The Purple Martin Society, NA



Pricing Update Notification

The PMS,NA is currently revising its Sales Section.  In this process, not all iformation may be current at the time you are contemplating a purchase. When calling us to discuss your order, please confirm prices and specifications as some of these may have changed. 


Martin Housing (Structures)

Martin Housing (Gourds)

































Building Today's
PM House 

The difference between
attracting martins to your backyard
 and failing to do so.

Martin nestlings in a mailbox house at 
Tom Dellinger's Colony (Duncanville, TX)
Photo copyright Joe Dellinger


In the old days, martin houses were all made of wood and placed either on stationary poles or poles which tilted or pivoted. And just as PM housing has changed from the days of yore, so also has the management of Purple Martin colonies and the martin house poles. Today, PM landlords with outdated tilting and pivoting poles would have to use ladders in order to routinely nestcheck that today's martin management requires. These types of poles are old thinking and should be replaced and/or updated with poles which are indicative of a more modern martin thinking.

Zook PM Elevators could be a economical compromising modification on such poles. With these older poles, they were only useful in yearend cleanouts in days when the numbers of House Sparrows and European Starlings were not the copious numbers we know today. If we were not better informed, we would unwittingly dump the contents of the martin house, nests, eggs and nestlings, from the house with grievous results by tilting, or pivoting such martin poles in our regular nestchecking of the martins' nests.


The Zook PM Elevator is a design by Isaac Zook of Eola, PA.

The Zook PM Elevator is a modification you can make that will enable a formerly stationary PM house to move up and down a wooden pole on a platform using a winch system. The plans are available by request in writing (Please include a stamped, self-address envelope) to:

The Purple Martin Society, NA
21250 South Redwood Lane
Suite 101
Shorewood, IL 60431
(815) 744-9958


Today, we use one of three types raising systems on martin poles: pulley system, winching system or telescoping system.

Of these, the winching system is the easiest and it can be locked. The pulley lanyard system is also good. And while the telescoping pole system does vertically raise and lower martin houses for nestchecking, it is, sometimes, more difficult to push up. Both the telescoping pole and the house must be marked so that the houses can be pushed, or raised, in the exact compass direction from which it was lowered. Its difficulty arises from the weight of the house and birds, etc, and its subsequent heavier and more difficult raising. Many older landlords, and some women, find it difficult to raise, therefore, the landlords may not perform some needed actions in regular martin management.


Today, while there are fewer wooden martin houses, the numbers of metal housing has increased. Contrary to popular belief today. This does not mean that the metal houses are better than wooden ones. It is more a change in popularity of materials. Many metal martin houses are commercially available, but there are many clever individuals who have either recycled aluminum siding from human housing or purchased newer aluminum sheeting and made their own housing from this metal. Both metal and aluminum housing have their advantages and their disadvantages. Wooden housing, while providing a sturdier and more insulated martin house can be unwieldy and maintenance demanding. Aluminum housing, on the other hand, is light weight but can be very unwelcoming in cold spring temperatures and horribly hot in oppressive summer heat for the birds.


General entrance holes are 2" in diameter, give or take 1/4". Better holes for martins are really the ones that they just fit into, therefore helping to exclude competitors. Purple Martins can fit into holes as small as 1 3/4". They should be placed 1" above the porch floor.


And porches? They can either have porches or no porches. Traditional cavities of martins in old tree snags did not have porches, but there are many landlords who feel that porches keep young nestlings from falling off martin houses, but these are personal opinions and is not scientifically documented anywhere to my knowledge. Consider that no porches will keep nestlings inside their compartment and prevent them from falling, or knocked off, and many times, become doomed, by bachelor males from an open porch until they fledge. .


On houses with contiguous porches, Porch Dividers (PDs) should be installed on the martin houses. PDs, which are privacy dividers between nesting compartments, are designed to prevent "Male Porch Domination" behavior by older males. Males demonstrating this behavior will aggressively defend units on one or both sides of their chosen compartments, along the porch. On some houses, the porches are contiguous all the way around the house. PDs also protect young nestlings who venture from their natal compartments before they fledge from the house. The PDs keep the nestlings in their own area preventing them from commandeering food from even younger nestlings. PDs prevent young nestlings also from getting lost on the porch, unable to find their way back to their natal compartments. It is a fact that houses which have PDs have a higher residency rate than those which do not. Typical residency rate of martin houses is 50-65%. Houses with PDs have a residency rate of 75-100% martins. With PDs, males cannot defend what (other compartments) they cannot see.


Enlarged compartments should be integrated into all homemade martin housing. Traditional compartments sizes are 6x6x6. In today's martin thinking, compartments which are 6x6x9 are better and those which are 6x6x12 are best for the martins. The larger compartments are better for the martins because martins can nest in the farthest reaches of the martin houses, away from the paw, claw and talons of the martins' predators.


When we place martin houses in the most open area of our backyard habitats, we are making them sitting ducks for all of their enemies. It is akin to providing a birdie smorgasbord for raccoons, opossums, squirrels, chipmunks, cats (both feral and free ranging), rats, snakes, and Horned and Barred Owls. One successful predation attempt by any of these predators can, and usually does, mean that your martin season is over, not only for the current season, but for the future. Surviving birds go elsewhere in future seasons. Martins are rapidly becoming more and more "uncommon songbirds." Typically, it takes much patience and work to successfully attract martins today. By providing our martins with enlarged compartments, we are helping to protect them from Horned and Barred Owls, however, we should also provide a ground climbing predator barrier to keep the remaining enemies from accessing the martin house and its valued contents. By providing a martin house, there is an accompanying responsibility to protect them so that they do not become easy meals for their enemies.


Additional perching can be added to martin housing and in many area of the country with underground utilities, it is advised. Martins like to perch on old tree snags, TV antennas, and utility lines. If there are none of these in your area, you should try to provide either an old TV antenna or extra perches attached to the martin house or pole. On my houses, I have added (4) 4 foot bean poles which are available at local hardware stores. They cost about $2/each. I have attached them to the underneath of the porch floors on Trio TG-12 houses providing an additional 8 more feet of perching space in addition to the roof perch.


For those who have established martin colonies, you should include "starling resistant" holes on your next house. These are half moon type entrances which are placed 1/2" above the porch floor. Before attempting these, you should be well informed on the exact measurements for these entrance holes as one difference one way or another could permit the entrance of the dreaded "needlebeak," the starling. I can help you with this. ** make your house adaptable to these types of doors for your second season usage as new martins may be leery of the new type openings. Typically, after one season where the martins are bonded to your house and colony site, they will go through these new openings easily.


All martin houses should be painted white. After all these many years, the birds are imprinted on white nestboxes and gourds. Houses can be erected from 10-15 ft above the ground. They should also be places "within" 100 feet of human dwellings and 40 ft from trees. No vines, shrubs, fences or wires should be near the martin houses. These only contribute to the deaths of colonies of martins. Martins houses can be placed closed to one another.


There are many PM house plans available through DNR, other state conservation departments and birdhouse books, but many, if not all, are not houses that are correct for today's Purple Martin interest.

If you are interested in successfully attracting Purple Martins and want to build a better wooden house for Purple Martins,The Purple Martin Society, NA offers plans for one, the Troyer-14 (T-14), a design by Andrew M. Troyer.

These plans are available for $10.00 plus $4.00 ship/hand.  

Please send check or money order to: 

The Purple Martin Society, NA
21250 South Redwood Lane
Suite 101
Shorewood, IL 60431
(815) 744-9958

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Gourds are new again and are very popular now in the martin interest. Today, we use 8-12 inch bottle gourds, easily grown in backyards with proper information. They are treated with either copper sulfate or commercial water sealer (Thompson’s Water Seal) to last longer. They are painted white to reflect heat. In the Purple Martin interest, we also cut 4" access holes in the rear with a special Rubbermaid jar or lightweight PVC access doors. In this way, we can easily nestcheck our martins in season and clean the nests out in the Fall. With these special access holes (not the birds usual entrance hole!), gourds are now more like bird houses.

(For those of you who have seen pictures of English House sparrow nesting materials burgeoning out of martin gourds, please know that anyone who would allow their martin gourds to become congested and blocked with sparrow nesting materials would probably allow that to happen to their martin houses also.)

The advantages of   gourds is that they are not typically preferred by starlings and sparrows because they swing. Martins do not mind the gourd swing. They are roomier for the martins. The martins love them. They are more insulated due to the thick gourd skin. They are inexpensive to buy and can be easily grown. With proper care, the natural gourds will last a long time.

Martin gourds should be stationary to prevent owls from tipping them and dumping the eggs and/or young. However, if starlings are a real problem for you, provide that that the gourds only swing in one direction, from front to back or from side to side. They must never swing in a 360?circle.

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