2010-01-14 / General Stories

Getting Ready for Purple Martins

Purple Martins are attractive songbirds which have entertained country residents for countless hours with their singing and activities near their nests. They have spent hundreds of years in association with people and depend upon them to provide nest houses. They are a very popular songbird in Texas.

Purple Martins leave Texas in late summer and early fall for their South American winter grounds. They spend their winter foraging on insects over tropical landscapes and roost in massive concentrations at night. When they leave the roost site, the large number of birds can be observed on weather radars.

Small groups of adult males start returning from their winter homes in South America during January. They will be followed weeks later by adult females. Younger birds will start arriving later in the spring. Will you be ready for them?

Helpful hints to get you started are listed below from the Purple Martin Conservation Association www.purplemartin.org and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (The Purple Martin and its Management in Texas –

booklet W7100-254).

Location for housing: Center of largest open spot available and about 30-120 feet from buildings. Nest houses should be no closer than 60 feet from trees. House placement near lakes or streams is preferred.

Poles: Nest houses should be placed on poles that telescope, or are equipped with a winch or lanyard to lift housing vertically 10-20 feet above the ground. This allows for weekly nest checks to take care of problems.

Housing: Can be natural or plastic gourds, or bird houses. Rooms in the bird houses should be at least 7 inches wide, 6 inches high and 12 inches deep. Gourds should be 8-13 inches in diameter. Martin managers have found that the traditional 6”X6”X6” rooms were too small for 2 adults and 5 babies and many people are switching to the larger room formats.

Entrance Holes: Construct 2-1/ 8 inch diameter entrances 1 inch above the floor.

How many rooms? Housing should provide at least 4 rooms because martins are social birds and are not likely to use sites with less housing.

Predators: Fire ants, snakes and raccoons are serious predators of

martins and the poles under the houses should be equipped with animal climbing barriers.

Open House Date: Housing should be ready for martin use in coastal Texas during January for sites which already have martins.

Sites trying to attract martins

should focus on attracting young males which will start arriving in March. Providing housing earlier than this allows for House Sparrows and starlings to occupy your bird houses/gourds before the martins arrive.

These were quick pointers to get you started. There are many issues you need to study in order to make sound decisions. Style of recommended housing and entrances vary depending on climates and competition for bird houses. Different styles of predator deterrents may be needed depending on which species are causing problems. Weekly nest checks are recommended to control serious problems before they destroy the martin colony.

If you would like to contact your local biologist, see our website at; http:// www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ wildlifebiologist.

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