Sunday, February 26, 2006
Purple Martin Matters
We once overheard someone speaking about birds called “Purple Martians.” What they really meant was “Purple Martins.” Purple Martins are not space invaders, they are beautiful, purple, insect-eating swallows who are now migrating northward. By March 15th they are arriving in the middle of the country and reach northern areas by May 1st. These incredible, arial acrobats eat flying insects and live in communal housing in the eastern half of the U.S. From the Rockies West they live in natural cavities. They have an overblown reputation for eating tons of mosquitos. Truth be told, they eat many more other kinds of flying insects than ‘skeeters.
Male Purple Martins are all purple-black. Female martins have dull purple backs, tails and wings and are paler below with smudgy markings.
Martins actually prefer to live near humans. Attract them by putting up special multi-compartment housing of either gourds or apartment houses. Place houses at least 40 feet away from tall trees and within 30-120 feet of human dwellings. Martin houses should be on tall poles with a predator guard on the pole. They like it if housing is near open areas where they can feed. Being near water areas is a plus.
Purple Martin’s have many fans and organizations devoted to their care and survival. To be a successful Purple Martin landlord requires commitment and knowledge. The rewards are immense.
All photos © Lillian Stokes, 2006