Purple Martins: High Flying Friends

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My aunt married a gentleman named Martin. To complete the landscape at the Martins' house she put up a purple martin birdhouse. This is where I had my first experience watching purple martins come zooming into their multi-chambered house in the middle of the field. I was awakened by the chirping sound of the martins early in the morning and learned to appreciate this semi-domesticated bird.

Purple Martins spend the winter in South America, especially Brazil and Argentina. They come north in the spring to mate. They can be found from Mexico to southern Canada and along the west coast and in the desert southwest of the USA. However, their primary nesting area is east of the Rockies in the US.

Man and purple martins have enjoyed each other's company for years. The Native Americans discovered that purple martins would nest in a gourd that had a hole cut in one side. The Native Americans were glad to have the martins around because they chased off other birds and ate insects that destroyed the crops. When settlers from Europe arrived they quickly realized the advantage of having purple martins nearby and they would set up gourd houses also. As development occurred, the natural cavities disappeared and purple martins were forced to use human provided housing. Today purple martins, especially those east of the Rocky Mountains, are absolutely dependent on humans to provide nesting areas for them.

Why would someone want to provide lodging for purple martins or become landlords as those who provide housing are called? There are lots of reasons to want purple martins around:

1. Martins love to be around humans. The more human activity, the more martins seem to enjoy it. Eventually people become part of their landscape and they don't fly away like most other birds do when humans come around.

2. Purple martins can put on quite an aerial show. They are very good flyers, averaging 17 to 27 miles an hour. They can dive, they can glide and they can entertain for hours.

3. They have a very pleasant chirping song which they will sing for hours.

4. Martins are very loyal. When they start living in the housing you have provided they will be back year after year.

Some people want to attract purple martins because they believe the purple martins eat mosquitoes. Purple martins are insect eaters but they seldom eat mosquitoes. Martins eat during the day and very high up in the air. Most mosquitoes come out at night and stay close to the ground. Purple martins and mosquitoes seldom cross paths.

If you do decide to become a landlord, you do have responsibilities to help the purple martins. You must assist in their fight against the European starling and the English house sparrow.

Purple martins need help with housing not just because they grew accustomed to it but also because of the introduction of the European starling and the English house sparrow in the early 1800s. They are cavity dwelling birds just like purple martins and bluebirds. These newcomers are very aggressive and have caused both of these native species much trouble since their arrival. They will take over nesting places even after purple martins have established their nests. European starlings and English house sparrows have been known to destroy the eggs of purple martins or even kill adult martins. You will need to help the purple martins fend off these enemies by:

1. Using starling resistant crescent shaped entrances to the martin houses.

2. Monitoring the martin houses for sparrow or starling activity Purple martin houses are generally mounted 12 to 15 feet in the air so a landlord will need a pole that will easily allow the house to be lowered to the ground and checked for European starling or English house sparrow activity.

3. Setting sparrow traps to capture sparrows trying to enter the martin houses. When you capture a sparrow it must be relocated far away or destroyed.

After protecting the martins from European starlings and English house sparrows, you need to protect then from other predators like raccoons, squirrels and snakes. Generally some type of pole guard or barrier will do the trick. Even though the houses are 12 to 15 feet above the ground, snakes, cats, squirrels, etc can climb that high.

The main predator to purple martins is the owl. They fly to the houses, latch on and reach inside to get whatever they can. It is very hard to protect against owls. In general, if there are owls around your house you probably shouldn't try to attract purple martins.

What kind of a house do martins prefer? They like a white house, probably because it is cooler than any other color. They like a large house at least 6" x 6" but bigger is better. They are not as territorial as other birds so they like being close together. They want their houses high (12 to 15 feet above the ground) and away from trees. A large body of water close by is a plus. Purple martins eat and drink on the fly. So they will never use a bird feeder and almost never a bird bath. They have been known to use swimming pools.

Yes purple martins can take work but many people find that it is worthwhile to have these loyal, gregarious, high flying friends for years

Gardening Articles: http://organicgardenarticles.com/

Author: B J Clyde
B J clyde is an avid birdwatcher and President of www.birdwatchersdepot.com. For a selection of quality purple martin houses go to www.birdwatchersdepot.com/houses_purple_martin

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