purple martins

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A pair of purple martins on their condo porch. Male on the left.

For quite a few years, Don and I have volunteered at Wildflower Preserve in several different capacities. Wildflower is a private preserve in the Englewood area. The property at one time was a golf course. However, it was deserted years ago and became a wild overgrown jungle. Recently, there have been many changes made for the better at the preserve.

The Lemon Bay Conservancy acquired the property in 2010, and through a lot of hard work (and grants and volunteers), this precious sliver of land is on the way to be a treasure in our own backyard. This 80-acre parcel is private property, so it does not have public acccess like preserves owned by the county or state. However, you can join the Lemon Bay Conservancy at http://bit.ly/3euTnhu, and also sign up for one of the open walks for the general public.

There are several freshwater ponds on the property which flow into saltwater Lemon Creek. The vision for Wildflower is to convert these existing ponds into a series of interconnected wetlands and restore the uplands to a native habitat. This has been a huge endeavor on the part of the many volunteers involved with this process.

Don and I were on site to clean out the recently moved purple martin house. It was on the sidelines for a while during the process of restoring Wildflower. Now it is in a perfect location to attract the martins. No sooner than it was raised than a purple martin came to investigate. Maybe one of the condos will be attractive enough to move in.

The day we were there, it was so windy Don’s ladder blew over twice. (Fortunately, he was not on it at the time.) I had to hold the baffle for Don while he put the screws back on because the huge stovepipe structure almost blew away.

Purple martins are the largest swallow in North America. All martins have a short forked tail. The males are a glossy black with shimmery blue. Females look similar but have a lighter breast area. It takes about two years for these birds to mature. From a distance, it may be difficult to discern the immature male and female without your binoculars.

Purple martins nest in cavities in dead trees. Years ago, Native Americans hung dried hollow gourds for them to use as nests, and gourds are still used today. Since much of their nesting habitat has been destroyed, many people erect purple martin condos, which can be very simple or quite large and complicated.

Today, most martin landlords use plastic gourds in lieu of the natural ones, which are prone to rotting or breaking when they get wet. They can be hung from the martin house. Some landlords have huge structures with many gourds hanging.


At our previous residence here in Florida, I had a martin condo erected along the canal behind our home. I played a CD called Dawn Song, which definitely attracts purple martins, daily during the beginning of nesting season. Once you attract them, you are responsible for protecting them.

A baffle must be on the pole, or snakes may climb up and eat the eggs or nestlings. Crows and owls will try to get their heads in the condos and grab a baby to eat or to feed to their own young. There have been times when I have had to run out in the backyard in my nightgown with a broom to chase the great horned owl away. They can rip open the door, and that would be the end of the babies in the nest.

My good friend Terry, who got our wildflower martin condo donated to us, is having that problem right now. A great horned owl is visiting her martin condo nightly, and Terry has been distraught. She reached out to her many martin friends for advice. I don’t think she liked my advice with regard to the broom in the nightie.

The male will arrive first in the area and do some real estate scouting before the female shows up. They will pair and select their home. Their nest, built inside the cavity, is mostly twigs. The female usually lays four to six eggs. Hatching will occur after about 15 days of incubation.

The young will fledge in about 26 to 30 days. Both parents will look after the young for about one month after fledging. We always were excited during fledging days. It felt like our grandkids were leaving the nest. Of course, with 12 condos, we had quite a few grandkids fledge.

One of the main reason purple martins are so popular is that people believe they eat lots of mosquitoes. This is actually not true. While they certainly could eat mosquitoes, since their food is flying insects which they catch on the wing, they tend to focus on larger prey such as beetles, moths and dragonflies.

Even though they aren’t much for mosquito control, purple martins are still beautiful birds and it makes me happy to have them around. If they make you happy too, then consider setting up your own martin condo.

Abbie Banks is a member of the Venice Area Birding Association, a group of folks who want to enjoy the environment and nature without the cumbersome politics of an organized group. For more info on VABA or to be notified of upcoming birding trips, visit AbbiesWorld.org/references.html or email her at Amberina@aol.com.

Abbie Banks is a member of the Venice Area Birding Association, a group of folks who want to enjoy the environment and nature without the cumbersome politics of an organized group. For more info on VABA or to be notified of upcoming birding trips, visit AbbiesWorld.org/references.html or email her at Amberina@aol.com.

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