How to Build a Birdhouse for Martins

Learn how to build a birdhouse for martins, the beneficial bird that not only eats copious amounts of insects, but also scares away hawks and crows.

| February/March 1998

Some things are just intrinsically appealing to me, such as beanie caps with propellers, old pickup trucks and birdhouses. For reasons that I can't quite put my finger on, they are just ... neat. And a two or three-story martin birdhouse, well...

I became interested in martin birdhouses after seeing the movie Witness with Harrison Ford. If you remember, he smashed into one and then spent some time repairing both the house and his troubled spirit. I never actually saw martins in that particular house. It's possible that Harrison botched the job. To entice a colony to your birdhouse, you must make it attractive to them as well as you.

Martins: The Always Helpful Visitor

Purple martins need elbow room, so if you can, allow at least a 20-foot diameter of clear space around the birdhouse. These birds like a high perch and like to have an abundance of egg shells at their disposal (not enough calcium in the old bug diet). Last, but not least, they like plenty of nice nesting material.

There are two practical reasons for attracting a martin colony to your homestead. First is that they are insect eaters — flies, mosquitoes, moths and wasps, to name a few. When they are feeding their young (in the birdhouse), they have been observed returning with an insect every 30 seconds. Let's see, 10 hours of daylight equals 600 minutes or 1,200 bugs per day, per bird! Wow! So if you have any domestic critters producing organic substances which attract flies, here is a safe and ecologically sound way to control their numbers.

The other contribution the colony will make is to scare away certain less desirable birds. Martins use their numbers to chase away hawks and crows. Got crows in the corn which are ignoring even the most realistic animated scarecrow? Or maybe you've lost a few chicks to the hawks? Martins to the rescue!

The Native Americans knew the advantages of having martin colonies around their corn fields. That's why they put up birdhouses made from gourds and calabashes to attract them. So even if you regard making the birdhouse as a chore, it is well worth the trouble and expense. There is another reward: the enjoyment of bird-watching right in your own backyard.

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