After a long flight from South America, a bird could use a juicy meal and a place to rest, right? For purple martins, these delicious insects and summer accommodations could be in your garden if you provide a decent home for these attractive and melodious birds.
With the exception of a limited range in the far northwest, the birds have stripped the western United States from their list of summer destinations, although they still return to the eastern part of the country each spring.
Your arrival is eagerly awaited by homeowners who appreciate the entertaining and useful properties of the birds. Some hope to take advantage of the birds’ call to enjoy thousands of mosquitos a day. But more on that later.
Let’s learn more about this seductive way and then learn how to lure it into your gardens.
Introduction: Meet the Martins
Purple Martins are the largest member of the swallow family that North America calls home. They are almost 20 cm long and have a wingspan of 15.4 to 16.1 cm.
The species takes its name from the males – they have deep blue-purple, iridescent feathers. The ladies wear much less noticeable brown-gray feathers.
These birds like nothing more than a delicious insect snack. According to the Audubon societyThey feed on a variety of flying insects, including many wasps, winged ants, and some bees.
They also eat houseflies and crane flies, beetles, moths and butterflies. And while they actually eat mosquitoes, they don’t consume the large number that the legends say.
It is very difficult to determine the number of mosquitoes that would correspond to a single moth, for example. Like many of us, they tend to just eat.
For the most part, they eat mid-flight, twist their bodies and wings to correct their prey, and earn their reputation as talented aerobatic artists.
Summer time all the time
Lila Martins are obviously interested in warm weather and arrange their travel plans to enjoy spring and summer in the northern hemisphere and then head south to enjoy the warm season in the southern hemisphere as well.
I mean, why not, right?
That means they arrive in the southern United States in February and come north in May or June. While they’re here in the US, their main job is to reproduce, usually producing 4 or 5 eggs in one season.
To convince these birds to expand their families in their own garden is a pride for many gardeners.
They are attractive not only for reducing annoying insect populations, but also for their lyrical singing and playful flying style, both of which are a joy.
There is another reason why you want to give these birds a resting place. We’ll come back to this later in this article.
The right accommodation in the right place
In the eastern half of the United States, purple Martins live almost exclusively in homes made available to them by humans.
The few who continue to visit the West nest in woodpecker holes and other natural nooks and crannies. But in the east it is up to us to give them a home.
You have probably seen these apartment buildings rising from the earth on a very high pole in wide spaces.
The birds like this Condominiums, or you can try a natural or artificial pumpkin with a cut out door, another preferred case type.
Indeed, a long time ago, Indians discovered that these purple chickens are like pumpkin houses and are said to have hung up on them hollow pumpkins around their villages to attract them.
S&K 16-family Lila Martin Barn, available at Amazon
Some gardeners hang up a combination of condos and pumpkins to ensure that every pair of birds finds the house that fits their family exactly.
Place your residential units at a height between 10 and 20 feet and at least 40 feet from trees, houses or other buildings that are higher than the height of the Martin accommodation.
However, do not place them more than 30 meters from human homes. Apparently they want to be close to us, just not too close.
Heath Outdoor Products telescopic galvanized mast for pumpkin mounting, available at Amazon
Choose a white or light case in the south to reflect the heat of the sun and keep the nestlings cooler.
For your own viewing pleasure, you may want to position the bird house so that you can hear and see the creatures from your own comfortable sleeping space and enjoy their songs and aerobatics.
If you make sure there are some other amenities, you can convince these birds to settle in your garden.
These airborne animals drink and bathe in flight. So having open water somewhere nearby – within half a mile or so – will be a selling point. They don’t drink from bird baths.
Having beetles that you can eat is always good and not a big challenge, is it?
You could offer your condos fully furnished – put 1 or 2 inches of nesting material in the bottom of each compartment. Just make sure it’s fresh and not last season’s happy leftovers.
Heath Outdoor Products Deluxe Painted Purple Martin Decoy with Bracket, available at Amazon
Some gardeners add purple Martin bait to attract the birds, and others play recordings of their “morning song” to lure the birds into their garden.
Keep the intruders and other chores away
Unfortunately, Martins aren’t the only species interested in the wonderful housing you’ve built.
If you’re not careful, house sparrows and starlings move to your carefully selected condominiums.
Heath outdoor products 24 room bird house, available at Amazon
The only way to avoid this is to schedule your condominium opening exactly as the Martins want to settle. Of course, this varies from region to region. Therefore, ask the local bird watchers for more information.
When the intruders move in, launch them by removing their nesting materials.
Take your bird houses down every fall – after they leave for Brazil and beyond – and clean them thoroughly. Set them up in time to be ready for the coming season.
By the way, the newcomers may be the same guests that stayed with you last season. You remember and come back.
Another motivation: save a kind
We told you that we would give you another reason to invite this way of living with you.
Unfortunately, the populations of this species are declining. Why not do your part to help them recover?
It used to be so common to build purple Martin houses that John James Audubon looked for the houses to see where he would spend the night.
In 1831 he is said to have noticed: “Almost every country tavern has a Martin box in the upper part of its sign; and I’ve observed that the inn is generally better the nicer the box is. ”
Although these purple birds are not officially endangered, we will not let them get to this point. The more of us (especially in the east) build inviting accommodations, the more the birds thrive.
Let’s give them a place to sleep and get young and they will reward us with their songs and their beauty.
The ornithological Fred Astaire
Purple Martin is one of America’s most popular feathered friends, according to the Audubon Society. The bird, revered for its eating habits and loved for its singing and dancing in the air, is a favorite of many gardeners.
How do you draw purple martins in your garden? Are you going to try to lure these beauties into your locale now? Tell us about your Martin madness in the comments below.