Purple Martins are recognized for their hauntingly beautiful song. With a length of 7-8 inches, they are the largest North American swallow. Depending on how the light hits, they can look purple, blue or even green. The beloved martins are social birds, with nesting colonies that can include hundreds of paired birds. Roosting colonies have been seen to include tens of thousands of birds. The largest one ever on record had an estimated 700,000 birds at one time.
If Purple Martins are given ample space to nest, they are happy to from large colonies. When you put up a Martin bird house, consider it to be akin to having a miniature neighborhood inside your backyard.
What Purple Martins Require to Thrive
Martins require a different type of bird house as they like to nest in great numbers. When putting up a Martin house, many birders will do two or more large bird houses and even add some nesting gourds nearby.
These birds want to be as close to each other as possible. The bird houses need to be at least five feet off the ground to attract the Purple Martins.
These lovely songbirds do most of their feeding between 160-500 feet high, leaving the rumor that they consume up to 2,000 mosquitoes a day still questionable since mosquitoes are less likely to be found at those heights. They will also feed their nestlings up to almost 60 times a day, feeding them a wide variety of high-protein insects. Martins will even drink in midair by scooping water into their bills as they fly over a viable water source.
Older birds will choose the better nesting sites because they are the last to migrate. Typically males will migrate first, then the females and finally the younger birds.
For these reasons, once a Martin bird house is established the entrance to the housing should always be kept in the same orientation. If the house is moved, and not reoriented, Martians may become confused and abandon their nests.
Choose the right location for the bird housing. Purple Martins thrive on housing place in wide open areas so they can have clear flyways. Try to mount the bird house about 30 -120 feet from human homes and at least 40-60 feet from any trees. Always put some distance between bird feeders, baths, and bird houses. This could affect the comfort of a number of bird species which do not thrive on too much feathered traffic.
Speaking of unwanted traffic, to keep predators at bay, pay close attention to any wires, trees, jumping platforms which make it easy to access the bird houses. There are ways to keep unwanted fur visitors away from birds.
Many birders will go extra steps to ensure their bird houses are perfect for their feathered family. For proper ventilation and drainage, small holes or slits just below the eaves of the roof will allow air to flow in. Drainage holes in the corners of the floor or along the wall helps to keep the bird house clean.
Cavity-nesting birds like Purple Martins do not need perches. Perches only help predators to hang on and explore inside the bird house. Martins prefer to cling to the outside of the box, especially if it is weathered natural wood.
While Purple Martins will reuse their home year after year, they use fresh nesting materials each time. Their favorite materials include human or animal hair, yarn, feathers, soft grasses, small pieces of fabric and pine needles. Some bird enthusiasts will create a little netting filled with various materials and hang it near nesting boxes as treasures for the Martin’s redecorating.
Remember once a year (when the birds have migrated) to take down the bird house and clean it out. It is okay to remove the old nesting material. Use a mild bleach solution and a stiff brush to kill mites or parasites. When the Martins return, it will be like coming home to a new house.
To give you an idea of a perfect Purple Martin bird house, we have presented our favorite pick here. This is a perfect set-up for the whole colony. The entrance holes are small enough to keep predators at bay, along with the L-shaped design inside. Each compartment features two separate areas, one if for the nesting chicks and the other one is for the parents to sleep in.