back in the new nest with the birds.

Because nest changes are so time consuming, I personally feel that anything over 10 or 12 pairs is unrealistic.

 

Now my method:

 

Two. Apply 5% Sevin dust. 

Requirement:  5% Sevin dust and a small plastic spoon.

As stated, the use of a poison in a wild birds nest is a very controversial subject.  However, because nest mites are such a big problem and it's been proven that 5% Sevin dust is an effective solution, at the time of this writing, testing and research is being done by the PMCA to see what the long term effects are on wild birds.  Depending on where and who's page you read, you're going to hear both sides of the story, so you'll have to educate yourself, decide whether or not your housing is suitable for nest changes, and then make your own decisions on whether to use it or not.

 

However... if you're interested and want to know what I do, then this is it.

Being in the south, mites can become a very big problem and because I have so many nests, I just don't have the time to do nest changes all day long.  And because mites usually appear around feeding time for the young, you don't want to keep the adults away for very long.  So, what I do is apply a SMALL amount of 5% Sevin dust to my nests.  I use a level teaspoon of 5% Sevin dust powder and sprinkle it just inside the entrance hole on the porch or on the nesting material.  I do this from outside the cavity, reaching thru the entrance hole.  When the mites travel out of the gourd to sit in the sun, they pass through the Sevin dust going in and out of the gourd and of course, get it on themselves and it will usually eliminate them within 24 hours.  Plus, the adults traveling thru the dust will help spread it around.  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 change out.  Once I spot mites, I treat ALL my nests at the same time because they are so easily spread from nest to nest.  It works and no second treatments are ever required and the quantity I use is very controlled.  ALL mites in the nest, on the adults as well as the young are eliminated.

And secondly, I'm just like any other person.  I just don't like the feel of them crawling all over my hands and arms when dealing with them.

 

One Note Here:

NEVER use any kind of off the shelf pesticides in SPRAY CANS.  These are not controllable and when used, infiltrate the entire cavity and the fumes can be lethal to young martins.  None of these spray pesticides should ever be used in the treatment of mites, or any other insect pest for that matter, inside ANY wild bird's nest.

 

When I did my nest checks, I found an egg near the entrance hole.  All the rest of the eggs were still in the nest.  What's going on?

 

The female martin has deemed that egg to be infertile and has removed it from the nest.  Unlike us humans, wild birds and animals do not live by emotions, but instead, instincts, and will not waste energy on either crippled young or infertile eggs.  They will dispose of them, thus saving energy however; not having hands to pick the egg up, the best she could do was remove it from the bowl and roll it to the front of the nest.  Although it's hard for us to understand, in the wild it can sometimes mean the difference between life and death for them.  DO NOT replace these eggs in the nest.  They should be removed and discarded.  We think we are doing a good thing by replacing these eggs back in the nest, but in reality, we are hindering the females from doing their jobs.  They know best about what they are doing; let them do it.

 

  I found a young martin that obviously can't fly on the ground, What should I do with it?

 

Jumpers are often a problem during brood rearing and there are a number of reasons for them to come out of the nest early.

It could be because it wandered out of the entrance and simply fell off the housing (or got pushed out).

Or, it could be because nest mites have gotten out of control and drove the young out early to try and get away from them.

Or, another reason young jump early is because of excessive heat.  Once on the ground, they'll often scramble to look for a shady spot and cool down.

In all cases, and this is where nest checks and good record keeping come in handy, these jumpers should be replaced in the nest.  If you do not know exactly what nest them came from, place them in a nest with young as close to the same age as they are.  The female will finish raising them.  No, one extra mouth will not matter, the parents can handle it.

 

However; don't be surprised to find it back out of the nest on the ground again, especially if it's hot.  If that happens, you might want to consider... feeding them yourself.

 

Some of my young have fledged and now it seems as though there's all kinds of fighting and squabbling. What's  going on?

 

In just about all colonies, there's a lot of what we consider quarrelling going on in the colony when young first fledge.  There are a number of different reasons for this.  

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 for the first couple of days, trying to drive them away from the colony. The main reason for this is, it's nature's way of preventing inbreeding.  They are being forced to go look for some other place to nest next year.  Also, they don't want the young to return next spring and become competition for nesting. 

Secondly, the parent birds themselves are trying to actually get the young to not return to the cavity.  It's time to leave and they too, are trying to get the young to go.  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 it.

 

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 adult birds.

 

My birds have all fledged and are now gone. Where do 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 vacate the site within a couple of days for the safety of open power lines or radio antennas and such. 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 martins.

 

A side note here:

After nesting, martins will form pre-migratory roosts somewhere, where 100's of thousands of birds will gather at one time.  Although not always, most of the time they are near some large body of water.  If water is not available, they'll often use some place where they feel safe, such as trees surrounding a large parking lot or maybe a large power tower or something such as that.  They feel there's safety in numbers.  If one of these roosts forms around or near you, it's an interesting trip to go and visit one.  Usually just before dark is the best time to watch them come in for the evening.

 

Now that the young have fledged, will the parents lay eggs again and raise a second brood of babies?

 

No, martins usually raise only one brood of young per year. However; should a pair lose their first clutch of eggs, some times they will lay a second clutch if it's early enough in the year, but this is only under unusual circumstances.

 

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 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 to 100 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.

 

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?

 

One 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.

 

Here are a couple of things that can be done.

 

One, 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.  Because of where I live, I actually use a .410 shotgun and get them on the wing.  Other's have told me they use 20, 16 and even 12 gage shotguns.  I say, whatever works; us it.

 

Two, 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 around the internet.  (Search for 'Starling and Sparrow Traps').  A number of different sources are available.  Once captured, DO NOT just drive them somewhere else and let them go.  They will actually 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.

 

Note:  I don't usually advertise on my page, but when I find something that works, I pass it on.  Check out http://www.sparrowtraps.net/  I bought a couple of these and all I can say is, they work.  Get you one, set it up per Uncle Blaine's instructions and get ready to start eliminating them from your property.  These are a feeding trap, so keep it supplied with food and get them year around...

 

Three, As for starlings, Starling Resistant Entrance Holes can be added to your houses and gourds.  They are 99% effective at preventing starlings from even entering your housing since the majority of 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?

 

Bluntly, "NO".  If you let starlings or sparrows nest, they soon move from nest to nest destroying the eggs and even the young of other nesting competitors.  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 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 year around to keep them out of my area and my martin housing.  I know that, in some peoples' minds, they're 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 Pests.

 

What is 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 emotionally involved with our charges.

 

The only place we have to put our house is near our night light.  Will this bother the martins?

 

No, not at all.  In fact, martins aren't the least bit afraid of man's modern technologies and innovations.  (A term I like to call technovations)  I have a night light within 20 feet of my colony and they pay it no attention at all and in fact, as can be seen here, it's one of their favorite gathering places.  Don't worry about it, put the house up and enjoy them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 only nest in man made housing east of the Rockies.  As for the birds nesting under your eaves, consider yourself lucky.  Many people consider it good luck to have 'Barnies' nesting on their porches or under their eaves.

 

Here are a few birds that are often mistaken for martins.


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 eaves).

Here's a link that shows a lot of details on Barn Swallows.  Barn Swallows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Tree 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 nest in close knit colonies like the martins, but one pair will take over a small martin house if allowed to, defending it from all martins that want to nest there.  Housing such as Bluebird housing should be placed about 5 feet off the ground for them out of the way of your main martin house.  Tree Swallows love the deep horizontal gourds as shown here and will actually search them out to nest in.

Here's a link that shows a lot of details on Tree Swallows.  Tree Swallows

 

The Chimney 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, and I'm sorry but, although I do have them here, I don't have a photo of them.  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 feed in family groups.  We've had swifts in our chimney of our fireplace ever since we bought our home in '85.  Every year, we have to replace fallen young back on the inside ledge of our fireplace.

All 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 and confuse with purple martins. 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.

 

We have a pair of Tree Swallows starting to nest in our martin house.  We don't want to hurt them, what do we have to do to get them to move so we can have martins, also?

 

Because this is a long answer, I have a page devoted specifically for this problem.  Moving Tree Swallows

All the details to move them is given there.

 

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 high in the air.  One of the reasons "Barnies" and martins get along so well is that, not only are they cousins, but their nesting habits are different and plus, they usually feed at different altitudes, thus cutting down on competition for food.  Although I have heard experienced landlords tell me this, it is not a normal action for purple martins to follow a lawn mower.  However; if you are sure they are purple martins, then by all means put up some housing for them.  Both they and you will be the better for it.

 

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.  What's the real story?

 

According to the late J. L. Wade of Griggsville, IL., back in the 1920's, a man by the name of Joseph H. Dodson of Kankakee, Ill, supposedly had some dead martin's stomach contents analyzed by a state university.  The results were that they contained approx 2000 mosquitoes.  He published the findings and thus, the myth began.

 

However; what wasn't mentioned was that Dodson was in the deep south when he acquired his martins and that they were Salt Water Marsh Mosquitoes, a much larger variety than the ones that are pests to us.  When further investigation on the subject was done, much was found on Dodson, but nothing was found on his research.  Wade, figuring mosquitoes were mosquitoes, didn't differentiate and started using that slogan to sell his martin houses and to this day, that claim is still boasted and this now long time myth is still used by the uneducated public when talking about martins.   In fact, it's still used as a ploy by some house manufacturers and retailers to sell their houses.  The key word in the statement is CAN.  However, recent studies have proven that they DON'T.  The statement is still used today to dupe the uneducated buying public into believing that, if they put a martin house up and attract martins, then all their bothersome insect troubles will go away.  Not true at all.

 

Here are some more common sense facts on the subject:

 

Although it is true that martins are fully capable of eating 2000 mosquitoes a day, (any kind of mosquito), the truth is, they simply just don't.  Studies done in the last decade (or two) on stomach contents of more northern martins showed that less than 3% 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 as we know them is so small that the nutritional value of one wouldn't be worth the energy spent to catch it.

 

Now, let's stop to think for a minute:

 

If mosquitoes (the kind that bite us) hang out in heavy weeds and bushes and fly within 10 to 15 feet of the ground, and if martins dislike bushes and feed anywhere from 100 to 1000 feet in the air, then the two don't cross paths, therefore; how would the martins eat the mosquitoes in your back yard?  It's very unlikely if they don't even share the same air space.

 

Martins usually disappear in the afternoon to feed, often not being seen until dusk, therefore; if they were eating mosquitoes, then they're eating someone else's mosquitoes, and not yours.

 

If you watch your martins sitting on your housing preening, at times you can actually see the mosquitoes pestering them just as they do us and the martins are not snapping them up for a snack.

 

Also, think about when the mosquitoes become the worst... just about dark.  (Mosquitoes are primarily nocturnal).  And when do most bird species, including martins, go to bed... just about dark.  (Purple martins are diurnal).  So, again, they don't cross paths.

 

One more... OK.  Spring time is usually a very wet and damp part of the year in most regions.  This makes for many small and stagnant pools of water where mosquitoes can breed and lay eggs.  However, just about the same time martins return, these small pools often dry up and much less mosquito breeding and egg laying takes place thus; much fewer mosquitoes.  Many folks attribute this to the return of the martins when in actuality, it has absolutely nothing to do with it at all.

 

...and, here's one more thought.  About the same time martins return in good numbers, so do bats and some species, the brown tail bat  for instance, are a mosquitoes' worst nightmare.  I have a bat house and it's very common to see them feeding around my colony right after dark.  That also just might be one of the reasons your mosquito population declined.  Bats are nocturnal and feed at night, just when the mosquitoes are at their worst.

 

When can we expect our martins to leave for the winter?

 

Parents and young will hang around the site for about a couple days to a week after fledging.  Although most birds are born with the instincts to survive, during this time, the parents will teach the young the things they need to know when 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 in a large pre-migratory roost before the migration. This could be a set of power lines or a small stand of trees and, although not always, is often where human activity takes place. Usually this area will be around a small body of fresh water or at least water will be somewhat close by. Then, one day, some small biological time clock rings and off they go for points south, beginning with the older birds and working on down to the young until they are all gone.

 

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

 

 

How high 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 martins, then the most favorable height is around 12' to 14'. I've even been told of folks that placed their housing 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 of martins.

If you have a telescoping pole, then obviously, you'll want to keep it lower. It would become very awkward and tiring to try and stretch a telescoping pole to 18'.

Martins 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 happened to be attached to a 4' high page wire fence near a horse pen.

Shoot for the 12' - 14' range in pole height and your martins will do just fine as long as you keep any predators away.

 

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 is this?

 

What has been discovered is that these new holes require both external and internal porches.  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 the new entrances that are available that contain both the porches on them to begin with.  This page shows them.  Adding or Changing to Crescent SREH  Then add enough nesting materials to come up to the bottom of the porch.  If you do not normally add nesting material to your housing, then this is a good time to start, especially since it's now so easy to get into your gourds.  I always add fresh nesting material to all my housing each spring and the birds seem to really appreciate it.  Their constant walking on them will soon pack the nesting material and this is another good reason for using materials that drain well.  I also keep some extra on hand on a raised platform just in case they want to add any final touches to their nests.

 

Which is better for martins, gourds or houses?

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 use?

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 back center wall removed (or drill a 2" hole in it) 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 visiting.

 

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.


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 gourds.


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. It's a two step process.  

First, you have to make your wire.  What I do is cut a 44" long piece of plastic coated solid core 14 gage electrical wire.  (You may have to adjust this length to ultimately fit your own personal needs).  I fold it in two and then stick both free ends into my drill and tighten it down.  Next, using the handle of my wire cutters, (or a big screwdriver) I stick it into the loop of the wire, pull it snug, and then turn on my drill in low speed and SLOWLY wind the wire up to about what's shown here.  Don't over wind it.  You don't want it too tight.  And you want to end up with a loop about the size of a dime, my wire cutters work perfect for this.  You now have a hanging wire that's twice as strong as a single strand of wire.

Now I stick the wire thru the gourd and then thru the hole in my rack arm, passing it thru the loop in the wire and pull it snug.  Not too tight, I want the gourd to swing freely.

 

Then I pass the wire up over the arm and back down on the opposite side of the arm and then twist it into the wire a time or two.

This does two things.  One, it allows the gourd to swing freely front to back, and two, if for some reason the hole part of my arm breaks off, the wire over the top gives me a second level of safety until I can get the arm fixed.

And that's all there is to it.

 

Let me add one thing. This method allows the gourd to swing, but prevents the gourd from twisting which is a no-no.  As for swinging from front to back or side to side, that doesn't matter.  You may read on other sites that a gourd should swing from side to side and not front to back, but I still haven't figured where that statement came from or how they came up with their reasoning.  Martins could care less which direction a gourd swings.  They are much more interested in what's inside.  If you're interested in MY reasoning, then here it is.

 

I bought 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 own home..

-Martins do not like tall trees close to their nesting site.  The house should be no closer to a tree than the tree is tall, further if possible.

-Martins like water, (not bird baths), so if you have clean, open fresh water available (a pond or river) within a mile or two, then that will be advantageous in attracting them.

-Martins like places to perch and socialize, (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.  40' - 50' is not uncommon with the average being under 100'.

-Martins like human activity.  No, it won't hurt to have the kids running around or you out in the garden.  Just off a driveway or back deck is also good.  Not too close, after all, they do have to have open flyways to their housing.  Stick with the 40' rule if possible.

However; please note.  Banging or swinging on the pole is NOT GOOD.  This will upset the martins and if it continues, they will leave.  I have much more info on this subject here.

 

I've read 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?

 

NO!  PVC, (Poly Vinyl Chloride) pipe is no where near strong enough to use for martin housing.  Here's a couple of reasons why.

One, most PVC pipe does not have UV (Ultra Violate) inhibitors and will quickly become extremely brittle when out in the direct sunlight.  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 wind storm.  A sudden strong gust at the wrong time will put your martin housing on the ground, along with everything in it.

 

If I may:   

I am a Mechanical Design Engineer by profession and I deal with the structural issues of different materials on a daily basis and believe me, PVC IS NOT on the list of structural materials.  The best thing to use for a martin pole is a good schedule 40, (or 80, depending on the housing) round steel pipe.  Square and triangular pipes are also used, but make sure they are plenty strong enough for the type of housing you are using.  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 penny.

 

I don't know who first decided that PVC was a good material to use, or who did the numbers (if at all), but take it from me, IT ISN'T...  PLEASE, in a case like this where you're erecting something overhead, be smart and use materials that are strong enough to do the job properly.  This is NOT the time to be CHEAP.

 

I've noticed that all your gourds and housing are painted white.  Is there a reason for this?

 

Yes, and in fact, there are actually a number of reasons for this. 

One, 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 majority of 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.

But there is more;

Two, 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.

Three, white just plain looks good; kind of like sparkling clean, so to speak.  When you see something white, it reminds you of 'new and shiny'.

However; the TRIM of a house can be any color you like, after all, a plain all-white martin house would look pretty drab.

 

I've heard that light interiors helps keep starlings out.  Should I paint the insides of my house white, also?

 

No, that's not necessary.  I'm sorry, but I have no idea where some of these statements come from or who did the testing.  Starlings could care less about the brightness of the insides of their compartments, they are much more interested in the SIZE of it.  If brightness were an issue, they wouldn't be nesting in streetlights or behind the big signs on the fronts of buildings.

 

Painting the insides of housing only makes it slipperier for the martins to walk on, so leave it alone, they'll be just fine.

 

When I went to buy an aluminum house, the saleslady said that aluminum helps keep the nests free from mites.  Is this true?

 

Absolutely not!  She is only trying to make a sale.

 

First, the saleslady 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.  Nest 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...

As 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.

 

Is there a 'perfect' martin house?

 

The '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 commercial housing industry by 'educated 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'.

I won't mention any names, either good or bad, but as I've stated before, 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.

 

So, what 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 house.

-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 run because they have to be replaced more often.

-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, then look for another house.

-Does the house raise and lower 'vertically' on a pole?  Houses that tip or 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 martins.

 

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 and eventually, the manufacturer of that house will get it as well.  Yes, a quality house will cost more initially, but in the long run, it will cost you a lot less than replacing junk housing every couple of years.

 

When should I put my housing up?

OR

When should I open my housing?

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 Martin 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.  It has been found that many times you'll pick up some adult birds that were misplaced from other sites.  If no adults show, 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.

 

We've had our housing up for years and have never gotten martins to nest even though 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 or its location.

First, does your housing have those small compartments spoke about above?  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 incorrect.  (6" x 6" x 6" compartments are cheaper to manufacture).  Remember, adult martins average 8" long.  Kind of hard to fit into a 6" x 6" space.  Martins need more room.  This is one of the major problems in the martin house industry and many are still refusing to change.

A second reason is the location of the house. Is it too close to trees?  This one factor will prevent martins from nesting even in a good house.  Martins just do not feel safe with trees too close to their housing.

There could be other reasons, but first, enlarge your house compartments by removing the back wall to make the compartment 12" deep, then be sure and add the crescents, make sure that there is plenty of room around the house and then sit back and watch what happens the next time a martin visits.

 

Our house 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 some other site but were unsuccessful and he decided to find a new one.  Martins do not pair up with the same mate each year and will look for new sites on their own.

-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 out...

 

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. Houses on the other hand usually only have 2 faces, so face one of them to the open flight paths and you should do just fine.

 

One other thing to note.  I've 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 it happens year after year so just maybe they want to see their landlord and know that he or she is around.  I do know that my martins actually enjoy having me around.  It might have something to do with the protection thing, and it also makes for much better viewing on my part.

 

What are predator guards?  Should I use them?

 

Absolutely! 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 and 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.  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.

 

  But I use steel poles for my martin housing.  I shouldn't have to worry about predators climbing them should I?

 

Wanna bet! A 4 or 5 foot rat snake will climb a steel pole faster than you can blink an eye.  Take a look at the photo on the right.  This rat snake is nestled nicely in the cavity of a T-14, mounted on a round steel pole.  The landlord didn't think he needed a predator guard because he thought the same thing and wasn't concerned about anything climbing it.  It cleaned out 2 compartments of baby martins before I got to it.  I just happened to be visiting and noticed that his adult birds were acting funny and suggested we take a look.

 

Snakes climb by constricting their bodies around the poles and then 'hitch' their bodies up the poles and thus; are able to climb smooth objects such as steel poles...and they're good at it, especially if they can smell potential food.  And to make matters worse, they often do it at night, when you wouldn't see them.  For someone that wouldn't recognize the different actions of their birds, it would easily go from compartment to compartment, totally cleaning out their colony.

 

I have a couple of them that nearly anyone can make.  One is a tubular predator guard made from a large diameter PVC pipe that works very well at keeping these kinds of predators out of your housing.

 

And, here's an even simpler one, (and cheaper as well).  A simple snake guard.  I like this one because there's no excuses for not making it.  It's light weight, easy to make, inexpensive and best of all... it works.

 

Why is so much literature being written about enlarging the compartment sizes of houses?

 

A lot of study has gone into this subject and the results now show that martins not only prefer the larger 6" x 12" deep cavities but also have larger brood sizes.  A long time ago, some aluminum house manufacturers decided that the size of a martins' nest should be 6" x 6" square.  How they arrived at this number isn't exactly known because an adult martins is around 7 1/2 to 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 take the larger, deeper cavities 100% of the time 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.  If you have one of these aluminum houses and are interested in enlarging the compartments, then this page shows you step by step how to Rework an Aluminum Martin House  Although I show a Trio here, this will work with any brand aluminum house with 6" x 6" compartments.

 

We want to add new housing.  Is this going to bother the martins when they return?

    Or

What about adding new housing to an active site?  Is that a problem?

 

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 nesting time.  However; have all your tools and materials together so it doesn't take too much time and then 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 if they're looking for a colony site.

 

We want to move our martin housing to the other side of our house.  Will this be a problem?

 

Maybe, maybe not.  Moving a house is a lot different than adding a house.

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.  The martins didn't even notice the house in its new location.  In fact, they would fly to the exact same spot where the house used to be and just hover there.  It took new birds coming to visit the house to draw their attention and they eventually found it, but it got scary for a bit.

 

However; if you move it only a little way, say 10' or 15', 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 location.

 

But, can the housing be moved further 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).  Now you have birds in both houses. 

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 birds.  When the birds return in the spring, they'll look in the old spot for their house but, because of all the goings on the previous year, they know the other house is there and will quickly find it.  It's a new year and they'll quickly adapt to the new location.

 

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.  If you can't or don't want to store it, then plug the holes so the pests can't get into it and spend the winter.

 

My housing doesn't lower. How can I clean it out?

 

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 letting the birds 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 course.  And they enjoy them more.

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, in the case of houses, a winch and cable system. This may mean replacing the present pipe or pole with one that allows the use of such a system. (Tilting systems are not acceptable. Obviously the eggs or young would be dumped out of the nest).
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, or is not re-workable, 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 of hosting purple martins are a thing of the past. The hobby 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 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 very close to the old housing, within 5' or 10'. 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.
Then, 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'.

If the old housing is simply not worth keeping anymore, then replace it.  The first birds that come back will see the new house and, if they agree with it, then the other returning birds won't care either.

 

  How close can I have my houses to each other?

 

Depends on the type of housing.

If you have actual houses that have only two sides available to the martins, then they can be put right next to each other, say 2 - 4 feet.  The martins don't need to get at the ends of the houses, so it doesn't really matter how close they are.  Just don't put them so close together that they would hit each other in any kind of wind.

 

If you have housing that has all 4 sides available to the martins, such as a T-14, then they need to be a little further apart (or twist it at 45 degrees so all 4 sides are easily accessible).  Martins need to have access to each side of the house, so they need to be a little further apart, say 10' - 12'.

 

Same goes for racks where accessibility is from multiple directions.  My racks have 360 degrees of accessibility so mine are 12' feet apart.  The martins can negotiate a subtle change in direction at the last minute. 

 

If you use these numbers for the type of housing you have, you should do just fine.

 

 

Got a question not answered here, email me chuckabare@earthlink.net and I'll see if I can answer it for you.