Calling All Purple Martins: The Unbelievable Bird-Attracting Birdhouse
At our Catskills home, some of our favorite springtime visitors are feathered friends. A colony of purple martins has been nesting on our property since I was a child, gliding low over our land and flashing iridescent indigo as their feathers catch the light of the sun.
In case you missed the recent Wild Kratts episode about them, purple martins are members of the swallow family, with long, tapered wings and forked tails. Out West, they find homes in the natural world, but east of the Rocky Mountains, they rely on human-supplied birdhouses. So, they feel more like pets than the average wild bird.
If you want your own flock of purple martins, you just need a purple martin birdhouse and a big open spot to install it. The Purple Martin Conservation Association says, "Choose the center of the largest open spot available, about 30-120 feet from human housing and at least 40-60 feet from trees." As unlikely as it seems, this is a situation where if you build it, they will come.
Unfortunately, the old purple martin house that my grandfather installed was almost as run-down as his old double-wide, but Archer got a replacement house from my parents for his 5th birthday. When we went up in mid-April to install it, there were already purple martins flocking to the old, broken-down house, which had fallen halfway down its pole.
Again, we turned to the Purple Martin Conservation Association for advice: "The best solution is to erect the new housing near the old for an entire season. Do not replace or eliminate the old housing until some of the martins have accepted and bred in the new housing." Though the purple martins were vocalizing wildly and threatening to dive-bomb us, my brave father, husband and brother-in-law went ahead with plans to install the new house on top of the old pole.
By the time the guys walked back to the house, we could see purple martins swooping through the air and hear them singing wildly in the trees. Soon they were perched on both the old house and the new one.
Meanwhile, a hawk had begun to circle overhead. We did our best to offer the purple martins a safe place to live, but I guess every neighborhood has its thugs. You may not be able to see it if you're reading this on your phone, but on a big screen, you can see the tiny purple martins in the lower left-hand corner and huge hawk in the upper right-hand corner of the photo below.