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A Relaxing Hobby or An Active Endeavor?

What can you do to help the plight of the Purple Martin? Even if you are not an active Purple Martin Landlord you can help. If you do have Purple Martins, but don't actively manage your site, you can help even more and still enjoy a relaxing hobby.

  • Stop feeding cheap bird seed.
  • Stop feeding English Sparrows and Starlings. (S&S)
  • Stop providing nesting places to English Sparrows and Starlings.(S&S)
  • Make sure you install PREDATOR GUARDS on your poles.

Stop feeding cheap bird seed. What type of seed you offer should be dependent on your area and what kind of native birds you get. There are many options for bird food that natives prefer over the inexpensive seed mixes that contain large amount of millet (proso millet). Do not feed bread. Offer seeds like sunflower (black oil) or thistle, again depending on the natives. Woodpeckers love peanuts (whole). Trim the perches on your bird-feeders so that the HOSP can not perch on them (5/8 inch) but natives will. Use upside down feeders for birds like goldfinches.  There are also woodpecker specific feeders that encourage clinging and are very HOSP unfriendly. There is a device that can be used to deter HOSP from your feeders, like the “Magic Halo” . Some people have reported that placing a bird feeder inside of an upside down bucket with the handle hanging down, will deter HOSP from entering up into the feeder. If all else fails, consider removing your feeders. 

Do NOT allow a HOSP to nest in a nest box. Remember, every HOSP will kill a native bird, if it has an opportunity. There are several things you can do. These work very well if you do not have martins at your site yet.  Pull the nest material out as often as they fill it up. Do this daily, if need be. Plug the entrance until the HOSP find somewhere else.

I can't stress Predator Guards enough, the countless horror stories of snakes, raccoons and other animals  climbing up poles to Purple Martin houses. No matter where you live there are animals capable of gaining access to your housing. It is relatively inexpensive and will save lives.

If you do not manage your colony at all, you WILL lose birds and eventually you can even lose your colony.

What's the big deal about S&S?

European Starlings (EUST) and English House Sparrows(HOSP) Collectively known as S&S. These 2 birds are the most detrimental agents facing native North American cavity nesting birds. They are nest site competitors with Wood Ducks, Buffleheads, Northern Flickers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Gila Woodpeckers, Acorn Woodpeckers, Great Crested Flycatchers, Tree Swallows, Purple Martins, Eastern Bluebirds, and other cavity nesting birds. By the sheer numbers and prolific nature of Starlings and Sparrows, they have single handedly caused significant declines to many of these native birds. Thanks to for this information.

Back in the 1890's, a small number of Starlings and Sparrows were released in New York City. By 1910, the small number of these birds that were released in Central Park had spread south to Virginia. By 1942 to California.
Both EUST and HOSP will enter a nest cavity and kill adult birds, nestling's and eggs. Though it is true that Starlings and English House Sparrows do NOT migrate, they do spread out into neighboring areas as they continue to increase their range and territories.

The harm done to Purple Martins, by these 2 birds is irrefutable.

Allowing S&S to nest in your martin house will cause an eventual decline in your success as a Martin Landlord by decreasing the amount of surviving young. Though some may say that Purple Martins and English House Sparrows and /or Starlings can "peacefully" coexisting the Martins will eventually lose out. There are 2 situations in which you will see Purple Martins nesting alongside S&S. One being, some returning martins will continue to nest in housing that has become infested with Sparrows or Starlings but that is only testament to a Purple Martins site fidelity. In time those Martins will move on to safer housing...if they survive the S&S. The other situation is martins who are new to a site and for lack of other housing will nest in housing that is infested with S&S. These Martins may nest one year but will not return to invest another nesting season in housing where their arch enemies reside.

"Stop providing nesting places to English House Sparrows and Starlings"

I know I make it sound easy. One thing that you can do is install Starling Resistant Entrance Holes or SREH to all nest compartments. That will nearly eliminate most Starlings from invading your site. The Purple Martin Conservation Association has TONS of information on different types of SREH, predator or pole guards, colony management and more. I urge you to check them out. More and more manufactures of Purple Martin housing are make these Starling Resistant Entrance Holes "standard equipment".

Now HOSP's (sparrows) are a different story. English House Sparrows (actually a type of finch) are small enough to enter any hole. Unchecked they will decimate your martins, tree swallows or bluebirds.

The most important advice I can give is if your Purple Martin housing is chronically infested with Sparrows or Starlings, Please strongly consider taking your Purple Martin house down. If you enjoy watching birds nest, but can't commit to some of the work, put up a single bird nest box. You will still have a great experience.

An Active Endeavor: If you are a Purple Martin landlord, chances are you are relatively active to obsessively active (like me) about managing 'your' birds. You probably already know the multitude of web sites that provide GREAT info and answers to all your questions.

If you are not yet a Purple Martin Landlord OR want to be more active at managing your housing, read on.

A SHORT list of things that an ACTIVE landlord does
  • Of course, does not feed English house Sparrow or Starlings.
  • Actively traps and humanely disposes of non-native English House Sparrows and Starlings.
  • Uses SREH (Starling Resistant Entrance Holes) on housing to protect against starlings.
  • Places predator guards on poles-to prevent snakes, raccoons, etc, from destroying nests.
  • Uses tunnels or owl guards to protect colony from owl predation
  • Monitors nests for parasites, such as mites and blowflies.

Then there are early spring freezes, droughts, heat waves, black flies, parasites and a multitude of "natural disasters" that can adversely impact your Purple Martins. In all of these situations, you can do things to help your birds and make a difference. Our links section has a large list of internet resources for you to access the most up to date information on Purple Martins on the web. Check out our YouTube site for videos on doing nest checks, nest changes and more.

Just remember that hosting Purple Martins is not for the faint of heart. But as with many things in life, the rewards are directly proportional to the effort that YOU invest.

Article © 2008


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