The tradition of housing and caring for Purple Martins dates back centuries when Native Americans would hang hollow gourds for the birds. Since then, Purple Martins have become increasingly dependent and friendly to humans, making them one of the most beloved backyard birds.
There are a lot of ways to attract the large swallows to your property, but putting up a Purple Martin house is by far the easiest. However, being a Purple Martin landlord means you have the responsibility to make sure the birds are safe and healthy from any predators or parasites. The best way to do this is to periodically check on the birds and clean the houses every fall. Here's how.
Before we get to the actual cleaning out of the house, it's important to install your Purple Martin house properly. Since you will have to do regular maintenance, make your house accessible by installing it on a telescopic pole or using a pulley system to easily bring the house down for weekly checks.
Be Wary of Competitors
Purple Martin houses are perfect nesting sites for pest species like House Sparrows or European Starlings. If you put up your Purple Martin house long before the start of nesting season, which varies depending on your location, it's more likely to be inhabited by these pest birds. Once your Purple Martin house is up and you start to see them coming around your neighborhood, you should still perform periodic checks to make sure no other birds have taken up residence. The remedy against unwanted birds building nests inside the cavities is to completely clean out the budding nest.
If starlings continue to be a problem, you can buy starling-resistant entrance holes to keep them out. You may also have to temporarily block the entrances to the house if sparrows and other birds continue trying to take over the nesting site.
Periodically Check for Parasites
Being a Purple Martin landlord is a fun and rewarding experience, but it does require some work during breeding season. Every six or seven days, you should bring down the nest and peak inside to make sure everything is normal. Don't worry about the birds getting disturbed because they're not easily frightened by humans. When you look inside, check to see if there are any parasites lurking. Blood-sucking parasites, blow fly larvae, fleas and other critters could all harm the nestlings. For a more detailed description of the parasites that may be nagging your birds, check out this helpful article from the Purple Martin Conservation Association.
In extreme cases, you might have to do a nest replacement and completely transfer the nest to a new house to get rid of the parasites.
Clean Purple Martin Houses Every Fall
At the beginning of fall, it's time to take down your Purple Martin house for a thorough cleaning and to prevent other birds from taking over. First, remove all the nesting material from the house and scrape off any residue from the sides of the wall. Then, take a cleaning solution like a Purple Martin house cleaner and scrub the outside of the house and inside of each cavity. Once it's completely cleaned out, let it sit for a day or two in the sun until it's dry. At this point, you can plug up the holes and store it until next season.