Purple Martin Birdhouse

For a natural mosquito eater, attract Purple Martin swallows and maintain them by hollowing-out a bottle gourd for a birdhouse.

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    Gourds are commonly used as purple martin houses in the south.
    Photo by Getty Images/Westhoff
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    Purple martins are one of the most effective natural insect controls known.
    Photo by iStock/Getty Images Plus/passion4nature
  • birdhouse
    Build your own birdhouse for purple martins.
    Illustration by Kim Zarney
  • almanac
    The “Mother Earth News Almanac” by the Mother Earth News staff provides readers with information about self-sufficient lifestyles of the past and present.
    Cover courtesy Voyageur Press

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  • birdhouse
  • birdhouse
  • almanac

Mother Earth News Almanac: A Guide Through the Seasons (Voyageur Press, 2016), by the MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff is a collection of helpful information and advice to living a self-sufficient lifestyle. The book provides fun and practical ideas on topics such as raising animals, canning, making compost, and more! The following excerpt is from Chapter 2, "Spring."

You can buy this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS STORE: Mother Earth News Almanac

Purple martins are among the most effective natural insect controls known, and North Americans have long had an affinity for these handsome birds. Resourceful Native Americans were already attracting martins with nesting sites made from hollowed-out gourds when the first white settlers arrived on the continent, and the European immigrants soon adopted the practice. Today, specially constructed, multicompartment purple martin houses are familiar fixtures in many farming communities.

Martins are the largest members of the swallow family and feed exclusively on airborne bugs — if it doesn't fly, they don't recognize it as food. On a daily basis, these birds consume close to their own body weight in food, and a four-ounce purple martin could — conceivably — eat 14,000 mosquitoes in one twenty-four-hour period. These efficient insect catchers do not limit themselves to such an exclusive diet, however. Although martins do devour more than their share of mosquitoes every day, they also feast on flies, beetles, moths, and many other airborne pests at the same time.

Before European settlers changed eastern North America from a heavily forested wilderness to neatly manicured farms and cities, the purple martin often nested in dead trees and hollow stumps. As such habitat was cleared, the population of this valuable bird declined until it reached an all-time low — probably sometime in the early 1960s. Thanks, though, to (1) a renewed interest in natural pest controls and (2) some dramatically improved martin house designs, the giant swallow's numbers are once again increasing at a satisfying rate.

Purple martins are gregarious, nest in colonies, and are easily attracted to areas with even large human populations. If you live east of the Rockies and your town or farm has an insect problem it could well pay you to put up several houses for these birds.



Fall 2021!

Put your DIY skills to the test throughout November. We’re mixing full meal recipes in jars, crafting with flowers, backyard composting, cultivating mushrooms, and more!


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