Housing TIPS for purple martins

The purple martin is a visually striking bird native to North America. These swallows are known for their speed and agility in flight, as well as the unusual coloring of males.

Once abundant, the species has been threatened by invasive and non-native species. Purple martin housing is vital to the species' survival. The birds rely on houses and gourds for procreation and summer housing. This tie to humans goes back to ancient Native American populations, which would erect hollowed-out gourds for the purple martins to nest in.

Knowing when, where and how to erect purple martin housing is the key to welcoming a successful colony. 

• Timing is everything. The first purple martins arrive in the southern tip of the U.S. in January. The migration slowly makes its way north, arriving in the Midwest during March and into April. Keep house entrances closed until adults are due to arrive. If they had a successful breeding season at a site, they will return the year after. 

Subadult purple martins (last year's young) will begin to arrive 4-12 weeks after the adults. Be sure to provide subsequent housing for this population, either by erecting new housing, or hanging gourds near an existing home.

It's also important to not close housing too soon. Purple martins can begin nesting through the end of June. Fledgling scouts may also visit to explore next year's breeding sites through late August and mid-September.                 

• Location, location, location. Purple martins enjoy housing that is placed in an open area with clear flyways. Position housing in the center of a clearing, taking care to keep it at least 30 feet away from human housing and 40 feet from trees. Be sure to place the housing in your sight so you can ejoy the bird-watching.

• Keep it elevated. Because purple martins like easy access, placing houses and gourds on telescoping poles that reach at least 12 feet high are best. Do not attach wires or rope to the houses or poles, which could allow predators access to the housing. 

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