Backyard Birds: Purple Martins

Martins are aerial insectivores, they eat only flying insects, which they catch in flight. Their diet is diverse, however, they are not consumers of mosquitoes as is often claimed.

East of the Rockies they are totally dependent on human-supplied housing. West of the Rockies and in the deserts they largely nest in their natural ways, in abandoned woodpecker nest cavities. In the Pacific northwest, Martins have been noticed to use gourds and clusters of single-unit boxes for nesting. A major reason people fail to attract martins to their backyard is that they place their martin housing incorrectly, or their site is not a compatible martin habitat to begin with. Martins have very specific aerial space requirements. Housing should be placed in the center of the most open spot available, about 30-120 feet from your house. There should be no trees taller than the martin house within 60 feet, but 40 feet will work as well. Rule of thumb, the farther the housing is placed from trees, the better. Keep tall bushes, shrubs and vines away from the pole. Do not attach wires to a martin house, especially if they lead to trees, buildings, or to the ground. If your yard has too many trees near the martin housing, relocate the housing to a more open area, mount the housing higher, or remove trees to create a more open site. Boat docks make ideal locations for mounting a martin house or gourd rack.

Houses and gourds should be painted white, or a light pastel color. White housing seems to attract martins best. White housing reflects the heat of the sun, keeping nestlings cooler. If your housing is not attracting any tenants, check the dimensions and change where needed. Nest checks will not cause martins to abandon their nests or their group site. The most common reason martins abandon their site is because predators have raided their nests. It only takes one visit by a snake, raccoon, or squirrel, or a few fly by's by an owl, hawk or crow, to cause all the surviving birds to abandon the site.

(Image:Brian E. Small)

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06.26.13  12:00PM    KAREN B

Categories: backyard habitat,gardening

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