Proper house is necessary to attract purple martins

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Even though it is just the middle of February, the harbinger of spring, the purple martin, is probably on his way from South America and Mexico today. Last year, martins arrived March 3 at Sunny Hill. If you want martins in your yard this year, it is time to get prepared.

If you have never attracted purple martins to your back yard, there are several things that you need to think about. The first is martin house placement. Purple martins like a house away from trees and other structures. They want to make sure that no predators can get close to them. I would recommend an open area at least 30 feet in diameter.

Martins also like to find a home close to a good food supply. If your landscape is home to mosquitoes, your landscape fits the bill. Martins are supposed to consume up to 2,000 mosquitoes a day. I'm not sure how you would count the number of mosquitoes he or she consumes in a day, but I do know that where martins are present, there are fewer mosquito bites.

If you think you have a good location for a purple martin house, then you must decide on the type of house that you want. I would suggest that you buy a house with several apartments. It should be one that is lightweight, made of aluminum, and has a pole that telescopes or is rigged with a pulley system that raises or lowers the house. The house also should have perches on which the martins will sit and easy access to the apartments.

Most martin house owners keep the holes to each apartment plugged until they see scouts arriving in early spring. At that time, they remove the plugs to each apartment. When the plugs are removed, it is not unusual to see a sparrow starting to build a nest in one of the apartments. You must check and if needed remove any sparrow nest material on a daily basis.

You may also purchase sparrow traps to aid in sparrow control. No matter how you do it, you must control sparrows or they will take over the martin house.

Now you know why it is so important to get a house with pole that allows you to raise and lower the house with ease. Resident purple martins are not disturbed when you lower the house to remove sparrow nest material.

I would also suggest that you get a house that has subfloors in it. They keep the nest dry and also reduce mite infestations in the nest. Before each season starts, sprinkle some dusting sulfur under each subfloor. The sulfur acts as a miticide and aids in eliminating mites.

You can find houses made of materials other than aluminum, such as plastic or wood. I have found that most purple martin house owners prefer aluminum because of its weight, its tendency to keep birds cooler in the summer and its ease in applying sulfur and removing unwanted sparrow nests.

Now that you have decided on which house to buy and where to put it, get busy. I would put it in place as soon as possible. Make sure that you apply dusting sulfur and plug the entrances to your house. When you see scouts flying, or when your neighbors see scouts flying, usually about the first of March, remove the apartment hole plugs. Make sure that you remove any nest material from birds other than purple martins.

If you don't get martins in the spring the first year, don't get discouraged. When hatchlings mature they will be looking for a house. Sometimes, couples will move into a house later in the spring or summer. Once you attract martins, they will return year after year. So make sure that you don't forget to put up your house each year. You can't skip a year.

If after a year or two you still have not attracted any martins, you may want to invest in some martin decoys. Place them on the perches of the house. You can also buy an electronic call that you need to turn on each morning in March at about 5:30 a.m. Let it call for one to two hours.

Now is the time to get ready for purple martins. They will not only provide natural insect control, but their songs and raucous behavior will provide you with a lot of entertainment.

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