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How to Take Care of a Purple Martin House

Back in the day, most people would be successful at welcoming a purple martin family by simply setting up a martin house. However, it has become much more challenging to be a successful martin landlord with their constantly lowering numbers. Follow these steps to increase your chances of attracting and housing a purple martin family:

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Modern martin houses tend to be conventional ones that feature a multi-level (2-4 levels) with different compartments for several bird families to live in at once. Made out of wood, plastic or metal (none of them are preferred one over the other), the martin houses are usually mounted on a pole that can lower for routine nest check. The house is generally kept at around 10 feet above the ground. One vital feature is starling-resistant entrance holes (SRE) to prevent invasive species from taking control of the nest by not letting them get inside it. These holes have a 1 and 3/16th’’ radius, allowing the purple martins to squeeze through, but avoiding the entrance of the European starlings.

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     Once the purple martins are officially established in the purple martin house, routine nest checks are vital to keeping a colony healthy and happy in their house. These nest checks allow us to:
     -  Record the numbers of birds (population control)
     -  Make sure the birds are safe (check for predators)
    -  Check up on the birds to make sure they have everything they need

     When you are going for your routine nest check, here are some things you might want to bring alongside your trip:

     - A box (to hold  the other material and to stand on to see the higher compartments of the nest)
  -  A phone (to take notes and to take pictures/record videos of the progress of the birds/nest)
        -  It can also act as a flashlight.
  -  A key to unlock the lock keeping people from adjusting the nest's height (be careful when lowering it since it may rub the birds in the wrong way and make them scared of you)

Follow these next steps to make sure that your nest checking is as efficient as possible and done properly.

1. Set up a schedule:

     Setting up a schedule is essential to make sure the nest is checked up routinely. If you are working with others, it is recommended to make an online calendar to ease planning.

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2. When and how often you should be visiting the nest:

   Start by elevating the purple martin house and opening all entrances holes around a week before their arrival date (this date will usually change year to year since temperatures aren’t always constant), which usually falls around mid-April to the start of May. The Purple Martin Conservation Association recommends routine maintenance/checks every 5 to seven days on the purple martins or after storm/intense winds. Checking the nest would be to see if any damage has been done or if any birds have been injured following the weather. 
   It is important to note that checkups should be more frequent during the egg-laying season to make sure everything is going to plan (recommended to check every other day for the 2-3 weeks of nesting). 

     -  Drastic drop or jump in weather
     -  Heavy rain or thunderstorm
     -  Any sort of natural disaster (flooding, hurricane, etc.) 

You would be checking the nest after these events to make sure that the purple martins are okay.

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3. How to Properly Check the House and What to Look for:

     While checking any of these details, it is essential to take notes or document the purple martins’ progress (with notes, videos, or pictures). There are many things you can check up on, such as:

     -  Recording the numbers of birds (population control)
     -  Making sure the birds are safe (check for predators)
     -  Checking up on the birds to make sure they have everything they need
     -  Ensuring the structural integrity of the nest (nothing is falling apart)

     To see inside the nest, it is crucial to know how to and when to lower the nest to get a better view of the birds. Make sure to lower the nest slowly to avoid disturbing the purple martins and cracking any unhatched eggs. The eggs will usually take 16 days to hatch, ideally towards the end of June. 

     Leaving the house down for more than 20 minutes has been shown to irritate the purple martins, so it sticks to a maximum of 10 minutes to avoid this from happening since you want the birds to like seeing you arrive.
     You can also result in feeding the purple martins on colder days. A simple recipe to make would be to cook two or so scrambled eggs and feed them. By bringing them food, like a nest landlord, you strengthen the bond between yourself and the birds, making their stay more enjoyable and encouraging them to come back in the following years.

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4. Post check-up list:

When you are done checking up on the nest, make sure you:

        -  Install the safety pin on the pole and lock the mechanism in place
       -  Ensure that all guards such as the owl or snake guards are installed (if present)
        -  Do a walk around to see if anything is missing (or anything concerning, such as hawk feathers that might threaten the colony)

This list was made to avoid forgetting any important safety protocols regarding the purple martin house.

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