The First Wave

First Martin Arrival-Are you waiting?

A few reports have come into Ontario about Purple Martins arriving at some of the colonies on the shores of Lake Erie during the last couple of days. (April 5-6, 2018).  This is the beginning of the Purple Martin Landlord rush. Telephones start ringing and Facebook reports begin anew. The older landlord’s enthusiasm goes wild. Landlords are anxiously looking out their windows and trying to see that first martin. It won’t be long. Landlords comment, “They will be here this week”.

REMEMBER, that the first arrivals at colonies are arriving at older colonies in most instances.  The older the colony,the earlier the first arrival. In particular, those along waterways seem to profit from this early arrival. If you look at the PMCA scout arrival map, you can actually note how many years the scouts have been arriving at that particular older colony. Sometimes, it becomes a landlord competition to see who gets martins first. If you are one who wants to get martins for the first time the next section will help.

I always try to have at least one housing system up when I hear that the martins are close to home. One or two holes are left open so the early bird has a place to go and visually sees available compartments. After that I am not in a hurry to get the remaining houses up until I see the returning martins tell me where they want to go. Yes, they will fly to a house numerous times to try to claim a compartment they nested in the previous year.  If it is not available they will spend time at the one that has been opened. Eventually, I realize that the martin will spend an inordinate amount of time at one compartment and then I open that compartment. So landlords with older established colonies have better luck at getting their early birds first.

Trying To Get Martins?

So what do you do when you are trying to get martins and are unsuccessful year after  year. I can’t give you a clear answer. Some potential landlords have all their checklists in place and do everything correctly to attract martins. Others who do not follow a set of suggested attraction rules often get them right off the bat. Various authors have suggested a list of particulars that should be followed, like a prescription to help you get Purple Martins.  It is especially frustrating when less than a kilometer away, Purple Martins are in abundance.

There are more factors that we do not have real control over. I tried for over twenty years to attract a colony in a rural setting but only attracted Tree Swallows. When I moved by the Lake, I ended up with 24 pair the first season.  Go figure. Micro climates and numerous insects have a lot to do with attracting martins. The more martins in the area, the better the chance  for starting a colony.

Second Year Martins Arrive Later

Potential landlords are reminded that your opportunity to attract martins may be more likely if you remember that first Second Year martins arrive later. I started my martin colony just three years ago and it started with Second Year Purple Martins. The male typically does not have the steely blue/purple colour and the male and female almost look the same. They are inexperienced at nesting, at laying eggs and at raising a family. Sometimes these teenagers are successful and at other times they abandon their colony when their eggs do not hatch.

A good tip for increasing your chances to attract your first martins  is to put your housing up later when the Second Year Purple Martins are arriving. Plug the holes to keep out unwanted sparrows and starlings and other competitive species. If a martin arrives, lower your house and unplug a couple of holes and watch them as they move in and out of your housing. They may not stay all day but they may come back day after day until they make up their minds about which site or housing is suitable. They can be very finicky.

Here in Southern Ontario, the Second Year birds arrive the second/ third week in May and as late as the second week in June. Often the late arriving martins have a successful season.  Don’t despair and agonize that you may have missed the wave of scouts over the next few weeks.  If in doubt, contact a local landlord in your area who has Purple Martins and ask if the SY martins have arrived.

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