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Gourds can make a good home for purple martins

One of the neat things I remember enjoying about spring back home was the sound of martins. My daddy had martin gourds and houses that were the envy of many a neighbor. I believe that even the most pessimistic of people could be cheered up by the joyful chirping of those birds.

Not too long ago, every farmhouse had boxes, gourds or other housing to attract purple martins. Martin houses are not as common today as they once were, but with increasing interest in our environment and nonchemical pest control, the martin is regaining popularity. In fact, more people provide housing today for the purple martin than for any other bird.

The martin is not a year-round bird in Georgia; it winters in South America. Generally, it arrives in southern Georgia in early February, reaches northern Georgia by mid-March or April, then leaves during the fall.

Old martins tend to return to their old nesting areas; young birds seek new ones. This means that once a house is used, it probably will continue to be used, and new houses will eventually be occupied as first-year martins look for places to nest.

Martins make nests from twigs, weeds, dead leaves, coarse grasses and similar materials. The female lays three to eight white eggs and incubates them about 13 days. Both parents feed and care for the young. Young birds stay in the nest three to four weeks. Even after they leave the nest, young martins often return to the vicinity for a week to 10 days before final departure.

Martins will nest in a variety of houses. In the past, it was common to see a number of gourds hanging from a pole with crossarms or from a wagon wheel mounted on a post.

We are fortunate to have a good supply of gourds just south of us in Jefferson County. However, many are not willing to prepare the gourds for the martins. You can buy plastic gourds and duplicate the older-style houses. Another possibility is to cluster jugs or manmade houses on wagon wheels or poles with crossarms.

Perhaps the most common accommodation for martins is the apartment house. You can buy wooden or aluminum houses at hardware and feed and seed stores or you can make your own.

Simple plans for martin houses are available at the County Extension Office.

Web posted on Thursday, March 16, 2006

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