They are HERE!
Spring! Time to clean, air and…..build? Yep!
These are your BEST neighbors! The birds are scrupulously clean and a joy to watch.
Progne subis, or Purple Martins, a type of swallow, migrate and nest in many parts of Texas. They are called “purple” as adult males tend to be dark-purple colored.
According to the Purple Martin Conservation Association, these birds are HERE right now!!
The Gulf Coast area of Texas sees early scouts, sometimes as early as January. Unscientifically, we mark February 18th as the day scouts return to the martin houses in Seabourne Creek Nature Park, in Rosenberg, Texas.
TMNCPC members Bert Stipelcovich and Garrett Engelhardt maintain the Purple Martin condos at the park, as the location offers a diverse habitat for conserving these wonderful birds. Below is an image by Garrett Engelhardt, long time Purple Martin landlord, illustrating the gourd-type condos he and Bert installed at Seabourne Park. The Purple Martin houses at Seabourne have removable doors making the work easier with less stress to the Purple Martin occupants.
Garrett stated that in 2021 he saw around 25 babies in 6 nests. He provides access to pine needles and the martins will add oak leaves for nesting. Condos are located in an open area of Seabourne and he and Bert are always seeking additional help maintaining the colonies.
Last year may not have been the best year for martins. Garrett said he saw “almost half of the babies die and the adults left very early from Seabourne Creek”. Many landlords in Fort Bend County experienced similar dire events for the Purple Martins, observing colony declines and adults leaving this latitude early.
Note that when using the gourd type of house, there is an opening for cleaning, a “porch” for adults, a numbering system identifying each gourd, and several metal perches for birds to relax. The vertical pole is cemented into the ground.
Scouts are males inspecting nest options and may or may not seek a female mate and hang around selecting the best nest hole. Early scouts generally migrate further up the continental United States. Nesting takes place during the cooler months. Nestlings dislike the heat and humidity they must endure. Babies are hatched naked, blind, and helpless, relying on the hunting efforts of their parents. The babies open their big, yellow mouths for insects their parents feed. The young are incessant eaters!
The birds spend their winters in South America, migrating north in early spring. They fly as far north as the Ohio Valley of the continental United States. In the Texas Gulf Coast, the birds arrive in January or February. Once a martin condo has been established, the same birds tend to come back year after year. Purple Martins leave the Gulf Coast of Texas for their southerly migration in October and head to their nonbreeding grounds in South America. They’ll spend three to four months there and then make the return trip north.
It’s easy to become a Purple Martin landlord. Decide on a house style, there are many to choose from. Then get them up in January. Watch for a clear, blue sky, early spring day, high in the air, and you will hear, then see, the sleek birds. It’s a wonderful harbinger of spring!
These birds like humans and neighbor well with other martin families. Purple Martins tend to build their nests in human-made, free-standing, high-up, colony nest structures swaying in a breeze. The pole has to be cemented into the ground. The “best” houses have a string pulley system to raise and lower the houses, making it so much easier on the landlord, as the houses need to be inspected once in a while so that pesky house sparrow nests can be removed.
The birds prefer metal, gourds, or wooden houses. It’s a good idea to put small railings around, as bird walking space can be narrow. We don’t want any babies to fall! Watching males patrol, seeing eggs, babies, swooping adults, and, hearing their songs, is great family fun!
These birds like open spaces so the height of the martin house should be 12 – 18 feet. Their other requirements are lots of insects to eat, a specific nest hole size, depth of nest cavity, and no predators such as snakes. It’s best to take down, inspect and clean the houses in fall to discourage mold, insects and dreaded house sparrows.
House sparrows aggressively invade established martin nests and must be removed. It’s easy to tell if a sparrow has invaded the martin house by the large, messy, grass filled nest it builds in a martin nest hole. Eventually, the house sparrows overpower the martins, and only messy sparrow nests are left. All house sparrow nests must be completely removed, as the sparrows will quickly rebuild their nests if any grass is left inside or if nesting material is left on the ground.
Purple Martins reward their landlords with their morning song, a type of soothing vocalization, as well as the reduction of flying insects, and, of course, good company. Parents reduce disease and predation by carefully removing their chicks’ feces. Healthy baby martins never mess their nests or the ground below.
Children and adults alike delight in seeing these hard-working messengers of spring and hope.
For further information, click on these links: