Purple Martins are North America’s largest swallow and have been “helped” by man in their reproductive success longer than any other bird. Yet there is a lot of false information on the web designed to separate you from your hard earned dollar. Getting purple martins to nest in your backyard is often no easy feat but being an informed customer can increase your chances as well as save you money. Purple martin houses can be found in some super stores, home improvement stores and on-line; but do you even know what to look for? Doing some research now can save you time and money and save your new backyard neighbors lives. First remove the the wheat from the chaff. There are many websites that sell any number of purple martin houses but an on-line store does not an expert make. Many backyard bird supply stores are repeating decades old myths specifically designed to make them money.
>>Purple martins eat mosquitoes. Nothing is more untrue. Purple martins do not eat mosquitoes. This myth was made up by a very successful purple martin house manufacturer to do nothing except sell houses. So if you are wanting to get purple martins in your backyard, don’t do it thinking that your mosquito problem will vanish. You would be much better off draining any sources of standing water than buying a bird house. According to the Purple Martin Conservation Association, studies have shown that in stomach content analysis, mosquitoes comprise less than 3% of a purple martins diet. One study showed no mosquitoes at all. The myth persist despite real scientific data for two reason, salesmen swear it is true and some purple martin housing manufacturers still place this information on the packaging of their products. Why? Because it sells product.
>>If you build it, they will come. This is not necessarily the case. Purple martins are pretty picky about certain things so hanging a purple martin gourd under a tree won’t attract any martins. Purple martin housing placement is key. Several ground rules must be followed when it comes to putting up a house or gourds. Follow the rules and you have a chance. Don’t follow the rules and you have no chance at all. So if you have a heavily treed lot but the salesman wants to sell you a purple martin house, just say no.
>>It’s OK to let sparrows or starlings nest in your purple martin house, since there are no purple martins in it this year. FALSE! Nothing can be more detrimental to your chances of ever getting purple martins to nest in your gourds or house than this. Purple martins are out-beaked by the invasive English House Sparrow and the European Starling which will pierce eggs, kill nestlings and even kill the adult purple martins. Many people get discouraged by not being able to attract purple martins immediately and allow the housing to be claimed by sparrows and starlings. Once this happens any investigating purple martins will be run off. Even if the purple martins are able to build a nest and lay eggs, the resident sparrows and starlings will enter the compartment and kill nestlings, toss out eggs or just poke holes in the eggs. This is how these birds operate. To decrease nest site competition they destroy other nests.
>>The more compartments a house has, the better. Once again, NOT true. Though purple martin are colonial nesting birds (they like to be with other purple martins) a house that is poorly designed with lots of rooms, is still poorly designed. Once again a myth perpetrated by those pesky manufacturers, a purple martin house with 12 tiny rooms is not a better deal than a house with less rooms. The important factor is the size of the rooms. Both parents sleep in the nest at night along with an average of 5 nestlings. Purple martins are about 7 1/2 inches long. Now cram 7 birds into a tiny 6 inch compartment. Though purple martins will use substandard housing they only do so because there is no alternative. Birds sleeping in a tiny 6×6 inch nest are easy pickings for Owls and other opportunistic predators that will frequent your purple martins home. The new trend is 6×12 inch compartments that allow the purple martins room to grow and allow them to nest out of owls reach.
>>If you touch a baby bird it will die. So untrue. Purple martins thrive with our care. Studies have shown that purple martins are 50% more successful in raising young in colonies where the landlords (you and I) are active and perform such tasks as weekly nest checks. The parents will observe and though they may make a fuss, they will return to caring for their eggs and nestlings as soon as you leave. With nest checks, problems can be discovered before they become tragedies.
>>Purple martin scouts are going to come back with friends. Purple martin scouts are not scouts at all. Competition for nesting spots is fierce and the early bird does get the worm, or in this case, the nest. Early spring arrivers are on a mission to return home and an occasional stop to check out your house is not out of the ordinary. But don’t think that these birds are going to fly back to tell their friends of your location. The most important things you can do to attract your own pair is make sure your housing is in the best location and don’t let any other birds nest in your purple martin housing.
Now that you know the fact and fiction lets touch on some key points. What information can you take away to increase your chances of hosting these wonderful birds into your backyard?
1. Don’t choose your purple martin house based on what a superstore carries. Among purple martin landlords, most of the housing that you can purchase at one of these stores is considered a waste of money. Made of plastic that will eventually degrade and tiny compartments, these houses will last a few seasons. They are designed with profit margins NOT purple martins in mind. The thin poles that are sold for these houses are also substandard and if a stiff wind blows and your pole bends, you will be unable to lower the house. Of course, I recommend getting your purple martin bird houses or gourds from a store such as PurpleMartins-R-Us.com, that has a vested interest in purple martins and their conservation. (shame-less plug)
2. Purple martin houses and gourds should be placed in the most open are of your yard as far from trees as possible. Trees should be trimmed yearly away from the housing.
3. No other birds should be allowed to nest in your purple martin house no matter how lonesome you think your housing is. Be patient. Investigate if there are ways to better your location. Play purple martin dawnsong to attract them to your site. You can always Contact Us for advice on selecting the best location for purple martins in your yard.
4. Don’t set it and forget it. Good purple martin houses are designed for weekly nest checks and you can increase your purple martins reproductive success by being a hands on landlord.
5. Size does matter. The bigger the compartment, the better for your birds. Purple martins lay more eggs and raise more young in bigger compartments.
6. You get what you pay for. The cheaper plastic houses are no match for a well made wood house with large compartments. Well designed aluminum houses, such as Trendsetters or Sunset Inn houses, though a bit more pricey are made with purple martins in mind, are also a great choice.
7. Though not a mosquito eater, purple martins do consume thousands of flies, wasps, beetles and other flying insects everyday.
In summary, it is always important to remember that the more information you have, the better choice you can make and the more money you can save in the long haul.
PurpleMartins-R-Us.com is owned and operated by an active purple martin landlord. Many of the items we sell we actually use in our own colony. We love our purple martins and if we don’t think the product is safe for the birds-we won’t sell it!
©2009 S.Halpin / PurpleMartinArt.com