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The Binocular Advisor

Purple Martins
How it All Began

Purple martins used to nest in trees. But they've been using houses provided by people for hundreds or even thousands of years. Native Americans began a tradition that we're still enjoying.

Purple Martins and Native AmericansPurple martins love people. In fact, they can't live without us. Or at least they can't nest without us. They raise their young only in special birdhouses that people put up for them.

Long ago, purple martins nested in hollow trees, with no help from people. And then they completely changed their habits. Ornithologists guess that somewhere, sometime, a few centuries ago or more, a Native American hung up a hollow gourd at the top of a pole, and a pair of purple martins raised a family in it.

Maybe the birds' happy-sounding, gurgling songs appealed to the person. Maybe she liked how the birds caught and ate the flies that buzzed around the drying meat. And maybe they loved the birds' exhilarating speed and agility in the air. So the next spring she made sure a gourd was hanging in the same place, or maybe she put up two or three.

Purple MartinSoon a small colony of birds was gliding around the village, gobbling flies and entertaining everyone with their music. Other villagers also began hanging gourds near their homes to attract the beautiful birds. They found the purple martins fun to watch, and they appreciated the insect control.

From the purple martins' point of view, the village commotion gave them some protection from owls and snakes, which will eat baby purple martins if they get the chance.

Other tribes of Native American copied the practice. Early reports say that the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes mounted gourds on the branches of bare saplings to attract purple martins.

When the first European settlers arrived and learned about the friendly birds, they built birdhouses for them also, and North Americans have been hosting purple martins ever since. Nationwide a million hobbyists now maintain martin houses, keeping alive an ancient tradition of cooperation between bird and man.

SuperGourdMartin houses come in many shapes and sizes. A breakthrough in martin housing is the SuperGourd. This man-made housing emulates the best characteristics of natural gourds. But it's easy to clean out. The chamber is much larger than most birdhouse gourds. And it's been giving high nesting success. (It's what we now use at Birdwatching Dot Com.)

It's remarkable how completely the birds have accepted the hospitality of human landlords. Other birds, such as wrens and bluebirds, also use birdhouses, but they continue to nest in the traditional ways as well.

Purple martins in eastern US, however, have undergone a total tradition shift. They nest only in human-provided housing, and they insist on being within about 30 to 100 feet of human habitation. They trustingly raise their young in our backyards and towns, sometimes right in the middle of our business districts.

Purple Martin

How to Succeed as a Purple Martin Landlord
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
Purple Martin Conservation Association


© 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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