Purple Martins are the largest members of the swallow family in North America. They are some of the first migrants to return to North America each spring. Martins make the long journey from South America-mostly Brazil-to as far as Canada to their breeding grounds. It is believed the journey takes as long as two months to reach their final destination.
Purple Martins begin arriving in this area around the first of March, sometimes later and rarely earlier. The first birds to arrive will be adult males and females. Sub-adults (less than 1 year old) will arrive anywhere from 4-6 weeks after the adults. As an owner of a new Purple Martin house you still have a chance to attract sub-adults into the middle of May.
There is a popular belief that the earliest returning martins are “scouts” that find potential colony sites and then return to guide other martins to the colony. Not true. Purple Martins have superb orientation capabilities and are able to return to the same nesting areas each year, and even to the same nest compartment or gourd. Early returning birds also are able to establish a territory and increase their chances of finding a mate and breeding successfully.
Tips for Success with Purple Martins
Location is the number one key to success. Colony nesting birds like Purple Martins need lots of food to support themselves and their young. They eat only insects caught in flight and need large open spaces where insects are abundant. Farmland, marsh areas, ponds, lakes, and open suburban habitats are suitable for PM’s.
It’s a general rule that there should be nothing taller than the housing within 50 feet. The housing should be placed in as open an area as possible with little or no vegetation, other than grass, below.
Avoid very isolated locations. It is better to place the housing in an open area but still relatively close to human housing. PM’s have proven to be very tolerant of human presence and even high traffic areas.
There is little else one can do to increase the appeal of a PM house. Playing a recording of the “dawnsong” can be effective. The “dawnsong” is a vocalization by adult males at established colonies a few hours before dawn. It is believed this song attracts migrating sub-adults. Try placing some twigs, green leaves, and some mud in and around some of the nesting compartments to give the appearance of having been used.