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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Purple Martins are Back in Florida

Purple Martin, male

Purple Martin, female

Purple Martin houses

Purple Martins have been spotted in Florida. Soon, they will be coming your way. If you live in the East and are near water, put up housing for them. For houses and more info go to,
Purple Martin Conservation Association.

Purple Martins breed in every state east of the Rocky Mountains and in scattered locations in the West. To attract martins, check in a field guide to be sure you are in their breeding range, then put the right martin house in the right habitat. 

Purple Martins who breed from the Rocky Mountains East can be attracted to multi-compartment houses or clusters of gourds. In most of their breeding range in the West, martins nest singly in natural cavities and it is difficult to attract them to artificial housing. In the Northwest, however, you may be able to attract them to single unit houses or gourds. 


Put up housing at least 40 feet away from tall trees and within 100 feet of buildings. They actually prefer to nest near human habitations.

Be sure there is open area within 1 or 2 miles where the martins can feed. Being near water is helpful, though not strictly necessary.

Do not allow high vegetation to grow at the base of the pole on which the house is mounted; predators could hide there.

Do not use wires to connect the house to the ground, as it would provide a way for predators to climb up.

Housing should be mounted on a tall pole (approximately 10-12 feet tall or higher).

Multi-compartment aluminum houses are inexpensive, durable, low-maintenance, and lightweight.

Multi-compartment wooden houses insulate very well, and wood is easy to work with. However, they require regular maintenance. They must be painted white.

Single-hole natural gourds are inexpensive and spacious inside, and their tendency to swing in the wind repels Starlings and House Sparrows. However, these gourds are not as durable as the multi-compartment houses. They must be treated with copper sulfate, sanded, and painted white. Plastic gourds are a good alternative to natural gourds and are now widely available.

For monitoring and cleaning, housing should be easy to raise and lower, and there should be easy access to the nesting compartments.

Entrance holes should be 2 inches in diameter and 1 inch above the floor of the compartment.Compartments should be at least 6" wide and 9-12" deep. Larger compartments are generally better but may attract Starlings.

Houses should be painted white; if you wish, you can use oil-based white stain instead of paint, as it is longer lasting and does not peel.

Housing should be well ventilated, should keep compartments dry, and should drain out any water that might get in. It should insulate the birds from heat and cold, and should not turn in the wind, as this may disorient the birds and cause them to abandon the colony.

Be sure to protect the house from predators. Put a baffle on the support pole-this is an inverted metal cone 36-40 inches in diameter or a length of stovepipe, which prevents predators from climbing the pole. Or put 4-6 feet of 6" diameter PVC pipe around the base of the pole so predators like snakes cannot climb up. Owls and crows can be prevented from taking the martins by placing vertical bar "owl guards" across the front of the housing.
Attraction Techniques

If you are putting up a new house, you will be trying to attract subadults—birds that were hatched last year. They arrive 4 to 6 weeks later than the adults; check the map for the approximate arrival dates of adults. Subadult martins are the ones that colonize a new area. Adult martins generally just return to the same area they nested before.

Play a recording of the Purple Martin dawnsong at your housing site; this will attract subadult birds, so play it at the time of year when they are arriving in your area. Early in the morning is the best time, from about 3:30 to 6:30 AM; use a timer or an endless-loop tape player.

Keep the holes closed off until the martins arrive. Many commercial manufacturers sell caps that press into the holes. This will keep Starlings and House Sparrows from using the compartments for roosting or early nesting. Open the holes when you first see martins arriving.

Martins may be more comfortable entering housing that looks as though it has been used before. To create this impression, build a low wall of mud just inside the hole of each compartment. You can also put pine shavings or pine needles on the floor of the compartments.
It is important to monitor your nests once a week, after you have attracted martins. Monitor only during good weather, between late morning and early afternoon, while most martins are out feeding. Record numbers of birds, eggs, and nestlings. Stop checking when nestlings are 20 days old.

For complete information on attracting and enjoying Purple Martins, see Stokes Purple Martin Book.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Beauty at Ding Darling NWR

Roseate Spoonbill, Tricolored Heron

Great Blue Heron

Don, Lillian, Ken Burgener (founder of Carefree Birding tours), and Dawn and Jeff Fine.

Went birding today at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel, FL and the birds were numerous. Here's a Roseate Spoonbill next to a Tricolored Heron, a study in pink and blue. And a Great Blue Heron posed so cooperatively near the road with the beautiful water as a backdrop. Ran into some fun birding folks as well.