Purple Martin Gourd Housing
Purple martins have been using manmade housing for hundreds of years. The very first man supplied houses were hollowed out gourds. While the tradition of using gourds for purple martins has continued, the type of gourds we have available has changed. While some purple martin landlords use natural gourds, many landlords have switched to artificial gourd homes. In some ways, our manufactured gourd homes have made some improvements on their natural counterpart. Whether it is a natural or artificial gourd you prefer, gourds in general offer some big advantages over their more recent conventional counterparts. Purple martin gourds tend to have higher occupancy with larger clutches, have reduced predation, have reduced competition, and have more stable temperatures when compared to condo style housing.
Various studies have reported that purple martins show an affinity to larger floor plans when choosing their homes. A typical martin gourd will range in size from 8-12" in diameter; whereas a martin condo will typically boast a floor plan of 6"x6" or smaller. In effect, a moderately sized 10" gourd has more than double the floor space of a typically sized 6"x6" condo. Because gourd entrances are more spread out, martins will spend less time on average defending their homes in territorial disputes when living in gourd clusters than in crowded condos. Some researches believe this translates into more time being invested into larger clutches and stronger young. Less crowding in larger spaces tends to lend itself to larger clutches and higher overall success of a colony.
When properly mounted with the ability to swing, gourds containing martin families have a lower incidence of predation and experience less nest site competition than in fixed position housing. Logically, it is much more difficult for a predator, especially owls, to cling to a swinging martin gourd versus a solidly mounted house. Because the gourds are so spacious inside, martins are able to build their nests further from the entrance hole and often escape a predator that has managed to cling to the outside of the gourd. The swinging action of a gourd home is also far less appealing to purple martins' biggest competitors, the European starling and house sparrow. Martins, however, find this swinging to be conspicuous when searching for a home and are perhaps more likely to visit and occupy the home.
Temperature regulation is important in any purple martin home, and for most of us, this means regulating the heat. In most portions of the country, we only have to deal with one temperature extreme during purple martin season and that extreme is summer heat. Extreme heat can cause martin young to fledge too early, jump from the nests to escape the heat, or simply perish in the nests. All purple martin homes should be well ventilated, but it is the construction of gourds that offer a better insulation against heat transfer. A natural or PVC gourd will demonstrate similar insulating properties to wood, much better than the aluminum used in many houses today. Basically, it takes longer for wood, PVC, or natural gourd houses to both gain or lose their heat when compared to aluminum, which heats up and cools down very quickly. Aluminum houses should always be made with reflective roofs to help counter their tendencies to transfer heat to the nests.
Though purple martin gourd housing certainly offers a number of strengths, there is one area in which conventional martin condos beat their competition hands down. Space is at a premium when gourds are used, both in use and in storage. This single biggest drawback keeps many existing or beginning landlords from using gourd systems. Purple martin condos have created a space for themselves for nearly any martin landlord; and while gourd systems do tend to outperform in some specific categories, condos are perfectly adequate housing systems with a number of advantages of their own. Some of the more innovative martin landlords have found a balance and hang their natural or artificial gourds below conventional martin condos. While the gourds often fill up first, the condo serves as a great overflow housing system for a growing colony.
BestNest carries a wide selection of purple martin gourds, conventional martin condos, predator guards, and accessories to ensure that you are a successful landlord. Be sure to visit our Purple Martin Houses department to see all of our exciting options.