Archive for the ‘housing maintenance’ Category

Wooden Purple Martin Houses

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Today I received a question and I thought I would share it with you. This DOES NOT pertain to T-14 or Cedar Suites wood houses which use winch / pulley systems and high grade poles designed for the weight of these houses that weigh from 65 to over 100 pounds.


I have a purple martin wooden house that weighs 35lbs. I need to purchase the pole and the plate to set it up. Please recommend the best pole and plate to use to set it up.


It depends on what type of wooden house it is. Is it home made or store
bought? DIY Purple Martin houses that are just flat wood on the bottom, folks mount it to a 4×4 wooden post bought at a lumber yard or home improvement yard. The weight of the house will make it too heavy for a telescopic pole.

Though some websites may say that a telescopic pole can handle up to 25 lbs and sell brackets, galvanized pole or pipe FLANGES can be found in any hardware store. It would be cheaper for you to buy at Lowes, Home Depot or any local hardware store. We do not sell them due to safety concerns. We believe that the weight of the house combined with the height at which martin houses are mounted, substantially increases the risk of pole failure. Though we sell aluminum houses that use galvanized pipe, these
houses have been tested and are proven to support the weight they are designed for.

If you mount to a wooden 4×4 wood post then the base of the house can be screwed onto a post using “L” brackets, also found at any hardware store for under a few dollars.

Unfortunately many wooden purple martin houses sold on the web are poor choices to actually house martins. They are not built with martins in mind. Which is why we do not sell them.

One good tip when buying ANY purple martin house is beware of the term “Easy end of season cleanout” or” top level detaches from the bottom”doing nest checks you want to be able to selectively open compartments. Opening a whole floor at a time is just ASKING for trouble. I mean, where are you supposed to put that portion of the house while you check the other section? On the ground? What about if a nest is close to fledging? The nestlings would be jumping all over the place. Never mind the issues with the posts that these houses are designed to be mounted on. Decorative at best, way to short or impossible to reach at worst.  And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that there are no starling resistant options and the compartments are WAY too small.

Any good purple martin house will have large 6×12 (or even 6×11) compartments and the ability to selectively open portions of the house with minimal disruption. Easy to lower and SREH options show that your and your martins comes first.

Another Reason We Do Walk Unders!

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011
In case you still wonder why walk unders are important, yesterday brought another valuable reason.
Walk unders are basically the PMCA’s recommended daily action that a purple martin landlord should take. Walking under and around your purple martin housing can spot problems and issues just not visible from the comfort of your favorite watching spot like your lawn chair.
We know that things like wing entrapment can be spotted and birds saved…like we spoke of in THIS blog post. But yesterday brought a blown off gourd cap to our attention. Last year we received a report of a Plastic gourd cap not staying on. Then I had the problem arise myself after adding Coroplast Gourd Cap Liners to my gourds. First, coroplast liners are great, don’t get me wrong. They eliminate light that can filter in a gourd from gourd access caps. But the thickness of the liners can make the caps not screw on tightly. How do you know when the cap isn’t on tight? When you tighten the cap it will get to a point then when you tighten it a bit more it becomes instantly loose. Like the cap hopping the threading on the gourd and the cap can then pop right off. I have tried tightening the caps right up to that “to tight” point and have found that it just doesn’t work. The cap will pop off and usually it will do it at the worst possible time.

A few days ago, a line of fierce thunderstorms blew through the area. I had done nest checks two days before and noticed this loose cap on a plastic gourd with a ASY pair of purple martins. 6 eggs lay inside and I wanted to raise the gourd rack back up so the birds could return to incubate, so I left the repairs for another day. I had a feeling it would be a problem and made a mental note to fix it at the next nest check. Unfortunately problems never wait. When I came home some 4 hours after the storm I did a walk under and saw that the cap which faces away from the house was gone. The cap was tucked under a line of bushes many yards away. I lowered the housing and did a quick easy fix with electrical tape and noticed the eggs were warm! Apparently mailmen aren’t the only ones that will persevere. Not snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…how does it go? Well, long story short she had hunkered down on those eggs and kept then safe and dry and warm. Now hopefully they will still all hatch. Read how to fix your loose gourd caps here.

Any quick fix tips for other issues on your purple martin housing? Feel free to share them here with us!

Psalms 84:3
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,

Purple Martin Nest Material

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

So what do you use to put in those martin houses and gourds? Many of the available choices that some folks may use work great, some are a bad idea.


Typically the most commonly used prenest material is Pine Straw. Pine straw is just pine needles. It may differ in length and color depending on what kind of pine tree the needles are from but usually pine needles from Longleaf pine, Slash pine or White pine.

Leaves can also be quite water repellent. It really depends on the leaf. Oak are good. Small and flat they are safe.

Corn Fodder which is dried cut up corn stalks


Grass clippings are a bad choice. First, the grass absorbs water. This in itself is bad enough but then it can mat down and become compacted to the point where water will not easily penetrate. Making your gourd a pool of death.

cedar shavings, though easy to find at any petstore and quite cheap, are not a good choice. They absorb water and stay wet. If you ever use shavings in a cage for a rabbit or hamster, you know! Though I have used it in a pinch, you should try to avoid it.

Depending on what is around you will notice the martins at your site bringing many things to use as nest material. Long ornamental grasses, reeds, hay, even nails have been found in nests. Yes, I recently saw a photo of a martin nest that had over 100 long metal construction nails in the nest. What have you found or used in purple martin nests???

The most important thing to remember is that American’s have been altering the nature of purple martins for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years. Since martins have lost the instinct to nest in a natural cavity, we have a responsibility to care for these birds as part of our heritage as American’s…whether Native American, North American or United States of ‘American’.

Martins Starting to Bring in Nesting Material

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Finally, the martins are getting down to business. Though they may still be having minor squabbles on who lives where, the bringing in of nest material is a sure sign that nesting, egg laying and an onslaught of ASY purple martins are not to far away.

If you are a new purple martin landlord it is vital to play your purple martin dawnsong. Decoys should be up and though some folks report that the purple martins sometimes seem to attack decoys others don’t mind at all.

If you use artificial (plastic) purple martin gourds it is imperative that you place nesting materiel inside the gourds. The slick plastic can make it virtually impossible for the martin to exit the gourd which will leave them trapped inside. So for safety alone, placing nest materiel in the gourd is an important part of being prepared for the arrival of your martins. Of course an added bonus is that it keeps the gourd warm and ready for them when they arrive after a transcontinental migration. Purple martins won’t bring in nest materiel so they can have a warm comfy place to sleep but I am sure it is a welcome feeling for them when they do return.

No More Room, Martin Houses are Full!

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
morning vocalization

morning vocalization

Naples has just reported the first SY (subadult) Purple Martin of the season on 2/19 so I predict that nesting will be beginning at anytime, here in Florida.Keep playing that purple martin dawnsong and be ready for more birds, all wannabe landlords. Don’t give up!

The last few nights I have seen birds get turned away as night falls. I can almost swear (if I was the swearing type) that more than 2 birds are going into the same gourds. It seems several pairs are co-habitating at any given time. I have witnessed at least 4 birds enter a gourd last night and tonight, and unless these odd birds out are kicked out of the gourds after I go in, they must have stayed the night. I can assume it is not all to friendly in the gourd as I can see the gourd shaking a bit for a few minutes. I am torn as I consider putting up more housing, but then I remind myself that as many gourds or martin houses I put up, the birds would fill them. And do I really want a super colony? Well, actually that would be cool but between kids and tball and piano lessons and all the other “stuff” I would not be able to do them justice. Basically I wouldn’t be able to watch out for my birds the way I want. So until my kids are a bit older and can help with some of the purple martin things, the colony can stay as it is…well, maybe a few more gourds!

I will have to rededicate myself to trying to recruit others into this hobby that I love so much. I have considered having an “open yard” and invite locals to see my colony but the logistics has me confused. Do I do it now early in the season or wait till babies are being fed, do it in the morning or wait till dusk and watch them gather in their big flock before zooming in for the night? Would I rent a Porto-let or open my house to strangers? hmmmm

ASY’s Singing With Abandon

Friday, February 4th, 2011

The colony activity here in West Palm Beach has certainly kicked up a notch. The male purple martins are even heard singing while still in there gourds. I opened up the other gourd rack and filled them with pine straw. Artificial gourds should be filled with a few handfuls of pine straw to prevent them being unable to exit the slick plastic gourds. Even with the black traction strip in my Troyer Horizontal Gourds, they can be difficult, if not impossible to exit. So make sure you place some nesting material in those gourds. I know “some” ultra conservative birders may scoff at giving purple martins this help. They see it as unnecessary interference. But that thinking is flawed. It has nothing to do with altering nature but more to do with preventing a birds death by our hand.

The Purple Martin colonycam is up and averaging about 90% up-time.

Let’s Get Ready for Martin Season!

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Well, Christmas is over, Hanukkah is done. The holidays are past and now the planning has begun. Now is the time to plan ahead and nip any impending problems in the bud.

For example, those pulley ropes don’t last forever. Order them now and change them so that you don’t end up with a catastrophic scenario after your season has begun. You can usually replace the rope quite easily but what rope you choose to replace what is currently on your purple martin system is CRUCIAL.
Under NO circumstances should you use polypropylene rope, it is yellow in color and often used in marine applications. It is sometimes referred to as nylon rope or boat rope. Do not use it as it will degrade in the sunlight with UV rays and break. Natural fiber ropes are also a poor choice as all natural fibers will decompose by their nature.  Make sure you purchase real polyester rope or nylon rope. They even make ropes that are a combination of the two. They resist UV rays and are the best choices for outdoor use. We recommend bringing them out of the weather to get them to last longer- up to 10-12 years. Leaving them outside year round cuts their life expectancy to 5-8 years. Polyester rope is the best choice and easy to find.

Real nylon rope is harder to find. Look for solid, braided 100% nylon. It is white in color and is more elastic than polyester, so may require tightening due to stretching.

With any rope, look for wear and fraying.  Small tufts are normal. These tufts look like small feathers or hair sticking out of the rope.  If your rope becomes stiff and hard or begins to unbraid, then you should replace the rope. Whether you replace only the rope or the pulleys also, is up to you. Just make sure you oil with 3-1 oil, not WD-40. I was not aware that WD-40 is not really an oil but a water dispersant and will not adequately protect your pulley’s. (Thanks Diane!)

Storing My Purple Martin Gourds is EZ!

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

If you don’t want to call it “storing” I won’t blame you. The gourds didn’t get taken down and hopefully my little experiment in laziness will pay off.

What have I actually done? Well, the gourds were emptied, cleaned out with water and sprayed down with a dilute bleach solution. Then after a good air dry I simply bagged them up in kitchen garbage bags. I will see how the plastic holds up after a few months of the hot South Florida sun beating down on them. Hopefully the purple martin gourds will be none the worse for wear.

purple martin gourds storedNow this is an experiment so I will see how it goes and barring any hurricanes (kinda late, so I doubt it) the martin housing should be fine to wait it out. Now I do plan on replacing one of my pulley ropes on my older gourd rack. I have noticed some stiffness and minor frizz but no real fraying yet, but better to change them before my martins arrive in January than to have a problem arise in mid season.

When my birds do arrive I should be able to simply remove the bags and fill the nests with pine needles and be good to go…or so I think. But we all know how plans can work out.

Any other procrastinators out there?

SREH Wing Entrapment of Purple Martins

Monday, March 1st, 2010

So not even a week ago I wrote a blog entry entitled “Switching Martins From Round Entrances to SREH” and in that post I mentioned Wing Entrapment. Well this morning I look out my window and lo and behold a case of entrapment staring me in the face.

For those not familiar with wing entrapment, it is a phenomenon that is increasing due to the advent of SREH. It is basically when a martin gets stuck in the SREH (Starling Resistant Entrance Hole). Without removal the bird will ultimately die as will any birds that are stuck within the compartment itself. Though I am still a strong believer of SREH, entrapment highlights the need to be an active participant in the conservation of purple martins.

A customer asked me only today if getting Starling Resistant entrances were worth it with the threat of entrapment. My response was that the cases of death by starling would always be more common place. That the threats to adult martins, nestlings and eggs is much greater than the risk of entrapment. Never mind the fact that a martin house devoid of martins and producing starlings makes life difficult for all other cavity nesting birds. So in starling prone areas, SREH are a vital component that requires vigilance on the part of the martin landlord.package of weatherstripping foam

A case in point of why doing walk unders is so important. The ASY female would have surely died, had I not freed her. Oddly enough, no other martins were in the gourd. The worrisome part of this case of entrapment is that it occurred on a tunneled entrance that I had placed a wing entrapment protector made of 1/2″ insulation foam weather stripping. Placed above the Conley II entrance, the strip of stiff foam is supposed to (in theory) extend the distance from the foam tapeopening making it less likely for the bird to be able to lean against the opening and have a wing pop through and be stuck.

The PMCA has recently began selling (at cost) a plastic wing entrapment protector as part of a study to determine its effectiveness. The idea for those protectors came from the discussions on several purple martin forums. These discussions brought about the foam weatherstripping modification.

Here are the details of this case of wing entrapment.

1. SY male martins present this AM

2.Troyer horizontal gourd

3.Conley II entrance non-traction stripped tunnel (original)

4.Partially modified troyer neck (NOT cut all the way around as now recommended) though in looking at the interior of the martin she was stuck in such a way that this does not appear to be an issue. It almost seems that her body became stuck due to some conflict that was occurring on the outside of the gourd rather than a fight on the inside as what is usually seen.

wing entrapment tunnel interiorIt is important to note that entrapment can happen on any type of gourd or house that has SREH. My previous cases of entrapment have been on a troyer and on a S&K gourd. One with a Conley II entrance and one with a clinger entrance.

In the worst case scenario of delayed discovery of wing entrapment, the results can be devastating with the deaths of 1 or more birds. But through vigilance and monitoring of your site the benefits of using SREH entrances far outweigh the risks involved.  Though in satellite colonies or purple martin colonies that are not monitored daily, wing entrapment may be cause for more concern. Other techniques to control starling populations, a phone number to call if trouble is detected should perhaps be posted or even more frequent monitoring in the time frame where SY martins return, should be employed.


Happy New Year and a Baby Gouldian Update

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

The new year came in with a cold spell that makes it easy to put off putting up my purple martin house and gourd rack. But up they must go. As of last check, there are 11 purple martin sightings across Florida and several here on the East coast. So today, despite the temperatures hovering in the 40′s, I was outside braving hypothermia to at least get things organized. The housing is still not up but the gourds are laying out on the grass and the racks are oiled and ready. Pine straw awaits patiently, having been lovingly raked up by my husband. And hopefully tomorrow will see most of the work done.

I can’t wait to see the skies above my house filled with swirling and twirling purple martins and my ears with their chortles and song.

handfed gould babyBy popular request I am updating those interested in the progress of the 3 baby gouldians that I hand fed. From hatching. All 3 are doing great. There was in fact 2 boys and 1 girl as I had thought and the youngest boy will still land on my finger and perch a bit before fluttering around the room. His name is baby and he along with his brother and sister will probably remain with me.
Though the other two will come up to me and occasionally play with my fingers they are pretty much back to being birds and have no interest in being petted or played with. As it should be, but still…Baby’s friendliness to me touches my heart and I find myself especially fond of him. His attempts at song are still quite pathetic and they are all undergoing a molt so we will see how they feather in. “Baby” will most likely be a “red headed normal” for any familiar with gouldian genetics but he will be split to white breast as will his sister. His brother is a dilute but otherwise the same.