Purple martins arrive in Forest Lake

Local expert offers landlording tips

Lee Bakewell
Guest Columnist

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles regarding the process of becoming a purple martin landlord. 

In the April 4 issue of the Forest Lake Times, we talked about the most important things you can do to attract purple martins.  Here is a brief recap:

• Don’t give up trying to attract them.

• Keep your martin house away from trees, at least 40’.

• Don’t allow other cavity nesters to preempt purple martins. You must trap or otherwise dispose of house sparrows and starlings.

• Your housing should be painted white.

• Your housing should be spacious, preferably 11” or more deep.  If your units are the more typical 6”, try to combine every other one to allow your martins to crawl further from the entrance (and the talons of owls).

Now for some of the “finer points” of successfully attracting purple martins:

To the extent your neighbors will allow it, play a “Daytime Colony Chatter” audio CD loud enough for itinerant martins to hear it. Purple martins are gregarious and love being with other martins.  If they hear other martins below their flight path, they will come to investigate and when they find martin housing instead of live martins, they will thank you more than blame you for the ruse. You can increase the effectiveness of this method by placing martin decoys on your housing as well.  These are sometimes carried by Menards and Fleet Farm but are also available, along with the audio CD’s, at www.purplemartin.org.

Play the Daytime Colony Chatter CD until the end of May and then switch to the “Dawn Song” CD.  Adult males give this call to (indirectly) attract younger females which are, by then, starting to think about raising a family.

Keep your housing closed up until the first “subadults” arrive which occurred on May 10 last year.  This will help discourage competitors such as house sparrows and starlings from “getting there first.”  But immediately unblock the entrances as soon as the subadults are reported to be in the area.

Consider buying the best purple martin house you can or building your own. The recommended “gold standard” is the Troyer T-14.  It provides 11” deep compartments in easy-to-manage “wings” with pull out nest trays and of course the entire house cranks down for easy inspections and management.  Complete plans are available on the internet including www.purplemartin.org (for $14). There is another site that has excellent plans for free so email Lee if you would like that link sent to you.  You can also purchase a T-14 at purplemartin.org built by the Amish but priced at $609 for the house alone, not counting the pole which will cost another $330 at least.  A local MN craftsman builds quality T-14’s made out of western red cedar for $500.

You can tell when the adult martins first arrive, as well as the subadults, by referring to the “Scout Arrival Page” found at www.purplemartin.org.  (Click on Research.)

Scouts first arrived at the Bakewell colony on Forest Lake No. 2 on April 14 this year, which coincidentally was the same exact day as last year.  How can this be when this spring was so much milder than last years? Because martins don’t travel solely through Minnesota to get to Minnesota. They are coming 5,000 miles from Brazil and thus travel through many weather patterns to get here.

If you would like to stay informed about purple martins in the Forest Lake area, please send an email to Lee and you will be placed on the mailing list.

Much more information can be found at www.purplemartin.org or feel free to contact Lee Bakewell with questions or comments at LeeSail@aol.com or 651-451-8481.