natural gourd purple martin house
This article was written by Chuck Abare. He is a very knowledgable guy
on the subject of Purple Martins and Gourds. Thank You Chuck.
Since the original idea of this page is to tie purple martins and gourds
together, this page will primarily concern itself with easy to build,
inexpensive housing for martins. Housing that is in just about anybody's price
range, light, easy to work with, and best of all, it will attract purple
martins. Of course, it will consist of natural gourds.
LOCATION,� LOCATION,� LOCATION
There's one thing said there, that I'd like to reiterate
here, and that's the location of any purple martin site. It should have
a lot of landing room. Martins like to swoop into their nests, and if
there are any tall trees or other hindering obstructions close by, it's going
to be very difficult for the house to attract them. No structures of any kind
taller than the martin house should be within 60 feet of the site. They
just won't come. However, this does not apply to human housing. It
can be as close as 30 feet, so long as it isn't taller than the martin housing.
Before erecting your site, think about a location for the site
where there will be no hindrances for the martins when they approach the site.
Things like tall buildings and trees give an ambushing hawk the advantage,
martins don't like it, and therefore, won't nest in such conditions. Martins
like to sit on phone wires, but if those wires are in the flight path to their
nests, they now become a hindrance, thus a possible deterrence to martins
nesting in your site. It may not seem like much, but sometimes that's all it
takes to make or break a site. However, if the martins decide that you have a
good site location, then they will readily settle in and take up residence.
rack with 24 purple martin gourd houses
If you plan to supply gourds for martin housing, one of the
things that will have to be considered is HOW you plan to offer them.
There are many different options available ranging from long straight lines of
gourds, T-shaped poles, poles with metal wheels or old rake tines, and so on.
I didn't really care for any of those so I decided to design my own. The
system you see above is one that I designed, and is one of four that are in my
yard near my home. I developed it because I just wasn't happy with the other
forms of poles that were available.
The following is why I designed my own
gourd rack. For years I'd tried to attract martins to my martin house without
success. They came, but never stayed. Then, a friend suggested that I put up
some gourds and bingo, I had martins move in the first year.
happened to be on a 'T' shaped pole that did not come down easily and
therefore, maintenance was a very big problem. The pole was too high and I
couldn't get at the gourds to take care of them. Some sparrows moved in to one
of the other gourds, and I couldn't easily get to the gourds to remove the
There just had to be a better way! I went into my wood shop, sat
down in the doorway and watched the birds. While looking at the pole, I
thought about it. If I couldn't get up the pole to get to the gourds, why not
bring the gourds down to me. Then and there, I decided to come up with a
system where I could mount my gourds, and yet get at them easily to perform
maintenance on them.
At the same time, I wanted them to be aesthetically
appealing. I also designed in a pulley system that really makes the whole
thing happen. The pulley system is a block and tackle design and will easily
handle all the weight of the gourds and the martin materials inside the
gourds. Thus, the system you see here. Normally, the design only contains two
levels, but I had so many martins coming that I had to go to three levels.
Yes, it's a little heavier, but the pulley system handles it easily. I now
have 4 poles in my backyard, two with 3 layers of gourds as shown above (and
below) and two with 2 layers as the design was originally intended.
didn't come up with the idea of putting up gourds. I also didn't come up with
the idea of raising and lowering them. I just refined it to suit my liking.
The maintenance of the unit is quick, easy, inexpensive, and what I think to
be attractive. The unit is also easily accessible from any direction for the
martins. The system is lightweight but strong, and will mount 16 gourds with 2
layers on a steel pole. It's very easy to care for. Everything to make the
unit is readily available in your local lumber yard and hardware store, except
the gourds, and they are available at amishgourds.com. When you do order some,
purchase a few extra, sometimes they need replacing and it's always good to
have a few extras around. Or, you can buy them already
outfitted for Purple Martins. If you really get into it, and you have
the room, you can use the free seeds supplied with your order, and grow them.
As far as tools required to build the unit, all you will need is everyday hand
tools the average person keeps around the house such as a jigsaw, drill,
simple wrenches and pliers.
rack lowered for nest check and maintenance
The plans call for only 2 layers of gourds, but as you can see, a third can easily be added if you're strong enough to handle the extra weight. The rack unit will cost approximately $200.00 to build and set up, depending on the price of materials in your area, and the amount of work you're willing to put into it. I believe this cost is within the range of just about anyone who would be interested in attracting these delightful birds. And once you finally do get a colony started, it will be worth every minute of work and every penny you spent to just sit back and watch them as they effortlessly float through the air eating insects and thus making life a little better for you.
If you want one, you can build one.
What I've done is put together a small packet that explains all you need to know to build a two level Purple Martin slide system and mount it on a pole and start your own colony. All the instructions required to build and erect one of these units is contained in the packet. It includes a complete itemized list of materials, drawings and assembly procedures for assembling the entire unit, instructions how to put in a ground socket, put the pole up, and how to attach the slide and gourds to it. There's even a few maintenance tips for the pole, gourds and wooden parts.
This system is very light and I designed it so that it can easily be raised and lowered by folks that may be slight in stature or may be a little on the older side like me. There's no pinching of fingers - like with telescoping poles. There's no tipping of the gourds - like on poles that pivot to lower them for inspection. There's no climbing a ladder to get at the hard mounted systems - thus making things safer. All that's needed are a few basic tools, the know-how to read basic drawings, and basic woodworking skills. Depending on the skill level, it takes about one weekend to build a rack and assemble it. Add time for painting.
One more thing. Just because you put up one of these poles, there is no guarantee that you're going to get a Purple Martin
colony. (Although I'll give you better odds than if you tried to attract them to a house).
There are rules that have to be followed to attract martins to new sites and the same goes for this structure also. It's young martins overflowing from other sites that usually start new colonies because the older established birds will return to the original house they nested in year after year, even the same nest if possible. It might take some time to get a colony established. This is something that's very hard to predict, and sometimes patience is a must. What you have to do is make the site as appealing as possible to the martins and if they like it, they will stay. Mine did.
It is generally accepted that two nesting pair is considered a colony. Then, as long as there are nests available, some of the young will also return to the same area the following year, and may bring others with them, thus your colony will grow. All I can do is suggest you try it and see what happens. Who knows, you might get lucky too.