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Backyard Pest Control: Purple Martins Depend on You!

by Karen Lawson, All About Lawns Columnist

Spending time outdoors without being buzzed and bitten by flying insects can be a challenge, but purple martins can help by consuming hundreds of flying insects a day. Here's how to attract purple martins to your backyard. (Note: Purple martins nest throughout the eastern U.S., but winter in Central and South America. If you live outside of their nesting range, providing a martin house typically will not attract purple martins to your backyard.)

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Backyard Apartment Communities: Martins are Colony Nesters

The purple martin is a large blue-black swallow whose plumage shines an iridescent purple. It snaps up insects while airborne, and rarely sits still except when incubating eggs or roosting at night. Unlike many songbirds that pair up and defend a specific territory from birds of the same species, purple martins traditionally nest in colonies, and U.S. populations are dependent upon humans for a home--the purple martin bird house. You can buy purple martin homes from specialty bird watching shops, nurseries, and garden supply stores within the birds' range. Martin homes are typically designed with two or three stories with each containing several nesting units. Martin houses are designed for easy assembly and cleaning at the end of the nesting season.

Erect your purple martin house 10-17 feet high in an open area where you can easily observe the birds' activities. A nesting colony can provide plenty of entertainment as the parent birds come and go from their respective "apartments." When purple martins depart for warmer climates in the fall, it's time to clean your martin house for the next nesting season. Look for the birds to return during spring when flying insects begin to reappear.

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About the Author
Karen Lawson is a freelance writer with an avid interest in gardening and horticulture. She earned BA and MA degrees in English from the University of Nevada, Reno.



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