Ask the Bird Lady: Where to hang gourds for Purple Martins

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Purple Martins nesting in gourds
Photo by Kim Stark
In response to Christine Southwick's Memorial Day Purple Martin story about volunteers hanging gourds for nests along the waterway, a reader posted this question:
What waterways might support them? When should the gourds be hung?

Christine took the option to 'phone a friend' and contacted Kim Stark, who is one of the volunteers referenced in the story as providing gourd nests for local Purple Martins.

Here is the response sent by Kim Stark:

Just about any waterbody has the potential to attract martins, both marine and freshwater, that have a few features that martins like. They prefer to nest over water, or very close to it, which is why a lot of folks place housing on pilings that are in the water or on poles on docks. Another reason for this is less predation from raptors and owls and they're aerial insectivores so they need a clear flight path. However, even if housing is put near water they won't nest if gourds or houses are placed in an area with tall trees or shrubs nearby--they need a lot of clear space.

For the other part, the best time to put up housing is between late March to mid-April. The adult 'scouts' arrive first and typically choose nest areas where they successfully nested the prior year and then the subadults start arriving a few weeks after the adults have arrived. If there isn't enough housing available at established colonies, it's these subadults that look for new housing so if people didn't get houses/gourds up in April, it's still possible to attract martins in May or early June.

Here is an informational poster we did for the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference a couple years ago in case anyone in this area is interested in more info: Purple Martins Along the King County Marine Shoreline: Citizen Conservation Efforts. Anyone who is interested in more information can email me.


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