Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Purple Martins: When Nature Depends on Us

If you’ve ever seen a large multi-room birdhouse on top of a tall pole, chances are it’s a purple martin house. Long before European settlement, Native Americans began hanging hollowed-out gourds to provide housing for these birds and centuries later the martins have come to depend on man-made structures for a place to live.

Purple martins on a nesting box.
The benefits of having martins around are numerous. First off, they are insectivores and can help significantly reduce the flying insect population around a residence (however, they do not eat mosquitoes as some martin housing manufacturers’ claim). The presence of martins also seems to keep crows away, which is a positive for farmers. Prior to the industrial age, purple martins may have even functioned as alarm clocks, as they usually make their presence known at a fairly early hour.

These days martins are simply loved because they depend on us. Although martins in the western United States do still nest in natural cavities, thousands of years of cohabitation with humans in the east have conditioned the species to require artificial housing for their survival.

But before you decide you want to become a martin colony “landlord”, understand that it’s not as easy as simply putting up a birdhouse. In order for a purple martin colony to nest on your property the house must have specific dimensions and be surrounded with plenty of open space. You also will have to commit to doing regular nest checks to keep the house free of predators and invasive species such as common starlings. It may sound like a lot of work, but if you provide a good home for your martins the same colony will return to the house each spring for many years to come.

Purple martin colony with an uninvited visitor
For information on how to attract and house purple martins please visit the Purple Martin Conservation Association.

For more animal facts click here!

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