After a long flight from South America, a bird can have succulent food and a place to rest, right?
For common swallows, these delicious insects and summer quarters could be in your garden if you provide the right home for these charming and graceful birds.
Aside from a limited range in the far northwest, these birds have excluded the western United States from the list of summer destinations, although they still return to the east of the country each spring.
Homeowners who appreciate the recreational and practical nature of birds eagerly await their arrival, and some hope to capitalize on the birds’ reputation for feeding on thousands of mosquitoes every day. But more on that later.
Let’s learn more about this fascinating species, then learn how to attract Purple Martins to your garden.
The Purple Martins is the largest member of the swallow family native to North America. They are nearly 8 inches long and have a wingspan of 15.4 to 16.1 inches.
The species gets its name from the males – their plumage is a deep blue-purple iridescence. The ladies wear brown-grey feathers that are noticeably less conspicuous.
These birds love nothing but tasty insect snacks. They feed on a wide variety of flying insects, “including many wasps, winged ants, and some bees,” according to the Audubon Society.
They also eat house and crane flies, beetles, moths and butterflies. While they do eat mosquitoes, they don’t consume as many mosquitoes as legend has it.
It takes a lot of effort to catch as many mosquitoes as possible, for example, a moth. So, like many of us, they prefer a simpler meal.
Mostly foraging mid-flight, they twist their bodies and wings to catch their prey, earning their reputation as talented stunt performers.
With a clear preference for warmer weather, Purple Martins arranged their itinerary to enjoy spring and summer in the northern hemisphere, before heading south to enjoy the warmer season in the southern hemisphere as well.
I mean why not?
That means they arrive in the southern U.S. as early as February and head north in May or June. Although they are in the US, their main job is to breed, usually producing 4 or 5 eggs in a season.
Many gardeners take pride in convincing these birds to expand their home in their own backyard.
Not only do they impress by reducing the annoying insect population, but they also impress with their lyrical song and playful flying style, both of which are pleasing to the eye.
There’s another reason you might want to give these birds a place to perch. We will discuss later in this article.
The Right Lodging in the Right Location
In the eastern half of the United States, Ziyan lives almost exclusively in human-provided housing.
The few who visit the West continue to nest in woodpecker holes and other natural nooks and crannies. But in the East, we’re going to give them a home.
You may have seen these apartment blocks jutting out of the ground on a very high pole in open spaces.
Birds love these apartments, or you can try natural or artificial pumpkins with cutout doors, another favorite form of housing.
In fact, Native Americans have long discovered that these purple chickens love gourd houses and hang hollow gourds around their villages to lure them.
Some gardeners hang flats and gourds together to ensure that each pair of birds finds a suitable home for their family.
Position your unit at any elevation between 10 and 20 feet and at least 40 feet away from trees, houses, or other structures above the elevation of Martin’s home.
But don’t place them more than 100 feet away from human habitation. Obviously they want to get close to us, just not too close.
In the south, choose white or light-colored fencing to reflect the sun’s heat and keep chicks cool.
For your own viewing pleasure, you may want to place birdhouses so you can hear and see these creatures from the comfort of your own habitat while they enjoy their singing and aerobatics.
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By making sure a few other amenities are in place, you can convince these birds to take up residence in your yard.
These flying creatures drink and bathe in flight. So having open water anywhere nearby (a half mile or so) would be a selling point. They don’t drink bird baths.
Eating bugs is always good, not a challenge, is it?
You can provide fully furnished apartments – place 1 or 2 inches of nesting material at the bottom of each compartment. Just make sure it’s fresh and not the total leftovers from last season.
Some gardeners add purple martin baits to attract birds, while others play recordings of their “morning song” to lure birds into their gardens.
Keep the Interlopers Out and Other Housework
Unfortunately, Martins aren’t the only species interested in the wonderful homes they build.
If you’re not careful, sparrows and starlings can enter your carefully selected apartment.
The only way to avoid this is to plan to open your apartment at the exact time Martins plans to settle down. This will of course vary by region, so check with your local bird watcher for more information.
When intruders enter, drive them out by removing their nesting material.
Demolish your birdhouses every fall—after they fly to Brazil and beyond—and clean them thoroughly. Put them back in time to get ready for next season.
By the way, the new guest may be the one who stayed with you last season. They remember and come back.
Another Motivation: Save a Species
We told you that we would give you a reason to invite this species to live with you.
Unfortunately, the population of this species is dwindling. Why not do your part to help them recover?
Building purple Martin houses used to be so common that John James Audubon inspected the houses to determine where he would spend the night.
He is said to have said in 1831: “Almost every country inn has a beer crate on its sign; I have observed that, in general, the finer the box, the better the inn.”
While these purple birds are not officially endangered, we won’t let them get to that point. The more of us who offer homey accommodations (especially in the east), the better the birds will thrive.
Let us give them a place to sleep and offspring, and they will reward us with their singing and beauty.
The Ornithological Fred Astaire
According to the Audubon Society, Purple Martin is one of America’s most popular feathered friends. Revered for its eating habits and beloved for its singing and aerial dance, this bird is a favorite of many gardeners.
How do you attract purple swallows to your garden? Now, will you work hard to lure these babes to your area? Tell Answer The Question about your Martin craze in the comments section below.