Purple Martins

I am not going to miss the scout this year. I want to attract my first group of Purple Martins. I grew up with my Mom always preparing for her Purple Martins. Now, to be a bit biased, I grew up in Elberta, Alabama, and we lived very close to the Gulf of Mexico. The proximity to the Gulf made Elberta, the ideal location for Purple Martins to spend the summer having babies before heading to South America for the winter. Other parts of the US may have this bird, but it flourishes here on the Gulf Coast. Purple Martins belong to the swallow family and boast dark and glossy purple plumage. They fly around gracefully eating airborne insects and delight us with delightful songs at dawn and dusk.

As early as I can remember, my Momhad two poles in our backyard that were connected with a wire, strung with as many as 10 gourds suitable for nesting summer homes for her wild friends. Throughout the years, these martin homes grew fancier. Sometime in the 90s, Mom traded in the gourds and wire for a white stacked condo-style house with round holes on a pole. But if you want to see something impressive, you should see the version she has today. Her wild friends, who I suspect crave a human audience and companionship just as much as she does, now get white gourds that have specially shaped (moon-shaped) holes specifically designed for the birds –all this on a crank pole. The crank is essential for cleaning out the homes at the end of the season and facilitating the return of babies when they are bumped from the nest too early. While times have changed and my Mom’s bird houses have changed, the birds have not. I missed that memo last year.

Last year was the first year I got my own Purple Martin condo on a pole to draw in wild friends to my house. My Mom kept telling me I would not have mosquitos if I had the birds. And to be honest, after growing up listening and watching the birds all my life, I had come to expect them to put on a flying show with choir-like chirping. I missed having that. So, I purchased a fancy Purple Martin house with all the bells and whistles and then when it came to installing the house, it was a bit complicated and that means it got pushed a couple of weeks to wait on my husband to assist with the concrete and other mechanisms to get it cranked up in the sky and be prepared to weather Gulf Coast Hurricanes. After the installation, and feeling so accomplished, my parents came over and looked up at the house and told me, “Pretty sure you have missed the scout.” I did not want to believe that and kept up high hopes that even if I missed the first scout, the birds would find these new homes. What bird would not want this fancy condo on a pole? Needless to say, I missed the scout.

So now that I failed to take into account the natural migratory pattern and behaviors for Purple Martins, I will not make that same mistake in 2022. I am not going to miss the scout, and I hope you learn from my mistakes before planning your own Purple Martin accommodations. To help break it down, here are my unprofessional but hard-knock tips that my Mom has passed on from her years of bonding with the wild birds:

  • Prepare a home for the scout, the birds, and the babies. These birds rely on human-made nests. My Mom’s home of choice is a group of manufactured gourds that have moon-shaped holes affixed to a pole that can be cranked up and down. Why moon-shaped holes? Because there are predatory birds like hawks that can also get into a regularly-shaped circular hole.
  • Make sure the home is ready to go just after the first of the new year. Expect to see martins here on the Gulf Coast as early as February.•If you are using the home from the previous year, make sure to clean it out and prepare a clean residence for your wild friends.
  • The nests need to be placed in an area where the birds have lots of open space to swoop and dive all over with a source for water. And the nests need to be high enough for safety, but be sure to put low enough where you can enjoy the daily activities and songs.

Despite all this, I am not guaranteed to attract my very own Purple Martin family this year. They will often return to the same breeding spot and sometimes will even go back to the same gourd. However, I will have all the conditions ready and will keep an eye out for those beautiful purple glossy birds and keep an ear out for the sweet chirping excitement. See the video below.

My Mom and Dad not only watch their beautiful friends, film, and share their experiences, but last year had to do a baby rescue operation…. and good news – the rescue was successful.