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Attracting Purple Martins To Your Backyard

purple martins

While it might be difficult for our more northern friends to believe, spring is just around the corner. For Purple Martin fans, it’s time to start planning for the new season.  Martins started arriving in Florida in January and by the first week of February reports were coming in from Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas.


Attracting Purple Martins

One of the most important steps in attracting martins is to match the opening of your martin house with the arrival of martins to your location.

Existing site

If you had martins at your location last year, they will likely return within a week or two of previous years’ arrival dates. You should have your house or gourds prepared and ready ahead of time, but keep them closed until some martins return.

New housing

Older martins will start by searching for their previous year’s location and are not likely to be attracted by a new house.  Younger martins arrive later than older birds, and will be looking for new housing. Delay opening 3-4 weeks after older adults arrive to reduce problems with House Sparrows and starlings.

A great way to monitor the arrival dates of Purple Martins is to visit the Scout Arrival Study page of the Purple Martin Conservation Association web site.

Here are five tips for locating and managing a new martin house.

  1. The martin house must have at least 40 feet of free air space around it or the martins will not use it.
  2. Best results are achieved if the martin house can be located within 140 feet of a home of building.
  3. Martin houses are pole mounted, using either a gourd or apartment house. You must be prepared to monitor your house and remove House Sparrows and starlings that are trying to nest. The best style poles systems have a pulley or other arrangement for easily raising and lowering the nesting area.
  4. Do not put up a martin house unless you are committed to monitoring it and removing House Sparrow and starlings that might attempt to nest.
  5. Maintain written records of number and estimated age of young. This will help you watch for losses from predation. Be prepared to add a predator guard if necessary.



Starting your initial Purple Martin colony can be interesting and challenging. Keep these thoughts in mind when locating the martin house.


1. Clear Air

Houses need at least 40 feet of clear air space to provide easy access to the nest site. Housing placed too close to trees or wires will be ignored.


2. Human Activity

Martins seem to adapt better when the martin house is placed close to human activity. You can place the martin house within 40-100 feet of your house.


3. Open for Business

Houses opened too early attract competing species and those opened too late will find that the martins have already located nesting sites for the year. Visit the HOUSING page for more information on when to open your house each season.


4. White Houses

Martins seem to be most attracted to white houses, which provide the best cooling on hot summer days. Make sure your house is white (colored trim is OK).


5. Combos

Sometimes adding a few gourds below a martin “apartment” will help attract birds the first year.


6. The Dawn Song

After mating and nesting has commenced, adult male martins will fly above the colony early in the morning and sing the “dawn song.” The song proclaims the presence of a successful colony and the males hope to attract sub-adult females to the area.

Prospective martin landlords can play a tape of the martin dawn song in late spring to enhance the chance of establishing the initial colony.


Other considerations when selecting a purple martin house

House dimensions

For apartment style houses, the best results will be obtained by considering a few options.

  • Floor dimensions should be at least 6″ x 6,” and 7″ x 12″ is even better.
  • The entrance hole should be placed about 1″ above the floor.
  • The entrance hole should have a diameter in the range of 2″ to 2-1/4.”
  • Crescent shaped holes may help prevent problems with starlings.


Learn more: Nest Box Sizes

Vines and shrubs

Do not allow shrubs to grow around the base of the pole or vines to grow up the pole.


Other species

Learn to recognize House Sparrows and the European Starling. These two species are non-native and any nesting attempt by these two species should be thwarted as soon as possible.

house sparrow female

Female House Sparrow


house sparrow

Male House Sparrow



European Starling


Purple Martins are very sociable. After nesting, they gather in large numbers in martin ‘roosts’ as they prepare to migrate to South America for the winter. These roosts can be very large, some approaching 1 million birds.


Martin Roost locations

Martin roosts are often located near large bodies of water, sometimes on islands or large bridges.

Not all roosts are near water, and can even be found in shopping mall parking lots.

Once a roost area has developed, it tends to be used year after year.

The Purple Martin Conservation Association maintains a list of known roosting locations.

purple martins

The above photographs were taken in a shopping mall parking lot near Denton, Texas. Each evening, thousands of  Purple Martins swirl into the small trees in the parking lot. Estimates range form 80,000 to 100,000 martins in this roost.

Purple Martins also form communal roosts on their South American homes, although they tend to be centered around city parks and similar habitats.

Read also: What do Purple Martins eat?

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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