To the above question, Kelly Applegate replied with an enthusiastic "Yes!" With his help we recently installed a new purple martin house.
"It's an ideal set-up," Kelly assured us. "I can't imagine that purple martin scouts would pass it up."
We wanted reassurance after delving into our coffers to pay for gourds, a gourd rack, perches, porches, poles, a predator guard and the other apparatus we needed to attract purple martins to our shoreline.
As is often the case, there was more to the endeavor than meets the eye. I once thought that all you had to do to attract martins was erect a white, multiplex house on a high pole. Little did I know that by doing so you easily could become a slum landlord. Kelly, who's a mover and shaker in the world of purple martins, has since helped place us in the wise purple martin landlord category.
In March, he assessed possible locations for a martin house. Robert and I had two sites in mind, but deferred to the expert. Martins like wide open spaces, not only for easier flight, but for perching and nesting as well.
The first spot we considered was by the lakeshore. The second was in an open area by a creek, where the martins could fly freely in all directions.
After surveying both sites, Kelly said, "The high grass and vegetation by the creek would make it too easy for predators to hide. The martins will reject the site. But the lake spot is ideal, especially if we put the house at the end of the dock."
After discussing options and prices, we asked Kelly to order a unit from the Purple Martin Conservation Association. He said we would have to get the dock in and the house up as early as possible. Martin colonies have scouts that precede the northern migration of the main population to check potential nesting sites. Scouts generally return to past nesting locations but will consider new sites if the house looks good or an old house has disappeared or fallen into disrepair.
When the ice went out we put in a four-section wooden dock. Kelly arrived in a car filled with purple martin paraphernalia. We laughed as he and his sister, Linda, squeezed out of a car stuffed with gourds, guards, poles, perches, pulleys, bags and boxes. With a garden cart and the help of my daughter, Mariah, and her friends, Mikayla and Alyssa, we transported the material to the shore.
Kelly made assignments. The girls would gather white pine needles. I would work on the houses. Robert and Kelly would assemble the pole, predator guard and rigging. Linda would supervise.
"How many pine needles do we need?" the girls asked.
"Enough to pad the bottom of 12 gourds," Kelly replied.
A bit later the girls returned with two buckets of white pine needles.
"Sorry," I said, "but the needles need to be dried ones, not fresh greens. By the way, you didn't take those needles off a tree, did you?"
Exchanging glances, the girls groaned and headed back up the hill with their pails. When they returned with the right needles we placed handfuls of the dried material into each gourd.
"Now we need some mud," Kelly said.
"Yes, mud," Kelly said. "By smearing a little around the entrance and on the porches we'll fool the martins into thinking this place has a homey look to it."
The girls made some mud and marked the gourds with it. The gourds were added to the rack, which now was secured on a pole with top perches and a cylindrical predator guard in place. Robert and Kelly hoisted the unit into place. We all stood back and admired our work.
"Now we must number the gourds so you can keep track of nesting efforts and results," Kelly said.
What you can do
For information on how to attract purple martins to your property, log onto the Purple Martin Conservation Association's Web site at www.purplemartin.org. The pamphlet, "How to Attract Purple Martins" is available from the DNR. Kelly Applegate can be reached at (763) 439-5726.
The rack was lowered and with a permanent black marker I started to write on each white house. But instead of numbers I did something different. Workers and family members Kelly, Linda, Robert, Jandra, Erika, Fiona, Cecilia, Andrea, Alyssa, Mariah, Mikayla (a.k.a. Mickie) and Maglina all were honored with a house in their name. A plastic martin decoy was attached to the front of one gourd before the rack was again hoisted up. We all cheered.
"What would really be good," Kelly said, "would be to play a couple of martin tapes."
"Martin tapes?" I asked.
"Yes," Kelly said. "If you play the dawn song early in the morning and the day chatter in the afternoon it will enhance your chances of enticing birds."
"What time in the morning should we play the dawn song,?" I asked.
"About four," Kelly replied.
"Robert, do you want to set your alarm clock?" I asked.
The girls whooped. Even I couldn't keep a straight face.
Andrea Lea Lambrecht, naturalist and outdoors writer, can be reached at email@example.com
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