Managing Purple Martins
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Protect Your Housing from Predators

Once you attract Purple Martins, don't assume that because you never see any predators there are none around.  Raccoons, snakes, and owls raid bird houses at night.  Few experiences are more painful than losing all your martins because you didn't equip your poles and housing with guards.  Since all martin poles, wood or metal, are easily climbed by rat snakes, squirrels, and raccoons, the poles require climbing animal barriers.  You can install guards before or after your martins have arrived.  In areas with fire ants, Teflon spray or tape or a ring of petroleum jelly (or grease) on the pole, will stop the ants.  Grease won't stop snakes or raccoons, so install a pole guard, too.  External guards on the housing itself protect against owls, hawks, and crows.

Conduct Weekly Nest Checks, Daily Walk-Unders, and Keep Written  Records.

Although many landlords are reluctant to check on their tenants during the nesting season, it's one of the most valuable practices landlords can adopt.  Nest checks will not cause martins to abandon their young.  If your martin housing raises and lowers vertically, as it should, number the compartments, check nests weekly, and keep written records.  Landlords who conduct regular nest checks will  be more successful, simply because they'll discover any problems that occur in time to correct them.  In addition to weekly checks, walk under the housing daily to look for plucked martin feathers, shed owl feathers, cast owl pellets, thrown-out nestlings, hatched eggshells, etc.  The items you find are clues to what's going on and may alert you to problems that need your attention.  We strongly urge you to register your colony site with the Purple Martin Conservation Association and to participate in its "Project Martinwatch."

Supply These Aids

Crushed eggshell or oyster shell is a valuable dietary supplement that supplies calcium and grit, and helps prevent calcium deficiencies in nestlings.  Offer it all season in an elevated platform feeder.  Eggshells should be rinsed, dried thoroughly in a 200-degree oven (to kill bacteria), then crushed in small pieces.  Landlords can supply nest material by scattering dried pine needles (long, soft ones such as White Pine), dry twigs, or a bale of straw in an open area.  Create a supply of mud nearby for nest building.  During martin-killing weather extremes, toss crickets or mealworms to you martins.

Be Prepared for Problems

Keep the phone number of a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or your state wildlife agency handy; they are a sick or injured bird's best chance for survival.  Place fallouts back in their own nest (your records will help).  If that's not possible, take them to a rehabber.  Don't try to raise them yourself; it's illegal and your good intentions cannot replace the experience of a rehab specialist. If parasites or wet nests threaten the survival of nestlings, replace the nest material with clean, dry wood shavings or pine straw.  Never use pesticides in nest boxes; it's illegal and they are not safe for the birds.

Practice Active Management by Controlling House Sparrows and European Starlings

Starlings and House Sparrows will take over compartments, destroy eggs, and kill nestlings.  They can also prevent purple martins from nesting at unestablished sites.  Adult martins are often injured or killed by starlings.  Successful Purple Martin landlords do not tolerate these nonnative nest-site competitors.  Starlings and House Sparrows are not protected (since they are not native birds) and may be controlled by trapping, shooting, and nest tear-outs.  You can also use starling-resistant entrances (cut crescent entrances 1-3/16" high by 3" wide, and place no higher than 1/2" above the porch floor).  If native birds (Tree Swallows, wrens, bluebirds, or flycatchers) try to nest in your martin housing, close it and put up single unit boxes for these desirable species elsewhere on your property.  Reopen the martin housing once the new box has been accepted.

Keep Your Housing in Good Repair

Remove nests and scrub housing with a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water). Rinse and air dry before storing or closing for the winter.  Take care of any needed repairs now, so you won't be caught unprepared next spring. All types of housing will last longer if stored indoors over the winter. If housing is left out, plug the holes, otherwise House Sparrows and starlings will claim it in late winter and be impossible to dislodge come spring

Read more: Attracting Purple Martins to your Nesting Site

For information on the Purple Martin Conservation Association and receiving their quarterly Purple Martin Update magazine, visit their web site, phone, or write.

Purple Martin Conservation Association
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Edinboro, PA  16444  USA


Purple Martins

Purple Martin photographs are used by permission of
The Purple Martin Conservation Association and James R. Hill, III

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