Purple Martins are the largest member of the swallow family found in North America. Martins are about 7 1/2 inches in size. Purple Martins look black, with a purple sheen. Many people try to attract these active birds to nest in their yards. Martins nest in colonies and their aerobatics as they catch insects on the fly, makes them popular backyard birds.
Attracting Purple Martins
Attracting Purple Martins can be challenging. Would-be Martin landlords should exercise patience when trying to lure these insect eating songbirds to their yard.
Purple Martins are the only bird species in the eastern half of North America that is entirely dependent on human supplied nesting cavities for reproduction. Therefore, a great way to attract Martins and help with Purple Martin conservation efforts, is to provide appropriate Purple Martin housing.
Purple Martin Houses
Purple martins nest in colonies of several pairs of birds. Housing for martins should be provided in the form of multiple apartment martin houses or groups of gourds. Gourds for martin housing can be made of actual dried "birdhouse" gourds or manmade "gourds."
Martin houses and gourds should be painted white. White housing attracts reflects the heat of the sun, keeping the nest cooler - and white houses seem to attract martins the best. The minimum nest compartment floor area should be 6 inches x 6 inches. Compartment height should be from 5 inches to 7 inches high. Entrance holes should be about 1 inch above the floor. A hole size of 2 1/8" is recommended by the Purple Martin Conservation Association.
Purple martin housing needs to be mounted high above the ground (10 to 20 feet), so it is important to mount houses in a way that they can be easily raised and lowered for maintenance and inspection. Hosing that can be raised and lowered with telescoping poles or with a pulley and winch are the most practical.
The poles on which martin houses are placed can be climbed by predators such as squirrels, raccoons, and snakes. To protect your martins from predators, use a predator guard on the martin house pole.
Purple Martin House Placement
Purple Martins are very particular about their housing needs. Martin houses must be placed in a location that provided adequate room for the birds to fly around and catch insects, but they should not be placed too far away from human houses. The Purple Martin Conservation Association offers the following guidelines for placing a martin house on your property:
Purple Martin houses should be placed in the most open spot available, about 30 to 120 feet from human housing.
There should be no trees taller than the martin house within 40 feet, preferably 60 feet.
Purple Martin houses should be mounted at a height of 10 to 20 feet.
You should raise and open your purple martin housing when the first martins (scouts) start to arrive in the spring. If you don't get nesting pairs in early spring, don't give up. Martins sometimes arrive and begin nesting as late as the end of June. In July and August, this year's young will be scouting new nesting sites for next year.
Scouts are the first Purple Martins to arrive in an area in the Spring. The excellent scout report map tracks Purple migration into the United States and shows where Martin arrivals have been recorded so far this year. Check to see when you should have your Purple Martin bird house ready for new arrivals.