How to get started

Join the OPMA club!  Purple Martins are one of the finest friends you can invite to your backyard. Many thousands of people await their return each year.

 Martin Habitat 

Purple Martins have a wide range (see map) and prefer an open area for their housing.  You should have a clear area for the martin housing, at least 40 feet from any tall trees and within 30-120 feet from human housing.  Placing the martin housing too far from human structures will actually discourage martins from using it!

If your backyard is not suitable for Purple Martins, contact one of the OPMA members for suggestions about house placement. They would be most happy to give you a site survey.

Housing  Types

Gourds, houses or a combination of all work well.  The most important thing to look for in any martin housing is quality.  You want the housing to raise and lower so the cavities are easily accessible for conducting nest checks and cleanouts.  Larger style cavities, 6”x 11” are preferable to the smaller 6”x 6” cavities.

How to Attract

Find a good location, use attraction tools, and use some patience.

Location—Purple Martins like wide-open spaces, at least 40 ft from trees if possible, while still being near human housing.  Nearby active colony sites can be beneficial.  Usually, nestlings will not return to their natal cavity.  However, they will most likely nest in the same general area.

Attraction tools—The OPMA has a lending library that you can use to borrow attraction tools for your first season. Since Purple Martins are colonial nesters, so they like to nest with other martins.   The Purple Martin Dawnsong or Daytime Chatter cd, as well as plastic decoys , can make your site look like it’s already occupied—making it more attractive to potential nesters. These are available for your use.

Often first-time landlords are lucky enough to attract martins their first year, others may take several years.  If you don’t attract martins your first year please don’t be discouraged. Contact an OPMA member for more advice-you may be missing something.

Arrival Time

The adults who arrive first usually head back to the sites they nested in the previous year.  Sub-adults, the young martins who fledged last year, start arriving about 4-12 weeks after the first adults.

Non-native Species

The Eastern Bluebird, Tree Swallow, or House Wren, or a non-native species such as the European Starling or House Sparrow can cause problems around a martin colony. Suggestions for deterring these species can be employed.

If the martins haven’t arrived at your colony site yet, keep the entrances closed to prevent other species from nesting. 

On the other hand, put up a single unit nest-box about 50 feet away from your martin housing if Tree Swallows or Bluebirds are interested in your martin housing.

House Sparrows and European Starlings are non-native species; they should not be allowed to nest in martin housing.  You can help control these non-native species by removing their nests from your martin housing.

What to do if Martins are Not Staying

Often Male Purple Martins will arrive at a colony and try to attract a female. They sometimes stay and at other times they leave. These martins can be visiting from another colony before they make up their minds. There is really nothing you can do but continue to play a Purple Martin Chatter cd or hope that they will return.

Martins Are Finally Staying

There are many suggestions for managing your colony when the martins stay for the season. Don’t forget to call on an OPMA member or just search out this site for further suggestions. There are several management strategies that you can use.

Purple Martin Beneficial Practice Guide for Ontario Rural Residents

Nature Canada has developed its own guide for attracting Purple Martins to Rural Ontario.

It’s definitely a very good guide to view and answers many questions about Purple Martins.


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