Protect Your Housing from
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
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
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
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Edinboro, PA 16444 USA