Choosing Martin Housing for the Following Reasons:
- Vertical Accessibility
- Height and Installation of Pole
- Compartment size
- Compartment accessibility
- Entrance holes
- Material suitability
- Use of predator guards
- Other recommendations
Martin housing should raise and lower vertically on a telescoping pole, lanyard, or winch system. Housing will need to be lowered—sometimes on a daily basis—to remove House Sparrow and European Starling nests. Regular monitoring of active martin nests is essential; landlords who do not monitor their colony will not know if they are losing martins to snakes, owls, hawks, parasite infestation, weather, etc. Early detection allows landlords to fix problems before they affect the entire martin colony.
Height and Installation of Pole
The recommended height is 12′-20’. The higher the housing is placed, the more susceptible it is to wind damage. Usually, a height of 13′ is the average most landlords use to prevent the pole from being damaged by the wind. Poles should be set in concrete, with 18”-25” below ground and the concrete base wide enough to prevent it from shifting in the ground . Many manufacturers offer mounting sockets or stakes, so that landlords can relocate or remove their poles to a new location.
The minimum size for compartments is 6” x 6”, but research has shown that larger compartments (measuring 7” x 12” from front to back) offer greater protection from predators and the elements, and will keep nestlings more comfortable. Gourds should be no less than 8” in diameter, with gourds in the 10-12” range being ideal. Adult martins are 8” long, so compartments must be large enough to accommodate 4-6 nearly grown nestlings and both parents. Houses with smaller rooms can be remodeled to offer larger, two-room suites.
Access to individual compartments during the nesting season is essential, allowing for monitoring, trapping and/or removal of House Sparrow and starling nests or other predators. Access doors can be added to natural gourds.
Traditional round entrance holes are generally 2-1/8” in diameter, but a range between 1-3/4” and 2-1/4” is acceptable. Round entrances should be placed 1” to 1-1/2” above the floor or porch. The crescent, starling-resistant hole (1-3/16” tall x 2-3/4” to 3” wide) should be placed so the bottom of the entrance is flush with the compartment floor, or not more than 1/4” below it. With gourds, a porch is not required with a starling-resistant entrance, although many landlords use them. There are other entrances as well that offer similar protection so do some research before installing them.
Aluminum, thick plastic, wood, and natural gourds are all suitable materials for martin housing, provided that the exterior of the house is white in color. White reflects heat, keeping housing cooler in hot temperatures. Wooden housing should be made from untreated material only. Wood 3/4” thick will provide better insulation against heat and cold. Cedar, cypress, or redwood works well. Plastic houses and gourds should be of thick (preferably UV-resistant) material, and should not allow light to filter through the walls. Transparency creates a “greenhouse effect”; the heat can be deadly for nestlings. A layer of insulation in the attic of plastic or metal housing will protect martins during periods of extreme temperatures.
Use of Predator Guards
Predator guards should be installed on all active housing. Any type or size of pole, wood or metal, is easily climbed by snakes, raccoons, and squirrels. Pole guardsare commercially available, but landlords can also make their own. The top of the pole guard should be at least 4’ above ground; if it’s lower, large raccoons and snakes may bypass the guard. Aerial predators like hawks, owls, and crows commonlyraid martin housing. Conventional 6” x 6” compartments do not offer much protection from these predators, who can reach nestlings in shallow rooms. Larger compartments will allow martins to build their nests further from the entrance, and out of a predator’s reach. All housing—even housing with deep compartments— should be equipped with an external owl guard. If commercial guards are not available, landlords can fasten hardware cloth (2” x 4”mesh) to the outside of the house or gourd rack, creating a protective cage that can be removed for nest checks.
Newer and better martin housing continues to evolve to improve the purple martin housing situation. Depending on your geographic location, it is always prudent to check your area to see what is working best for the local martins. What may appear the best in one geographic area is not always suitable in yours. Purple martins in the northern areas require housing with top insulating qualities so aluminum or plastic housing may not be suitable unless it is retrofitted. All of the above recommendations may be further fine tuned due to geographic location. Just because a housing system is expensive should not be the only criteria for housing system determination. Nor should the cheapest be chosen as you will have to upgrade or change your housing sooner or later. WORST yet is cheap housing that will not stand up to poor weather conditions or predation.
Purple Martin housing, equipment and accessories are readily available online as well as through local retailers. Here is just a sampling of online sources that may be of interest to those wishing to begin or upgrade their colony sites. Be sure to review the previous information to select the best housing for the purple martins in your geographic area. Consult with other landlords as well for suitability in your area.
- Natural Insect Control……exclusive Canadian Distributor for Erva/Nature House products and they carry all the Nature House Martin Houses and Accessories including the Martin House Protector .
- Northern Sky’s Purple Martin Colony …..Bob Buskas’s site for some fine wooden housing.
- Entrances by Sandy…..Sandy will match/make an entrance hole to meet your individual housing need.
- Jacob’s Birdhouse Company……some vintage and vintage adapted housing are available from Jacob’s
- Creative Universe Enterprises……Diane and Bob have been making Purple Martin products since 1989 including poles for gourds and aluminum houses, owl guards, perching arms, sparrow traps, etc. Their online store offers a variety of Martin equipment as well as interesting information.
- Nature Society … the original purple martin organization, established in 1962 in Griggsville, Illinois and the home for purple martin information and products.
- Nature House Catalog….continues to be the original manufacturer of the Trio line of housing since the early sixties . Place and order by calling them in Chicago at 800-255-2692 or by ordering online.
- Purple Martins R Us ….lots of merchandise and interesting martin material are available online. Enjoy Sue’s purple martin webcam.
- S&K Manufacturing ….Dave offers lots of plastic gourds and plastic housing on his website .
- Purple Martin Research Group….a forum for discussing purple martin products and innovations.
- Heritage Farms…….. Quad Pod Housing system seller and other purple martin housing and gourds.
- Northern Dipper Gourds……natural gourds are available for purchase from this Ontario vendor.
- Amish Gourds home of Pennsylvania martin gourds and martin products.
- The Bird’s Paradise is the home of Troyer’s T-14 wooden Purple Martin house, featuring 14 compartments 11 inches deep. There are several gourd options available as well: The Troyer Horizontal Gourd and The Troyer Vertical Gourd. Call them for your free catalog as they do not have a website. The Birds’ Paradise 20835 Morris Road, Conneautville PA 16406 Phone:1- 800-872-0103