How many is enough?

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Posts: 677
Joined: Tue Apr 11, 2017 11:39 am
Location: Monroe, WI

I'm just wondering - how many purple martins do you feel you need to make you happy and content? I have a friend who keeps adding to their colony and I just feel if they would just be happy with what they have (well over 100) then their overflow would have to move on and find new housing and maybe start new colonies for other purple martin landlord hopefuls (like myself). It makes me sad to know that, while I sit here wishing and hoping and praying that I get some every year, others have so many and keep wanting more. So- in your own opinion, what number is enough to make you happy? Thanks.
Billie from south central Wisconsin
Posts: 830
Joined: Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:15 am
Location: Corpus Christi Tx
Martin Colony History: 2016- didnt know anything about martins, put up an all wrong house in 2016 and had two come by and inspect all the cavities. Left soon after not to return. Learned what i could on PMCA made adjustments and next year was successful.
2017- 5 pair. 15 fledged
2018- 18 pair. 85 fledged
2019- 17 pair. 81 fledged
2020- 25 pair. 111 fledged
Home colony: mix natural gourds, enlarged compartment house. All SREH.
Satelite colony: Oso Bay Preserve: 12 gourds: PMCA excluder gourds, 6 room trio mino castle with enlarged compartments.
2019: Visitors
2020: 3 pair, 11 fledged
PMCA member

Boy good question. When i first got that pair, then three more showed up to me it was bring them! I was ready (didnt have the space really to support them) to put up houses on all 4 corners of the property.
Now i balance with a few thoughts.
1. Health and well being of the martins. Does my site support a large population? Will it provide them food necessary to sucessfully raise and fledge chicks? Will a one year drout decimate my colony because i have a large number, you see the questions.
2. My own capabilities, not getting younger (true). Will i be able to keep a healthy colony going based on physical limitations or even financial ones.

I love the birds, they love life, are a real pleasure to have around and gives me the ability in a small way to make something that means alot (a species) a little better then i found it.

I will keep 14-16 cavities, that will keep me happy. In fact after watching the chaos and heck those fledgelings went through and the ability of a sharpe to ambush birds this year will reduce the number in back and put up 4 in the front. Ill be happy with healthy martins.
PMCA member, believer in nest checks, venting, SREH and pest/predator protection.
Brad Biddle
Posts: 523
Joined: Wed Feb 17, 2016 6:22 pm
Location: Marshall County AL

There is no right or wrong answer. Its up to everyone to decide for themselves. I like the noise and chaos of a large colony. I’ve offered 102 gourds for 13-14 years. Next year I will offer 150. If I was starting from scratch I’d love for my neighbor, or someone close to have 100+ pairs of Martins. Any one of my neighbors could put up housing and host Martins their first year. I’ve seen that happen already on the farm next to ours. The guy that bought the farm 12 years ago had tried to get Martins for 10 or more years at his old place without success. I told him where to put up his racks and he had around 10 pair his first year.
Martin landlord since 2003. Currently offering 132 plastic gourds with tunnels and all SREH.
Posts: 2962
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 8:49 am
Location: Indiana/Henry Co.

Since most of the martins that fledge from a site won't return to that site the larger the colony that is close to you the more likely you would be to get SY's the next year. Some people keep a smaller colony and take all measures necessary to manage every aspect of it, nest changes, routine nest checks, treatments, etc. It is likely that these people have a higher percentage of successful fledges. On the flip side there are people who have colonies so big that there is no way to watch every cavity, change every nest, etc., however those colonies fledge hundreds, if not thousands of young each year. Different people have different philosophies. At one time when I was younger I wanted to get to 100 pair. Now that I am back up to over 30 pair I don't think I want to deal with triple the numbers I have now. It can get very expensive to provide that many quality cavities. Storage and maintenance also becomes an issue. Maybe once I retire and my kids are out of the house I will try to get to those numbers but around 50 seems like a good number for me in my situation.
2020 Currently 42 nest, 110 babies, 64 eggs left to hatch(6-22-20) HOSP count-8
2019- 31 Pair over 100 fledged
2018- 15 pair last count 49 fledged
2017 3 SY pair nested, 12 eggs total, fledged 10. 4 additional SY's stayed all summer but never paired/nested.
2016 1 pair fledged 4
2015 Visitors
2014 Visitors
2013 Moved 6 miles away, 1 pair fledged 2.
2012 30 pair fledged 100.
2011 12 pair (11 that nested), 43 fledged.
2010 5 pair, 21 eggs, 16 hatched, 14 fledged.
Ed Svetich-WI
Posts: 798
Joined: Tue Jan 13, 2004 10:05 pm
Location: Brooks, Wi (McGinnis Lake)
Martin Colony History: 24 Super and Excluder Gourds on two gourd racks, all SREH. Full occupancy. My philosophy is to maximize fledge % with existing cavities rather than adding gourds to grow colony, thus providing opportunities for new colony expansion. Fledge over 100 nestlings yearly from 24 gourds. Band nestlings in cooperation with state university. 2019 Adendum: Reduced colony size to 12 gourds to focus on more intensive management regimen.


Here is my experience.It took a while but I persisted.

In many cases, one pair of martins is all it takes to make someone happy. I still remember that first SY pair. 12 cavities is a reasonable starting point for a potential martin colony in a good location. We often read here of hopeful martin landlords who purchase, or if they are capable, build 40 plus cavities. 12 large commercial gourds, gourd rack with all recommended add- ons can cost many hundreds of dollars. Some commercial housing is also pricey. As many of us know across the upper tier of martin territory, it can take years to attract martins, and then you have to pray they are successful and return the following year. If I had initially invested the almost $2000 that it would take today to purchase 24 gourds, two gourd racks, winches, owl guards, extra porches, predator guards, traps, attraction devices, etc.and then did not immediately attract martins, I would have buyers remorse at now having a very expensive yard ornament full of non native species. I recall at least one post here on the Forum when some disappointed landlord said that tree swallows would have to do.There is no guarantee in many areas of North America as our resident martin population is sparse or very localized.

12 pair of martins has been described as a "safe" number to assure that enough ASY and SY will survive the perils of migration to even make it back the following year.It is estimated that up to 50% of ASY and up to 75% of SY succumb every year, so you can see that a minimum number is necessary as baseline.

Aim for your first pair of martins, baby them and decide how large to grow your colony. And then remember that others out there are waiting for some of your SY to start their first colony.

Good luck,

Posts: 2126
Joined: Mon Apr 10, 2006 6:07 pm
Location: PA/Avis
Martin Colony History: The 1972 St. Agnes flood wiped out all the Martins in my area. One day, in 1997-98, 5 or 6 Martins landed on the power wires crossing my back yard. I had no house for them. They kept coming back day after day. We got a martin house a few weeks later & they have been coming back every year since. I average 12-15 pair per year.

I had 3 S&K 16 room barns. I downsized to two 10 room T-10 houses/new poles & winches. That's enough for me physically & financially. I live in town, so I also don't want to anger any neighbor's. I have heath issues that prevent me from taking care of anymore. The most I ever had at one time were 17 pair, plus 3 spare SY Males. There are no other colonies near me. There are several colonies on Amish farms, just over 10 miles south of me over the mountain, as the bird flies, further if you drive. I assume any of those I fledge may end up at the Amish colonies the following year. They keep adding housing. Most Amish will count eggs laid, but do no more.

When I reach the point I can no longer care for them, I know they will have a place to go on the Amish farms south of me. I've often wondered where those martins, that are in super colonies, will go if their landlord suddenly can't care for their colonies.

Toy in PA
PMCA Member
Posts: 778
Joined: Thu Jan 31, 2008 9:19 am
Location: Gladewater, Texas

The two thoughts that come to mind or predators.

If you have a small number of Martins each and every lost Martin is really detrimental.

That said when you have a lot of Martins each loss is less severe to the overall Colony. But the more Martins you have the more predators of all shapes& sizes will appear out of the wood work.

We had 65 pair this year and nature was kind. Some eggs were infertile and some young fledged a few days too early. But the vast majority made it through the process without complications.
2008 - 33 PAIR - FLEDGED 96 YOUNG
2009 - 51 PAIR - FLEDGED 166 YOUNG
2010 - 45 PAIR - FLEDGED 146 YOUNG
2011 - 33 PAIR - 128 HATCHED, 97 FLEDGED
2012 - 37 PAIR - 119 HATCHED, 101 FLEDGED
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