How do you get Purple Martins to come & stay at your location?
Many potential landlords think that by just putting up a bird house for martins that they will actually get them right away. Sometimes people get lucky but today this is not usually the case. Below you will find several suggestions to get you started as well as other management tips from experienced martin landlords. There are usually some important protocols to be followed so give some of these a try. At least you will be able to say that you at least tried them. Variations to the techniques can then be made. Once you have purple martins at your site, it is important that you remember that the species is in decline and conservation of the species at your colony depends on proper management. Do some research before putting up just any martin house. Sometimes, landlords fail to attract martins to their site since there are very few martins in their part of the province or they are in decline in their area. As a result, it doesn’t hurt to add martin song or decoys to the set up.
Offer Suitable Housing
Since purple martins like to live in colonies, it is best to offer housing with several compartments or single housing in a larger array. These come in wood, plastic, and aluminum. Modifications to these can be made to suit your location.You may wish to use a few round holes to start and then change over to suitable starling resistant holes if they become problematic. Some types are found in the photo below. The critical key to excluding starlings is to maintain the 1 3/16″ hole height so the martin can enter.
Placement of Housing
Housing should be placed at least 20 -40 feet away from trees, buildings, or other structures to avoid any problems with predator intrusion. If you have a water source nearby, this is a bonus as martins like to be near water. Housing located on bodies of water often fair better than land based housing. Martins will often leave their housing to go to water to drink and bathe and seek out insect life.
Purple Martin Songs/Decoys
Playing recorded Purple Martin songs particularly early in the morning or throughout the day can attract Martins to check out your housing, although it may not guarantee they will remain and nest. Having a purple martin decoy placed on your housing will often lure young first year martins to your site. These are the purple martins that usually start new colonies. It is important to cease playing the tape if hawks are in the area as this will attract them to your site if it is played too often or too long during the day.
Keep the Competition Away
Today Starlings and House Sparrows are the most common problem invasive species around purple martin colonies and will often establish their presence at your housing before the martins take up residence. Closing up holes in the housing before martins arrive will discourage the invasive species but they will reappear when the martins arrive and cause further problems by fighting with the martins or by destroying their nest and eggs. The key is to alleviate the source of the problem. If you have a house with just round entrance holes, you may even wish to have some starling resistant entrances installed on your housing to prevent the starlings from starting to nest. There are several website articles on dealing with these species and encouraging martins to stay.
Start a Nest
When you open up a couple of martin compartments for the martins, make it welcome for the visitors. Introduce some twigs, soy bean straw, wheat straw, cedar chips, or pine needles on the floor of the housing to look like it’s been lived in. They should be cut into martin manageable pieces if the martin wants to do some rearranging. Smear some mud at the front door and on the back walls to design that lived in look and follow Del McKinnon’s suggestions below.
Purple Martin Lures and Attractants
Often potential landlords have followed the necessary steps to get housing ready but still do not get martins. Try the following suggestions and this may assist in getting that first pair. Martins love prebuilt nests, especially the young SY birds, they arrive later in the season, they are rookies at nest building and are also hard pressed for time. So a pre-built nest is very inviting to them. You can greatly increase your chances of getting them to stay and nest at your site with a pre-built nest. Using the dense Styrofoam (blue or pink) as sub floor about 1/2″ to 1″ thick helps to keep the nestlings warm, and also supplies good traction for their feet avoiding leg splaying when they grow . The females often will scratch out their own nest bowl in it themselves. Place a 1/2″ to 1″ thick Styrofoam on the compartment floor (or nest tray floor behind the perch). Then paint the Styrofoam as well as all the sides of the compartment with mud. Then add a small handful of stubble straw, bean straw, pine straw, cut into 3 inch lengths to the nesting area, it also doesn’t hurt to add a few green leaves to the nest . The nest is now ready and the martins will find it very hard to resist.
If you choose not to use Styrofoam, you can construct/purchase a nest insert for your house and prepare the bedding material similar for the Styrofoam tray. These nesting trays are readily available from supply houses for various house styles. Compress wheat, bean, or pine straw and add it to the tray to indicate last year’s nesting material. If the straw is difficult to work with, give it a spray of water and it will definitely be more manageable.
Del McKinnon from the Purple Martin Conservancy suggests artificial spotting inside the compartment. Using a small paint brush or Q-tip – R Trademark and non-toxic craft paint, dab a series of spots similar to young martin droppings in a strip about 2- 4-1/2 inches up the wall and entrance to mimic the lived in look. When the martin peeks in and sees the compartment, he will gladly move in because it looks previously used by baby martins. With mud and artificial fecal spotting, you have the real lived in look.
A dawn song tape or CD played in the early morning hours in May and June will be a beacon for returning martins. Duck hunters have used artificial calls for years and the new apps available on phones and tablets are also ways of attracting them when you are close by. The Dawn Song or Chatter cd mimics martins in such a way that the recording of this song will attract any Martin that hears it.
Add a purple martin decoy to a perch, a roof top, or a pole perch and you have the rest of the equation. Although this is not a guarantee of hosting martins,give it a try and you may be surprised at your success!