5 Key Rules for Attracting Purple Martins


#1. Control European Starlings and English House Sparrows. These are two introduced species that have become a biological nightmare for Purple Martins. Both species are very aggressive, destructive, and abundant. If not controlled, they will take over your martin housing and chase off investigating martins. If you are not willing to control these two pests species, don’t erect martin housing! You’ll only end up breeding the martins’ worst enemies. Starlings can be excluded with starling-proof entrance holes. Both species may be legally trapped and humanely destroyed.

#2. Offer properly designed housing. The housing must raise and lower vertically using a winch & pulley system, rope & pulley system, or telescoping pole system. Don’t erect housing on fixed or tilt poles that require a ladder or tilting! Nesting cavities should be at least 10″ deep and easily accessible. Avoid cheap plastic, flimsy houses that seem like a real bargain. They’re not! You get what you pay for. Expect to spend at least $200.00 for a martin house or gourd rack. If you put up housing that can’t be raised, lowered and opened easily, controlling House Sparrows and starlings will be very difficult and severely decrease your chances of attracting martins.

#3. Place the housing properly in your yard. Place the housing in the most open spot in your yard. It should be at least 40′ from trees and tree canopies, preferably further. Martins prefer housing that is out in the open. But, the martin housing should not be any further than about 100 ft. from your own home, because Purple Martins prefer to nest near human activity. If you don’t have, or can’t create, a suitably open area for martin housing, your chances of attracting martins are very slim unless you live right on water.

#4. Open and close the housing at the proper time of year. Adult martins begin arriving in early April, and may visit new sites, but will usually return to the same housing they used the year before. Most new colony sites are established by “subadult” (one year old) martins, which arrive between mid-May and late June. This is your “window of opportunity.” You can open your housing as early as April 1st, but don’t expect stayers until May or June. Martins will continue to arrive into late June, so don’t give up too early! Be prepared to control starlings and House Sparrows rigorously during this 2-3 month period. Clean out and close the housing around September 1st by plugging the entrance holes or bringing it indoors.

#5. Play the Purple Martin vocalization tape or CD and deploy decoys. (optional, but highly recommended) Purple Martins are colonial breeders and are very “social” birds. They strongly prefer to nest in the company of other martins. Broadcasting the vocalization tape or CD over an outdoor loudspeaker attached to your home stereo system will greatly enhance your chances of getting these elusive birds to investigate and stay.