According to a UGA publication by Dr. Michael Mengak, attracting Martins to properties has gained in popularity recently due to people looking for other means of pest control other than using chemicals.
According to the Purple Martin Conservation Association, more than 1 million citizens have martin houses on their property. During the winter, Martins are not in our area. They are a migratory bird that spends the winter in South America, but soon they will be back. In fact, they normally will make it to South Georgia in early February and will be in our neck of the woods by mid-February. They will be a resident here until fall and then will make the trip back to South American again.
Here are a few facts on Purple Martins and please note that a few may surprise you. Many people try to attract Purple Martins so they will reduce the mosquito population on their property. This is something that may not necessarily happen.
Martins do have a diet of a variety of insects, but they are not big feeders of mosquitoes. They will eat midges, dragonflies, mayflies, stinkbugs, leafhoppers, Japanese beetles, June bugs, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, cicadas, wasps and flying ants, but do not eat a lot of mosquitoes according to Mengak.
One interesting Pennsylvania study showed that over a seven year period, researchers did not find a single mosquito in the diet. When Martins lay eggs, the female will lay anywhere from three to eight white eggs that will have to incubate and develop for 15-18 days before hatching. After hatching the baby birds will stay in the nest for up to four weeks. After they learn to fly, the young birds may come back to the nest for another 10 days.
One neat thing about Martins is that both parents care for the developing birds in the nest. Another interesting fact is that Martins will only feed and even drink while they are in flight.
Purple Martins will use a variety of nesting options for a home, but note they in our part of the world sometimes do depend on humans to help provide the housing. The birds will make the actual nest out of twigs, leaves and grass, but they may need help on the nesting facility.
In my opening, I said it was common to see dried out gourds hanging on poles or other items back in the day. Plastic gourds have replaced the dried out gourds simply from at times being unable to find the grown gourds.
Many folks may have seen the martin apartment complexes. According to Dr. Mengak, you should be able to find aluminum or wood houses if you do your research. If you have a little more time on your hands, you may want to make your own martin apartment complex. You can make or buy complexes that will house up to 24 nesting compartments. Do your research on the proper design and entry hole sizes, etc.
Our UGA publication will help out in this area. Whatever housing option you offer for the martins, remember that old martins will return to old nesting areas each year. Old nesting boxes will get used over and over while a young martin will look for new housing. If you provide new housing, they will eventually become occupied.
Mengak states that there is the belief of many that the first martins that come each February are acting as scouts coming to see if the old nesting site is safe for the return of the other birds. This is not true. Those are the old martins coming back to the nesting site and the younger birds will come after.
Another common thought is if the martins do not come back to your nesting boxes in February that something must have happened to them at the winter nesting site. This is not true either.
Mengak says that a backyard grouping of birds rarely migrate or overwinter in South America as a group. If they do not come back to your property, they have decided your place for some reason is no longer a good nesting site.
The gourds or martin apartments need to be put in open areas up to 20 feet or so in the air. Stay about 40 feet away from trees and 30 feet from buildings. Multiple houses need to be close together because they are social birds.
On pole height, Mengak states that a good rule of thumb is if the vegetation around the pole is low then the pole can be lower in height. Note too that the martin houses should be cleaned each year so think about how you will either take the houses down annually or get to them for cleaning safely.
For more information, contact Gordon County Extension at 706-629-8685 or email email@example.com.