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Owls:Protect your Purple Martins

Owl Protection

I strongly encourage all those that do not have predator protection in place to give it some thought. The work that Purple Martin Landlords go through to attract these birds is significant. The damage an Owl can do over the course of a few nights is devastating. Once an Owl discovers the colony, and is successful in hunting, it will return. An Owl can easily reach in and pluck Purple Martins out of a typical 6x6 compartment. But with a few simple deterrents you can save the lives of many martins. The more difficult you make it for the Owl the less likely it will return for an "easy" meal.

Its amazing the animals around us that we are not aware of. We look out our windows or get out of our cars and we have no idea the eyes that are watching us. I did not think there were that many Owls in my neighborhood until I spoke to a nice man at the local grocery store. He proceeded to tell me that he had 4 nest boxes on his property…about 2.5 miles from me, that fledged baby Horned Owls every year. I was amazed since I figured that since I had never heard “hooting” that there were no Owls. WRONG! I have read many a posts from landlords who lost their entire colony to some predator or the other. Purple Martins just don’t pick up and leave. Something drives them away. Be it snakes, raccoons or Owls (to name a few) There are creatures rooming around in the dark scouring the neighborhood for an opportunity. And trust me, being 15 feet in the air is not protection.

Here is a short list of things you can do to protect your colony from Owls. (Many Thanks to the PMCA, Purple Martin Research Group and the Purple Martin Clubhouse for this information)

1. ENLARGE THOSE COMPARTMENTS! 6×6 is so 20th century and so unsafe. 6×12 is the way to go. A simple feat to enlarge existing compartments. Some housing systems (Like Quad Pods) use a "baffle" to deter Owls. That is simply a plastic barrier, within the compartment that prevents the owl from seeing past it and into the compartment itself. enlarging compartments in purple martin house

2. USE TUNNELS! The tunnel simply increases the distance from entrance to the nest interior. The tunnel makes it difficult for an Owl to reach in and pull out birds with his talons. Since an Owl can not reach around a corner or a bend, tunnels or gourds that incorporate this feature can help your Martins have some measure of safety.

3. WHITE NOISE! Do you have a pool? Is the pump near the martin housing? If so that is a perfect way to mask the noise of the birds “talking” at night. And YES, they do talk. And yes, an Owl flies around listening for just such sounds. Other ways to make white noise are fountain pumps or waterfalls. Even a sound machine sold at your local Wal-Mart or Target can be used to make white noise. Cost is under $15. Or how about a cheap radio set in between stations. (As long as your neighborhood is safe enough that it won’t get stolen) Usually if the radio is playing static, no one will really mess with it. (who wants an apparent broken radio!)

4. WIRE ME UP! 2″ x 4″ or 2″ x 3″ hardware cloth also referred to as ‘chicken’ wire can make a great owl guard. Wrapped around the housing, the martins will quickly learn to navigate the wire and have a safe escape if an Owl comes calling. Make sure the wire is only about 12" away from the entrance. Too large of a gap might allow the gull to swoop up and under from the side. Make sure the 3" is horizontal and 2" is vertical to allow martins to pull nesting material in horizontally through the wire when nest building.
wire owl enclosure for purple martin gourd rack (thanks to K.Justus for photo)
This cage like enclosure can also help protect from large Crows and Seagulls.
You can also purchase Owl Guards that are made specifically for your housing that prevents the Owls from getting right up to the entrance. If they can't get into the entrance to look and reach in, they may go somewhere "easier" to feed.

5. LIGHTS! Many have found that flood lights, either on all night or motion activated can somewhat deter Owls. Apparently the lights can spoil an Owls stealth approach. My philosophy is-every little bit helps.

There are a few other things that you can do to help. Make your gourds as “swing-free” as possible. (Thank you Mr.Pampell!) Look into a product called Niteguard. It is an artificial “eye”, a blinking light that simulates the eyes of an owl on the top of the housing. Owls stay away from other Owls. So if the Owl thinks there is one parked on top of your Martin house, he will keep going. (Thanks Lisa) Though some say this does NOT work, others say it does. You decide. I would not trust it exclusively to protect from owls.

So those are my tips on Owl Predation Prevention. And you all know how much an ounce of prevention is worth!

Article © 2008

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Gourd Rack Owl Guards (6 pk)
Gourd Rack Owl Guards (6 pk)