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Birding Focus: Interesting stories of our feathered friends.

Purple Martins at a bird house
© George H. Harrison

Purple Martins at a bird house
© George H. Harrison

Return of the Martins

It seems that everyone would like to have a purple martin colony in their backyard. Those who have had purple martins nesting in their backyards in past years know that this is the time of the year to make their move.

If you have never had purple martins in your yard, nor have never seen them in your area, the chances are slim that you will be able to attract these birds of tradition, even if you offer all the right stuff.

The right stuff is a purple martin apartment house that will accommodate four to 24 families, in 6x 6x 6 rooms, with a 2-1/2 entrance hole, 2-1/4 above the floor. The house should be mounted on a pole, 15 to 20 high, in the open where the birds will have a long sweep to and from the house. And, if there is water nearby, the chance of attracting them is improved.

In April, the first martins to arrive from the tropics are a small group of males known as the advance guard. A few days or a week later, the main body of dark bluish-purple males and duller-colored females will arrive and take occupancy of the house.

If all goes well, the pairs will each raise four or five youngsters, which will leave their nurseries by late July, and the whole colony will be on its way back to the tropics by mid to late August.

-- George H. Harrison