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The Binocular Advisor

When to Put up
Purple Martin Housing

Here's one trick of the trade. Don't put your martin house up until four to six weeks after the first purple martins arrive.

Purple Martin HousingOnce purple martins have used a martin house, they will return to it year after year. All you have to do is clean it out in fall, protect it from starlings and sparrows, and perhaps repaint it white every few years.

Getting purple martins to accept a new martin house is a different issue. It may require a little effort. Some people have a martin house up for several years before attracting the desired residents. Others succeed the first day the house is up.

Purple Martin Young MaleHere's one trick of the trade. Don't put your martin house up until four to six weeks after the first purple martins arrive. Or if it's already in place, keep the holes plugged until then, to exclude starlings and sparrows. You are trying to attract young purple martins.

Young males who were hatched last year are in their first nesting season. They look mottled like Chuck Abare's photo at left. (Chuck's website has loads of information about purple martins.) But they don't arrive until the adults have been here for over a month.

Purple Martin Adult MaleAdult purple martins, birds who are two or more years old, have nested before. (The adult males look all blue-black, like Chuck Abare's photo at right.) They usually won't use your new martin house, because they are going straight back to their previous nests. (Sometimes you can attract adults, if their previous housing has fallen into neglect and sparrows or starlings have been allowed to move in.)

But one-year-old birds are looking for a place to nest for the first time, and they will use your new martin house. If you entice a young purple martin to accept your housing, he will try to get a female to accept him.

SuperGourdAnd that is the great day, when the first female lays the first egg in your housing. The couple will be the patriarch and matriarch of your colony. If you maintain it well, it can keep going all your life.

You can help attract young birds by playing purple martin songs early in the morning near your martin house. (See sidebar at top right of this page.) In a thriving colony, adult males fly up high above the housing very early in the morning and sing a special dawn song.

Young purple martins, returning from the south for the first time, are looking for a place to nest. Most of them don't go back to the colony where they hatched. (That would lead to inbreeding, which would weaken the colony.) Most seek a home in a different colony.

Purple MartinAnd when they hear the dawn song of the adult males, they fly down and take a look. That's how you get them to notice your purple martin houses in the first place.

You might also want to put a couple of purple martin decoys on some of your houses just to enhance the illusion that there is a colony there. (See sidebar at right.)

Best of success with your purple martin colony. Here's hoping you attract purple martins right away.

How to Succeed as a Purple Martin Landlord
How it all began
SuperGourds - the best housing for purple martins
Deluxe Gourd Rack
The Pole and Winch
The Alamo martin house
When to Put up Purple Martin Housing


© 2008 Diane Porter
Images of birds in flight © 2008 Michael and Diane Porter
Painting of Native Americans with purple martins © PMCA

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Attract Purple martins with their own Songs!

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