The purple martin is one of the most popular birds when it comes to homeowners wanting to attract and provide houses for. They the largest of the swallow species found in the United States. Over time they have abandoned their ancestral nesting habits and now nest almost exclusively in manmade nesting boxes and houses. Breeding is easily confirmed, as purple martins in Texas nest exclusively in backyard bird housing, and usually in conspicuously open situations. In addition, adult purple martins are quite active and vocal, especially in and around the nesting site. Upon arrival in spring, male purple martins claim and advertise their chosen location. Arriving females select a cavity, essentially inheriting the male associated with that cavity. Purple martins are a single-brooded species, second broods are rare but have been observed. The spring arrival of purple martins usually begins in mid-January through early February in South Texas, while they may not appear in northern areas of the Panhandle until late March. It is usually a good idea to begin cleaning out the houses in January or February from last year's nesting so that early arrivals have a clear nesting cavity to choose from. Competition with other bird species can become an issue so it may be necessary to monitor and remove nesting material from other birds until you can confirm the purple martin's arrival. Arrivals typically continue at individual colonies for 16-22 weeks. Timing of arrival is age and sex-related, as older age classes generally precede younger birds, and males generally precede females of their respective age class. In Texas, second-year purple martins arrive about two months after the earliest birds arrive. When new colonies are established, it is usually by these late-arriving second-year birds. Nesting competition from House Sparrows and Starlings can cause the purple martins to avoid or abandon nesting sites. purple martins prefer sites that are generally close to human dwellings or areas frequented by humans. The prefer houses that are elevated and generally clear of any trees or brush. A body of water is not a requisite but does provide the purple martins with a readily available supply of water and insects. You can pick up a purple martin house at almost any store and now is the time to get them installed. Purple martins and their antics are enjoyed by many and can be a great help to reduce the irritating insect population. For more information on purple martins or any other subject you can call the Madison County Extension office at (936) 348-2234.
Chapp Caperton is the Extension Agent for Madison County.