Purple Martin Housing Maintenance

Martin condo at full height

You may recall from a previous post entitle Purple Martin Scouts Have Arrived that the spring season is the time when we open our martin condo for the in-migrating birds to take up residence.  Now that the martins have departed the area in favor of warmer climes, it is time for us to clean out the nesting cavities of the condo and seal them off until next spring.  But how do I reach the martin house, which is at the top of a very tall pole?  The sharp eyed among you may notice that the pole is equipped with a crank and pulley mechanism, which make it simple to lower the unit for periodic maintenance.

Martin house lowered for cleaning

Once the unit is in the lowered position, I proceed to clean out the nesting materials that the birds have placed inside the cavities.  Each cavity has a hinged opening, which facilitates cleaning.

Aluminum floor plates

The martin condo that we have installed comes with removable aluminum floor plates.  The plates elevate the nest off of the condo floor, allowing for air circulation which helps to prevent molds and fungi from developing within the nesting materials.  As you may well imagine, the floor plates accumulate quite a bit of debris during the course of the season, so that it is imperative to scrub them clean before closing up the house for the winter.  A scrub brush and some high pressure water makes them look like new, as you can see from the photograph above.

Plugging the condo openings

After making certain that the insides of the condo cavities are sparkling clean, the floor plates are replaced, and then it is time to affix the plugs into the cavity holes.  This will prevent nuisance birds from taking up residence in the condo, which is designated for “purple martins only” (read the lease documents, you darn sparrows and cowbirds).

Cranking the martin condo back up the pole

Now it is an easy task to crank the martin house back to the top of the pole, where it will remain idle until the martins return to the area next spring.

This season we experienced mixed results with this particular martin house.  I installed this condo on the site of a previously successful, but smaller martin house (this condo has 24 cavities, the previous house had 12).  I relocated the smaller martin house in another location, about 300-400 feet away from this spot, and it has attracted martins this season.  This spring saw a few cavities with martin activity in the new unit, but far fewer than we had hoped for.  There may be two possible reasons for this.  First, notice the fence in the background of these photographs.  This section of fencing was under construction at the very time that the martins would have been establishing their nests this past spring.  The close proximity of the condo to the construction activity may have deterred the martins from nesting in the condo unit.  Second, we now have three cats in residence, and while they do not seem to have intimidated any of the other birds that frequent our yard, they just might make the martins a tad nervous.

Although this martin condo was not filled to capacity this spring and summer, do not think that we did not see purple martins.  To the contrary, martins were a regular sight to behold this past summer.  The natural habitat of purple martins are dead trees, and because we have an abundance of dead trees around our acreage (see post entitled Seeing Things In a New Light), many martins continue to call this spot their summer home, despite the fact that they did not utilize the condo to the extent we would have liked.  We shall be persistent, and I believe the purple martins will eventually book this condo to capacity each and every spring – at least, that is our hope.


Off topic aside:  This is the time of year that I am very busy with tractor work, getting my fields, clearings, and pastures in order.  And don’t forget the billions of leaves that fall off the trees, some of which must be picked up by this stickler for a neat lawn.  Because of these, and other projects that I have been undertaking, I have found less time to devote to writing blog posts than I would like.  Soon, I will be caught up with my work, and my posting (for better or worse) will be more frequent.  Thanks for continuing to check in regularly, I really do appreciate it.


12 thoughts on “Purple Martin Housing Maintenance

  1. I’ve read that if you put a mirror at the back of the martin cavities, starlings won’t nest in them. Not sure if this is true or why it would work on starlings but not martins, but there you go.

    I continue to check in once a day. Sometimes twice a day.

  2. I’m struck by that brilliant blue sky!

    Hal, I’m noticing a trend here. You have the best of any item from chicken house, to chicken tractor, to bird house, to gleaming fence.

    Is there nothing hastily cobbled together at your beautiful farm?

    Get your chores done, we’ll keep dropping in.

  3. Pablo – I will experiment with the mirror idea. I have a roll of mylar reflective sheeting that I can cut with a scissors and attach to the back of the cavities with adhesive. It should be easy to accomplish, and just may work.

    Karl – My new years resolution would have to include preventing the leaves from falling in autumn, and curtailing grass growth in the spring. That’s too high a price to pay in exchange for additional blogging time!

    FC – And you don’t have blue skys in Florida 🙂
    Regarding the “best” of any items – I may write a post about the times I settled for purchasing less than the best, and the ultimate costs associated with those decisions. These days, if the “best” doesn’t fit within my budget constraints, than I do without the item.

  4. Maybe the spiffy-newness of the new condo scared them off temporarily, and the martins were merely waiting for their friends to be the first to mess them up and make them a little homier before booking them full up next year.

    Sorry I’m late to the party – I get to look at pictures during the day (sometimes) but I’m waaaay behind on my blog reading/commenting. *sigh*

  5. Hal,
    I run Purple Martin Propagators – http://www.BirdHouseInfo.com (512) 825-4712 – here in Central Texas. I’ve installed over 1200 purple martin housing systems in the last 3 years and have found that putting pine straw in the compartments and also spreading some mud on the entry has brought my first-year installation occupancy rates up to around 40% and over 85% the second year.

  6. Hal,

    I have an old martin house like yours and glad to see someone with the same! Mine is in original paint and has two of the knockout holes missing. Was wondering the value of the birdhouse.

    Also how high up is your house?

  7. I’m curious about my removable aluminum floor plates. At the door (opening side)- does the turned lip go up or down? Hope this makes sense. Thanks.

  8. Lucy,

    The floor plates should be installed so that the lip in the front faces up.  This will elevate the plate about 1/4 inch above the floor, allowing air to circulate and moisture to evaporate.

  9. Great! That is the direction I placed them, but I’ve never known for sure (always spend time debating the issue with myself). Thanks much for the information. Happy birding!

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