Purple Martins are colony nesters, and nest in pairs of 2 all the way to 200 so we’re potentially talking hundreds of birds in your yard. The Purple Martin is one of the largest swallows in the world and the largest of all in North America. They are also one of the few colony nesting birds in North America that you can actually attract to nest in your yard, the trick is getting the first breeding pair to show up. To ensure the best chance of attracting a pair that first year, you wanna be sure get one of the best bird houses for Purple Martins that you can.
If you are interested in having a Purple Martin colony in your yard then you need to start doing your research and get the right kind of Purple Martin bird houses and poles to attract them. Below I have listed several good options for Purple Martin birdhouses and some poles to go along with them.
(see some Purple Martin pictures and informative video below)
The best birdhouses for Purple Martins
1. Birds Choice Original 4-Floor-16 Room Purple Martin House with Round Holes
This 4 floor, 16 compartment Purple Martin house from Birds Choice is an attractive all aluminum option. It comes with a pole adapter but not the pole itself which is the model PMHD12 (link below). This martin house is a great size to get started with allowing up to 16 mating pairs at once. You can then add another house of the same type or go with something else like the gourds below.
Compatible pole model PMHD12 – Birds Choice 12′ Heavy Duty Telescoping Purple Martin Pole
2. Ravenox Purple Martin Vertical Gourd Bird House
These come in sets of 2 to up to 48, are lightweight and durable, and the martins love them. These particular gourds are created to keep the nest stealing starlings out and your Purple Martins safe in their homes. These premium artificial gourds are made of polyethylene plastic and will withstand the elements and years of use providing quality nests for martins. Each gourd has an easily removable cap so you can check on the nests and for cleaning.
Compatible with this pole – Heath Aluminum Gourd Pole
3. BestNest Heath 12-Room Purple Martin House & Gourds Package
With this option you get the best of both worlds from the previous two. This kit comes with everything you need to start your journey as a Purple Martin landlord including a 12 room house, a telescoping pole, a couple of martin decoys to help attract them to your yard, and an informative purple martin book. For a beginner this is a great choice, and is really priced a lot lower than I would have expected considering all you get.
What to know about hosting Purple Martins in your yard
Being the landlord for several dozen or even hundred Purple Martins can be very rewarding and an amazing thing. It can also be very time consuming and there is a lot you should know before you dive in. I’ll try and answer some common questions below about having a Purple Martin colony nesting in your yard.
How wide is their range and when do the Purple Martins arrive each year?
Purple Martins breed throughout the eastern half of the United States and in several pockets in the west. They arrive as early as mid-January in Florida and as late as the beginning of May in New England. See this Purple Martin migration map on purplemartins.org for more details.
How do I attract Purple Martins to my yard?
To attract Purple Martins to your yard you will want to provide them with an attractive environment for nesting. Here are a few key tips for attracting martins to your yard. For more tips you can visit purplemartins.org.
- Provide them with white houses/gourds that they’ll want to nest in
- Place the houses in the right location and at the right height
- Make sure each compartment is at least 6″ x 6″ x 12″
- Have a water source nearby
- Keep the nests/compartments clean and free of other birds
How high from the ground should a Purple Martin house be?
Your Purple Martin bird houses should be a minimum of 12 feet off the ground, with 12-15 feet being more ideal. Placing them as high as 20 feet up can be done as well. If you start your first year on the low end of around 12 feet and don’t get any tenants then bump it up to 15 feet your second year and see if that helps.
Best material for a Purple Martin house
Martins aren’t actually too picky when it comes to the material you choose for their bird houses. You could go with an unfinished/untreated wood, plastic, the popular gourd bird houses, or even metal. In the end it’s going to come down to you and what you think looks best for your yard as well as making sure the bird houses are up to specs and suitable for Purple Martins, any of the suggestions above will do.
Where is the best place to put a Purple Martin house?
For Purple Martin house placement, it’s important to put them well out in the open away from anything. This means no trees within at least 40-60 feet and at least 100 feet away from houses and structures. This openness provides the martins with a sort of protection in that they can see predators coming from far away. They may use houses that are closer than 40 feet to other trees and structures, but this is a general rule of thumb. Multiple poles for bigger colonies can be placed much closer together and isn’t a big deal.
What do Purple Martins eat?
Purple Martins are insectivorous birds and will not eat bird seed at feeders. They catch flying insects during flight such as moths and beetles. They are said to help control the mosquito population but this is mainly myth in order to promote Purple Martin house sales as they rarely eat mosquitos at all. For the most part you can let them do their thing and take care of themselves, but if you want to feed them then there are a few of things you can offer.
What can I feed the martins?
As I mentioned above, martins will typically take care of their own food needs and you shouldn’t have to do anything. Having said that, if you want to feed them anyway then there are a few things you can offer.
- Mealworms – Use a regular platform or tray feeder. You can use dried or live mealworms but the martins may need a little time to understand that they are being offered food.
- Eggshells – You can save a use eggshells from your kitchen to provide an extra boost of calcium to Purple Martins. You can simply sprinkle the shells on the ground or add them to an open platform feeder.
- Cooked eggs – Yes, Purple Martins may come to love scrambled eggs if you offer them regularly so that they can understand that they are being offered food. Some people mix them with mealworms or crickets to entice the martins.
- Crickets – You can sort of train your martins to catch crickets that you throw up into the air. So you are essentially mimicking flying bugs. Again it may be tough to train them to do this, but once you do it might be fun to watch them snatch the crickets out of mid air. You can use a slingshot, blowgun, or any other creative method to shoot the crickets up in the air to them.
When the temperature drops below about 50 degrees the martins may huddle up in their nests and wait for the temperature to warm back up before they go out hunting again. This may be a good time to offer them some of these foods.
How can I keep the martins safe from predators?
Even though Purple Martins nest 12-15 feet from the ground, predators can still climb the pole and there are measures you can take to prevent that. So you’ll want to watch out for any egg eating predator like snakes and small mammals like raccoons. A predator guard added to the pole should do the trick or just buy a Purple Martin house kit or pole that comes with a predator guard already on the pole.
There are also flying predators, meaning birds of prey and nest bullies (more below on those). Hawks and owls are also threats to martin nests. By placing the martin houses out in the open you give them the best chance of spotting these predatory birds. Putting predator guards at the opening to the houses or wrapping the whole house in wire is another way to protect the nests from larger birds like these.
Will other birds nest in a Purple Martin house?
Starlings and sparrows, both invasive species, are aggressive towards martins and may even steal their nests and kill their young. The poor martins don’t stand a chance against starlings or sparrows, but especially the starlings who are just death machines. The sparrows are also very aggressive and can easily bully martins out of their nests or take empty nest cavities.
It is illegal in the U.S. to disturb any bird nest or bird eggs, unless they are starlings or house sparrows. You are within your rights to remove the eggs and nest from your Purple Martin houses, but you may want to wait and do so after the martins have left for the season as they will return next year and quite possibly in greater numbers.
Will Purple Martins return to the same nest each year?
Yes, they will. Once you get that first mating pair of Purple Martins to your bird houses, they will breed and then those martins may also return to your nesting site the following season with their mates. You can see how this could quickly snowball and leave you as the landlord to a large number of Purple Martins, which may be exactly what you want if you are reading this!
Some other facts about Purple Martins
- Purple Martins aren’t even purple, they are actually more of a dark blue and black color combo.
- They nest in colonies of several hundred but will roost in colonies of tens of thousands, or more.
- They do their feeding and hunting for insects at high altitudes of up to 500 feet.
- The birds migrate from North America to South America and back each year, a full migration can take 2-3 months one way since they will stop and rest and feed along the way.
This video is almost 30 minutes long but packed full of interesting facts and information about Purple Martins. It shows inside of nest gourds, talks about migration and history, and at one point shows someone flicking crickets up into the air for the martins!