Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lessons from the Purple Martin Field Day

Last weekend I look a little road trip up to the northern part of my state (VA) to attend the 17th annual Purple Martin Field Day. It was my first time attending and despite the 2 hour, 45 minute drive I had a great time. It’s a small festival, but what it lacked in size it made up for in quality.

As a somewhat new Purple Martin landlord I’m always seeking to learn more about the hobby and meet people in the “business” that’s willing to share their knowledge and experience with beginners like myself. It’s a rewarding hobby but establishing and maintaining a healthy Purple Martin colony can be difficult, not to mention, very frustrating at times. That’s why it’s great to meet with individuals to discuss issues and realize that I’m not alone.

The featured speaker, Lance Wood, is an expert on Purple Martins and has published several articles about them in national publications. Mr. Wood has expanded his colony from four pairs of Purple Martins 20 years ago, to more than 130 nesting pairs today – wow! He shared his knowledge, techniques and best equipment available for successful martin attraction and management.

During the lectures we enjoyed watching hundreds of purple martins soaring overhead and feeding their young.


I won’t go into the detail on everything discussed, but if anyone reading this is considering, or would like to start their own purple martin colony the three basis things a person must have, according to Lance, is knowledge, some up-front funds to get started, and ‘moxie’; meaning the courage to do a few unpleasant things (like eliminating non-native competitive species like house sparrows and starlings).

As for the martins themselves, they require housing that’s erected in open spaces, away from tall trees and buildings but near human dwellings, quality housing that wont fail in strong winds, and adequate protection from predators such as owls, hawks, snakes and raccoons. Read more about the standards for Purple Martin Housing here and here.

Lance’s recommends natural gourds for purple martin housing, but if that’s not available, good quality plastic gourds will do fine. You can read about his thoughts on gourds here.


One of the best ways to get started and learn is to visit the Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA) and read some of the publications and other useful information on there site. PCMA also has a mentor program set up by region with contact information of experienced purple martin landlords in your area to help answer any questions you may have.

If you meet the basic requirements for purple martins, consider putting up houses for these birds. They are wonderful to have around and the effort is well worth it.

Also in attendance was Ron Kingston sharing his expertise on Eastern Bluebirds. Ron is best known for his invention of the Kingston Stove Pipe Baffle. If you have bluebird nesting box(s) in your yard be sure they’re protected from predators such as rat snakes and raccoons. Kingston Stove Pipe baffle is a great option and very easy to make. It will also work well on purple martin mounting poles.