If you are wanting to bring some purple martins to your backyard, you may be feeling a little bit anxious. The steps below are the only things that I believe truly make a difference in attracting purple martins.
Please note that if you live in an area where you don’t have an existing colony nearby, it may take a bit longer for you to attract purple martins. There are plenty of landlords that have had to wait multiple seasons. If this is you, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing everything right already!
Here are some things I would look at though if you are wanting to attract purple martins.
1. Pick a Good Location for your Purple Martin House
Purple martins are highly susceptible to predators. They are aware of this and looking for housing that feels as though they will be protected.
The Purple Martin Conservation Association says that your purple martin house should be at least 30ft from any large trees or locations predators may be lurking from (such as owls).
In addition, the purple martin house should be between 30ft and 120 ft from a human structure. It can’t be too close, but it certainly needs to be relatively close. The reason for this is because purple martins have been depending on humans for their survival for years. They are a bit picky though, they don’t want to be attached to your house or any structure either!
I also believe that height of the purple martin house does matter. The purple martin house can be quite high, but should be no lower than 9ft. I have found that purple martin houses lower may not be as easily visible to purple martins.
There are a lot of purple martin landlords that simply didn’t measure. If you are struggling to attract purple martins, this is likely the first step I would take.
2. Use Starter Material
Place a few pine needles or cedar shavings in the units. This is good starter material for the purple martin to get started on their nest. It’s less work for them, and there is some landlords that swear that it helps attract purple martins to their houses.
I generally keep mine pretty clean because I don’t like any organic material sitting in the units before the purple martins arrive. However, I wouldn’t hesitate to place this in the units a week or two before the martins are supposed to arrive.
Some purple martin landlords will leave nests during the off season that are well put together and aren’t covered in bugs. If you notice any bugs at all, consider removing them and starting fresh.
3. Keep Your Purple Martin House Clean
My preference is to keep my units pretty clean. As noted above, I don’t generally use starter materials, but several purple martin landlords do. My preference is to rinse out the purple martin house in the early season. I don’t want there to be any evidence of other types of birds nesting in my purple martin house.
I also do regular checks in the early season to ensure that nothing is taking it over. When I know purple martin scouts are arriving, I might do daily checks. I want to ensure no starlings, house sparrows, or other types of birds have taken over any of the units.
You have to remember, other types of birds are attempting to find nesting locations and purple martin houses are great for some other types of birds. Even those that you don’t necessarily mind having around. However, most of these birds are capable of finding other locations to nest, so you don’t want to leave them in your martin house. Remove their nest, rinse the unit out with a little bit of water, and wait until the martins arrive!
Some martin landlords will keep most of their compartments closed with the use of door plugs. This prevents you from having to check too many compartments. Leaving a few open to start is sufficient. Once you get your first one or two martins, you go ahead and open it up completely.
4. Play the Dawnsong
You have to keep in mind that your purple martin house simply isn’t known early on. The purple martins literally have to discover it. Since they are colonial nesters, they are looking for other purple martins to nest near. In fact, some heading towards other locations may stop by if they see one just to visit.
Note: This also means that just because you see a purple martin near your purple martin house does not necessarily mean that they are planning to stay. Don’t feel disappointed if you have any stop by and then disappear a couple of hours later. This is normal, and likely a very good sign!
Playing the Dawnsong is an auditory way of attracting purple martins. This is simply a recording of puprle martins singing. Most will play this in the early morning or late evening hours which is most common time for the purple martins to be quite noisy! Below is a youtube video you can use.
Add this to some speakers during the morning hours or late evening and hopefully you will see a few purple martins stopping by to see what the noise is all about.
5. Use Decoys
Since purple martins love nesting around other purple martins, those that are seeking out new housing will be looking for other purple martins. This is a great way to attract some of your first visitors.
These decoys simply attach to your purple martin house or gourd rack. It is an additional visual indicator to any purple martins flying by that it may be a great option for nesting.
6. Patience is Key
I feel like it’s worth going back to this point. You might be doing everything right. Decoys and the Dawnsong might help you expedite the process a little bit, but ultimately it sometimes just takes a while to get purple martins interested in your purple martin house.
Not to discourage you, but I have heard of some landlords attempting to attract them for years before the first one arrived. It sometimes isn’t anything you are doing wrong. If this is you, please let this be a source of encouragement. We need good purple martin landlords around the United States and Canada. Please don’t give up!
My advice would be to speak with some of the other landlords in your area. Visit their colonies and see what they have done in your area to help attract them. There are some very active communities in some states. Also, don’t hesitate to join groups such as the Purple Martin Fanatics. These are great ways to learn new ideas and keep improving your setup!