It is unfortunate that purple martins do not remain around all year. Since they don’t, what should you do when they are gone with the purple martin house? What can you do to keep your purple martin colony protected, even when they’re gone?
There are a few things that you may want to consider to help keep your purple martin house in good condition through the winter as well.
1. Check Each Unit
You want to verify that each unit is rather clean. I personally prefer to clean them entirely of any old nests and wait to add hay or pine needles back into the units just before purple martins return.
The most important thing to do is just check each unit for any unwanted visitors such as bugs / mites. There may be materials that may attract bugs too. This is the type of thing that you want to get rid of.
You will notice that some purple martins do a great job of having a clean area and picking materials that will keep a nest in tact for the winter. If this is the case, you may consider leaving it.
2. Clean Empty Units with Light Bleach / Water Combo
Again, this is a matter of preference. There are some that wish not to use any chemicals in units where purple martins would stay. However, I feel like clean units are important and that a light bleach and water combo works well.
Please note that I do this at the end of season, which gives the unit plenty of time to air out by the time they arrive several months later. If you expect purple martins to arrive shortly, I would recommend simply using water and only use the combination if you see mold growing anywhere on the purple martin house. It may also be a good option for the exterior of the home where a lot of grime tends to build up over time.
Fill a small bucket or bowl with 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. In other words, very little bleach. I tend to use a towel or a wash cloth to clean out the empty units.
Follow this by making sure that you have a water hose handy. Rinse out any compartments pretty thoroughly that you have used any bleach on. After this, you may consider drying it out as well.
3. Paint or Replace Broken Pieces on the Purple Martin House
I prefer to go ahead and do any painting or repairs to my purple martin house at the end of the season. Mid-season is too difficult to make any repairs as you don’t want to cause any additional stress on the young purple martins.
Especially when it comes to paint, you want to give time for the paint to dry and any fumes to be gone before martins arrive. This is why I would rather do it at the end of the season, and hope that by the time the purple martins arrive the house smells normal with no additional fumes lingering.
Note that if you purchase one of our purple martin houses, it is UV Plastic and they generally do not need to be painted. However, if you have a wooden or aluminum purple martin house, it may be necessary to paint it every few years to ensure that it remains sturdy.
4. Consider adding Purple Martin House Door Plugs
Door plugs will help keep other pesty birds, such as starlings, out of your purple martin house. The crescent shaped door is starling resistant but not starling proof. Your best option is to spend the $15 or so and get yourself some door plugs to keep anything from crawling or nesting inside while your purple martins aren’t around.
The doors simply snap into place, are easy to put on, and then you will remove them a couple of weeks before purple martins arrive. This is also a good time for your to check out your purple martin house as well in the Spring. It helps the landlord feel reassured that their purple martin house isn’t being taken over even when they see starlings around. In addition, it forces the landlord to check the status of their purple martin house early in the season if they wish for their colony to return.
5. Inspect Your Purple Martin House Pole
Winters can be long and harsh. If you live in an area where it gets extremely cold and might even crack plastic, it might be worth taking your purple martin house down all together and storing it inside of the garage.
However, for those like us in Oklahoma, we sometimes can get quite a bit of ice. I have seen my purple martin house, covered in ice, sway in the winter winds. It made me a bit nervous for what condition it would be in when everything melted. I was thankful I had no damage to the house but it made me consider removing the purple martin house for each winter.
At minimum, I recommend you take a good look at your pole. If you see any damage to it, a purple martin house can be quite heavy with ice on it, and may be too much for a small pole to handle or if you have any damage to it, it may fold under the weight. Take a look for any bends or rust that may be building up. If you see any, again, consider removing your purple martin house for the winter.
6. Trim Trees Back
There are two reasons for this. First, it’s simply easier to trim trees in the winter when leaves aren’t growing on the limbs. In Oklahoma we have sometimes fairly warm days scattered throughout the month of November but the trees are shedding leaves. On one of these days, I like to try to trim a few of the limbs back from my purple martin house as it is easier to do it at this time than the early spring, when I am trying to clean up the yard.
In addition, trimming back trees from your purple martin house helps ensure that it will remain protected from falling limbs during ice storms. Again, living in Oklahoma we are almost guaranteed a couple of ice storms throughout each winter and in recent years they have been pretty bad at times. I have been fortunate to never have any limbs nearby that would damage the purple martin house.
The side benefit here though is that you should always keep the purple martin house at least 25 feet away from any large structure. Purple martins are notorious for skipping over any purple martin house that doesn’t have quite a bit of room around it, and they certainly don’t like trees towering over the houses. When you have large structures nearby, including trees, it is a good opportunity for owls and even other predators to lurk around. Purple martins are leery of martin houses that may welcome those visitors that are unwelcome.