Early America Indians learned the value of having purple martins in their village as a natural bug eliminator. Hollow gourds were hung near teepees in multiple locations to ward off the pesky insects. European settlers copied these methods by constructing wooden houses with multiple holes for maximum mosquito protection during the summer months.
The clearing of farmland and rapid urbanization in the United States eliminated thousands of natural nesting sites which led to the decline in purple martin populations. Fifty years ago, J.L. Wade launched a program to educate the public about the benefit of providing purple martin houses in towns and cities to combat mosquitoes without the customary spraying that was standard in many metropolitan areas. The Nature Society was formed in Griggsville, Illinois which can now proclaim itself as the purple martin capital of the world.
Martin migration starts from Brazil around late January, depending on which part of the Northern Continent you live in. Mature male birds, known as scouts, usually are the first to reach their proven breeding grounds from the previous year. Legend has it that these scouts determine the food supply and housing in an existing area and fly back to South America to guide the return of the flock. In reality, the first arrivals simply know the value of selecting the best nesting site for successful breeding purposes.
Purple martins build nests from a collection of small twigs, pine needles, straw, leaves and mud. Adult females lay 5-6 eggs which usually hatch about 14 days later. Most of these babies fledge in approximately one month, quickly perfecting their famous flying and insect-catching skills.
By late summer the purple martins will begin to congregate in staging areas near large bodies of water. Martins tend to drift southward each day and will eventually combine with other flocks that are also heading in that direction. Concentrations of up to 100,000 birds have been recorded during this stage of migration.
The purple martin is the only bird species east of the Rockies that depends almost exclusively on humans for its housing. Martins will nest in almost any properly designed housing, but the human must become a “landlord” for a successful colony to become self-sufficient in the future. Evicting unwanted intruders and maintaining the property are essential for the martin’s survival. Enjoy your birds!
Wild Bird Depot is located on Rt 11 in Gilford, NH. Steve is a contributing author in major publications, a guest lecturer at major conventions in Atlanta and St. Louis as well as the host of WEZS 1350AM radio show “Bird Calls” with Lakes Region Newsday @ 8:30AM. Wild Bird Depot has donated over $5,000 to local rehabilitators and local nature centers since 1996. Be sure to check out our blog “Bird Droppings” via our website www.wildbirddepot.com. Like us on Facebook for great contests and prizes.