FAQ

TOP TEN QUESTIONS

Why can’t I attract Purple Martins?

Location is key for attracting Purple Martins. Make sure your martin housing is in a clear area, at least 30-40 feet away from any tall trees. Having active colony sites in the area will increase your chances of attracting. Using attraction techniques such as decoys or CD’s will help increase your chances.

Why did I lose my Purple Martins?

If an entire colony site is lost it is most commonly due to some type of predation; either from hawks, owls, snakes or raccoons. Other reasons for a colony site to abandon are competition from non-native species such as House Sparrows or European Starlings and tree encroachment.

I’m putting up another house, how far apart should they be?

There is no set distance apart the martin housing should be. Fifteen feet apart is enough distance that you can easily maneuver between the two systems, although they can also be farther apart.

In which direction should the martin housing face? North, east, south, or west?

Purple Martins do not have a directional preference. Although, if you normally have heavy winds and rains coming in from one direction try to face the entrances opposite. You can also have the entrances face the most open area if you have a less than ideal location.

My martins abandoned the site in the middle of the season, why?

If the martins abandoned eggs or nestlings then predation is the most likely answer. If you have been conducting regular nest checks and the nestlings were old enough to fledge they may have headed directly to a migratory roost.

Do I need predator guards?

YES! At any Purple Martin colony there is a chance for a predator attack. Snakes and raccoons can easily climb wood or metal, round or square poles and aerial predators such as hawks and owls are everywhere. Predator guards help protect your martin colony before there is a problem.

Where are the martins currently?

Check the PMCA’s Scout-Arrival Map for an up-to-date view on Purple Martin arrivals.

How do I deal with nest parasites?

A small amount of parasites are normal in any Purple Martin nest, however the nest can quickly be overrun with mites, fleas, and blowflies. By conducting regular nest checks every 5-7 days, you can spot any blowflies on the nestlings or mites and fleas in the nests or on the outside of the housing. Cleaning out the old nesting material and replacing it with fresh will help remove the majority of parasites.  We do not recommend the use of any pesticides in or around martin nests.

My martins are hungry! What should I do?

Cold, wet weather or drought can make food scarce for martins. Offering supplemental food like crickets or mealworms can help sustain your martins through periods of extreme weather. If your martins are perched outside the housing, try offering crickets by tossing them in the air near the housing. It may take some time for the martins to accept supplemental food.

My martin housing is being taken over by other birds, what do I do?

First, determine the species of bird. If they are a native species such as a bluebird or Tree Swallow, offer alternate housing and keep the entrances of the martin housing closed until they have accepted the new housing. If the species is a non-native House Sparrow or starling they can be removed by either trapping or shooting.

ATTRACTING PURPLE MARTINS

How do I attract Purple Martins?

If you are located within the Purple Martin breeding range, the most important factor in attracting Purple Martins is the housing location. Be sure the martin housing is located in an open area with clear flyways. Strive to have your housing at least 30-40 feet away from any tall trees.

Martins visit, but why can’t I get them to stay?

If it’s at the beginning of the season martins will sometimes use colony sites as ‘stopovers,’ resting before flying back to the colony site they nested at the previous year. They could also be birds from a nearby colony site. Martins are social creatures, so they will go out visiting other colonies during the day. Even though they may not be interested in nesting at your colony site, it’s still a good sign--there are Purple Martins in your area and the housing is in a good location.

When do I put up the housing?

You can put up your martin housing a few weeks before the martins are due to arrive in your area, but keep the entrances closed. This will help deter other native and non-native cavity-nesting birds such as Tree Swallows, bluebirds, House Sparrows and starlings from claiming the housing.

When do I open the entrances?

Keep the entrances of the housing closed until the birds begin to arrive back from migration. Study the Purple Martin arrival map to estimate the arrival date of martins in your area. Have your housing up, but with the entrances closed when the adults are due to arrive. Purple Martins exhibit site fidelity, which means that as long as they had a successful breeding season the year before they will return to that same nesting site. If you are trying to attract Purple Martins you can have your housing up, with entrances closed when the adults are due to arrive. But your best chance will be the subadults, or SY (second year) birds. Subadults are the nestlings that fledged last season. The majority of subadults will nest at new colony sites within the same general area as their natal sites. Through our banding studies we’ve discovered that only about 15% of the young return to nest at the same site they fledged from.

HOUSING

What kind of housing should I get: house OR gourds?

Why not both? Purple Martins will use both gourds and housing, and it can remain the preference of the martin landlord. Whichever type of housing, be sure that it meets some basic requirements: larger cavities sizes (approximately 6”x11”), accessible cavities, and the ability to raise and lower the system.

How many cavities should I offer?

Martins are colonial nesters, so they like to nest alongside other martins. You should have at least 4 cavities when you are starting out, although 6 cavities are more attractive.

I’m putting up another house, how far apart should they be?

There is no set distance apart the martin housing should be. Fifteen feet apart is enough distance that you can easily maneuver between the two systems, although they can also be farther apart.

I need to replace old housing, will my martins abandon?

If you are replacing the house with an identical house (or gourd rack) there shouldn’t be any problem. A drastic change to a completely different style of house (i.e. from a house to a gourd rack) could disrupt the colony site. If possible, leave the old housing alongside the new housing up for one season.

What are SREH?

SREH stands for Starling-Resistant Entrance Holes. These are entrances that will help prevent the non-native European Starlings from nesting in Purple Martin housing while still allowing the martins to enter. There are different types of starling-resistant entrances, the most popular are the crescent, Excluder, Modified Excluder, Excluder II, and Conley II.

I have SREHS and my martins can’t get in!

If your martins are not used to the more restrictive entrances there is a learning curve to the SREHs. Some martins will take to the new entrances right away, others can take several hours or even days to learn the new entrance. You will often see them stick their heads in and out of the cavity, wiggle around, or fly to a different entrance. While the SREH’s are shorter, they are also wider than a regular round entrance. This gives the martins a little more room to spread out their wings and enter. Once the martins have learned how to enter the starling-resistant entrances, they do so much more quickly.

MANAGING

Should I do nest checks?

Yes! Not only do regular nest checks help you manage your colony they are also a lot of fun! Nest checks are a great learning tool for both the young and the old. Martins will not abandon their colony site due to a nest check or nest replacement.

How?

Follow the guidelines here. Nest checks should be done during the afternoon hours. Avoid lowering the housing in the early morning or late evening.

What kind of nesting material should I use?

We use pine straw (long soft dried needles from a white pine), using a few handfuls in each cavity. You can also use cedar shavings, commonly sold as hamster bedding.

PREDATORS

Do I have predators in my area?

Yes! Predators are everywhere when your colony site is located in a rural or suburban area. Hawks, owls, raccoons and snakes are some of the common predators of Purple Martins and they can be found all throughout the martins range.

How do I know if there has been a predator attack?

With hawks and owls you may see feathers or entire wings below the housing, or doors ripped off. If you discover missing eggs or young a snake could be the culprit. If you find blood and feathers, it may be a raccoon.

How do I prevent it?

Predator guards are the best defense. Baffles, which attach around the pole help prevent snakes and raccoons from climbing the pole. Guards in front of gourds, or cages in front of housing cavities help prevent owls and hawks from reaching inside. Martins will nest in the back of the cavities so larger cavities will help martins to stay out of reach.

Will my colony site recover after a predation attack?

It can. The most important thing is to make sure that the housing is protected right away. Once a predator knows where there is a food source they may be back again. If some martins return to the colony site after the attack they may attempt to renest.

WEATHER

Does cold weather affect Purple Martins?

Martins can handle cooler temperatures, it’s the lack of food that is the most concerning. Purple Martins are aerial insectivores, so when temperatures are cool or it is rainy from more than three days the martins cannot find enough food.

How can I help?

Supplemental feeding, with crickets, mealworms, or scrambled eggs can help sustain your martins through bad weather. Follow the steps found here.

COMPETITORS

I have Bluebirds/Tree Swallows/House Wrens interested in my martin housing, what do I do?

While Tree Swallows and bluebirds are wonderful native species, they may try to take over your martin housing. You can successfully raise Tree Swallows, bluebirds and Purple Martins at the same colony site, as long as you follow guidelines. Normally Tree Swallows and bluebirds arrive before Purple Martins. Keep your martin housing entrances closed off if you see any native species taking an interest in the housing. Offer alternative housing (a single-unit gourd or bluebird box) 30-50 feet away from the martin housing. Once the swallows or bluebirds have claimed the alternate housing you may open up a few entrances on the martin housing.

Why are my martins building a mud nest on my porch?

Those are Barn Swallows, a member of the swallow family. They do not complete with martins for housing. Barn Swallows are also aerial insectivores so they will help eat insects and add enjoyment to your colony site.

How do I keep out House Sparrows and starlings?

Both House Sparrows and European Starlings are non-native species and are not protected under any migratory laws. The easiest way to control the species are by means of trapping or shooting. Many traps are available, you can choose either cavity traps when they are interested in nesting or bait traps during the non-nesting season.