Any birds can leave quite a mess, and purple martins are no exception. There is a need to clean houses and gourds to keep your colony safe from parasites and potentially harmful insects such as mites and ticks.
First, if you have purchased one of the many commercial products on the market in recent years, they most often come with features that makes this process much easier. If you do not have easy access to the units in your purple martin house, I highly recommend you look at purchasing a different one, whether it is from us or not.
I came across a short video on how others may clean their purple martin house. I found it to be informative and accurate. You can read a little bit further down for an approach that may be slightly different and for details on when it may be best to clean your purple martin house.
Steps to Clean a Purple Martin House
Step 1: Lower your Purple Martin House
Get your purple martin house to a height that is comfortable to fully inspect it. You should be used to this step through your regular nest checks throughout the season.
Step 2: Get a bucket with 95% water, to 5% bleach
The idea here is to get a bucket of water and place just a little bit of bleach in it. You want to avoid too much bleach, as you could damage the structure or you may leave harmful residue within the units.
Step 3: Open up the doors on your purple martin house
Step 4: Pull out any old nests.
Some people prefer leaving the mud dams that are built by the purple martins. However, my preference is to have a clean space to start each season. For me, there is a bit more comfort in knowing that stuff isn’t growing if I don’t have too much, if any, organic material sitting in the purple martin house throughout the winter.
Step 5: Soak your brush in the water and scrub any left over material out of the units
The purple martin houses will get pretty dirty both inside and out from them sitting on top of it. I like to scrub mine down entirely. I generally start with the outside and then work my way to the units, but some people don’t mind a little bit of a rough exterior! I prefer that all of that be gone! The bleach does a good job of refreshing the smell as well!
Step 6: Let the units dry
I prefer to use a paper towel to get any excess water out. I will then let the purple martin house dry by leaving the doors open for a few hours. Since I am doing this after purple martins have left, the weather here in Oklahoma is usually pretty warm. I find that a few hours is sufficient to dry it well before closing it for the season.
Step 7: Plug Doors
Most are cleaning their purple martin houses at the end of the season. This means that it may be time to cover the doors to your purple martin house. This is not only a safety issue for your colony, but also a great way to ensure that the interior remains clean for the upcoming season!
When should I clean my purple martin house?
I clean my purple martin house twice per year. At the end of the season, I use the method above, with bleach. However, I usually do a quick rinse down at the beginning of the season too. Some people cover their purple martin house entirely. It may have collected dust and a few spider webs if you have let it sit for several months under a cover. I do not use bleach close to the start of the season, although many do without issue.
My recommendation is that if you need to clean your purple martin house at the beginning of a season, do so with water only unless you have something like mold or other issues that could legitimately be a safety hazard to your colony.
How often should I clean a purple martin house?
I will do nest checks daily, or at least every few days. This is an opportunity to check for European Starlings or House Sparrows that may have tried taking over your purple martin house. If you see these, remove the nests.
I do a thorough cleaning with bleach only once per year. This is done after the purple martins have left my area for the year. This is often around October, while whether is still warm but the martins have already headed south for the winter.
I may do a bit of light cleaning early in the season with water, paper towels, and brush if needed. Most of the time a good rinse with the water hose is sufficient for me.
Does bleach bother the purple martins?
There are debates on this topic. I am pro-bleach if it’s at the end of the season. I have not witnessed any issues with the use of bleach but others feel chemicals are harmful to wildlife and should be avoided at all cost.
It is hard for me to argue. There are plenty of other cleaning solutions that may be less intrusive. However, for me, I want to know that the area I am putting my purple martins in is as clean as possible. I also want to ensure I’m not allowing mold or other harmful things to grow there.
If you are anti-bleach, I do understand! You won’t see me complain if you opt to go for a more natural approach to cleaning. The great news is that purple martins have survived thousands of years with human assistance. You doing your part to care for them the way you see fit is better than not caring at all! Thank you for the work that you put in.