I remember putting up a purple martin house. It was close to my home, I had young kids. I was curious, how territorial are purple martins? Will they bother me as I walk to and from the house? In addition, will my small colony become territorial over the area and prevent it from growing in the future?
Purple martins are only territorial with one another and against predators. They are most frequently territorial during the pair forming weeks. After pairs have been chosen, the colony will feel much more peaceful.
So, what should you actually expect form a purple martin colony? Can the them being territorial impact the size of your colony? As a landlord, there may be some concerns you might have about just how territorial purple martins can be. Let’s explore that a little bit more.
When are Purple Martins Most Territorial?
As noted already, purple martins can be territorial, but generally they like humans. This means that you can feel a bit more assured that you won’t have any purple martins swooping down at you as you are doing any checks on your martin house.
That being said, purple martins are certainly most territorial towards one another. Particularly during the weeks when pairs are being formed. The older purple martins will sometimes try to scare younger males away. In addition, they like to claim their territory, which means that they may try to protect more than one compartment prior to the pairs being formed.
What this means for you as the landlord, is that you may see some of the males attacking one another, but generally not until one is seriously injured. There may be a bit of banter back and forth, you may witness some of the younger males flying away.
However, this is generally only the case until the pairs are formed, then things begin to settle down a bit more. They will sometimes protect their purple martin house units from one another, but for the most part once the purple martin units are claimed for a period of time, there are very few issues between the occupants.
Will Purple Martins Attack Humans?
Purple martins have their survival dependent upon humans. This means that if humans and purple martins couldn’t coexist well, there likely wouldn’t be very many purple martins at all as most landlords would not put up with them.
What I have found is that early on in the purple martin season, they seem to be a little bit more scared of me. However, as the season goes along, the seem to get quite comfortable with me. They may fly away a short ways and watch from afar as I check the nests, but they return within a few minutes of me raising the purple martin house back up to the normal height.
I have never felt threatened by a purple martin and my kids have always enjoyed seeing the nests with eggs.
Are Purple Martins Territorial Towards Other Types of Birds?
Purple Martins are among the largest swallows. However, they are still very susceptible to predators. With starlings around, they have to be a little bit more territorial for their own survival. The starling is notorious for attacking the young when the adults aren’t around. In addition, if they find a purple martin house with eggs they may push the eggs out of the nest to the ground. There are stories that the starling may even lay their own eggs and the purple martin will take care of the young even though they aren’t purple martins.
I have went ahead and attached a video of a starling attacking a nest. Luckily the birds survived, but it is common that they do not. Please note that this video may be a bit hard for some to watch. As any good movie starts: viewer discretion is advised.
It is worth saying that as a landlord, I would recommend you be a little bit territorial of your colony as well. Check on them regularly, if you see any predators that may be threatening your colony, do what you need to in order to protect them. Their survivability likely depends on it.
Starlings, owls, racoons, and snakes are just a few of the predators that will feed on your purple martin colony if they are able to. In addition, purple martins are extremely sensitive to being threatened. If they feel their young will not survive there, they will not likely nest there and may consider leaving the following season.
If you are allowing starlings and other types of birds to nest in your purple martin house, then the purple martin will find another location to nest. For this reason, I recommend checking on your purple martin house from time to time even when the purple martins have moved south. It’s worth keeping it clean and ensuring that you have nothing that would be considered threatening to the purple martins survival. Again, they depend on humans for their survivability.
The purple martin will do what it can to protect its nest and young from predators. However, they are quite defenseless when it comes to the most common predators.
Ultimately, purple martins are not territorial towards humans. They may be territorial towards one another, particularly early in the season and when they are claiming their purple martin house unit. They attempt to be territorial towards any other animals that may be considered a threat to their young, but have little ability to defend themselves. It is often up to the landlord to do what they can to protect their young. The best line of defense is to check on your purple martins regularly.
I recommend a daily check, but at minimum it should be every few days. Gone for a weekend? It’s probably not a problem. However, a lot can happen over the course of 3-4 days. If you notice mites in the nests, owls in trees, raccoon tracks around the pole, it is worth noting and doing what you can to protect them. Please note that I am not advocating doing anything illegal but you may be able to take some precautions such as installing predator guards on poles or trimming trees.