The martins are coming! The martins are coming!

purple martins - along the Llano River
A home for purple martins along the Llano River.
(Courtesy of Lynn Wolheim)

Driving thru the hill country, you may have seen collections of white gourds or multi-level bird houses positioned high above the ground on a tall pole, with a pulley system similar to that used to raise and lower a flag.    They are usually positioned out in a field or meadow.  These structures are designed to attract purple martins and give them a safe place to raise the next generation of these beautiful birds.

If you are fortunate enough to have erected one of these purple martin houses, or live nearby someone who has, you are in for a real treat during the next 6 months.  The pair-bonded martins began arriving around Valentine’s Day.  Several have already been spotted soaring, swooping above, landing on, and going in and out of apartment style houses or  colonies of gourds, checking out the neighborhood.

Checking out the neighborhood. (Coutesy of Lynn Wolheim)

Martins, North America’s largest swallow,  rarely nest in the wild, preferring man-made structures in close proximity to water and  people.  Note the metal hooks placed in front of the entrances to the gourds to keep out owls.

The next generation off to a good start. (Courtesy of Lynn Wolheim)

As the weeks progress, the martins will find mates, occupy houses, build nests, lay and incubate eggs, have babies, feed them, and watch them fledge.  Notice how the cozy nests are made of leaves, grasses to provide a soft bed for the eggs.

Around the Fourth of July, they will gather together in mass and begin their journey back to South America, only to fly back to the hill country again next February.  We’ll be ready for them at the nature center, and you can be too!

Check out these links for more information and how to prepare your own purple martin housing complex:
Good publications:
  • Stokes, D., L. Stokes, and J. Brown 1997. Purple Martin Book:  The Complete Guide to Attracting and Housing Purple Martins Toronto/Boston. Little, Brown, and Company.
  • Ray, James D. 2012. “The Purple Martin and its Management in Texas.” Texas Parks and Wildlife
Author:  Lynn Wolheim