We have been in the process of inviting Purple Martins as our regular migrating tenants at the farm and our efforts seem to be paying off this year after attracting then losing the Martins last year. I’ll tell you how in a second, but first, why Martins?
Our primary crop is grass and clover, of course. At times, all manner of grass hoppers and crickets invade our pastures to share in the bounty. At their worst, the hoppers will consume as much as 20% of our grasses. That’s a lot of food missing from the other animals’ food chain. While we encourage diversity, we also need balance. 20% is too large a share.
Purple Martins are grass-hopper Hoovers. All bugs for that matter, but they love the fat and juicy hopper above all. They will patrol the pastures with great diligence, waiting for the hopper to make the mistake of living up to its name - hopping along to it next meal. Food for the Martin, big mistake for Mr. Hopper.
The key to starting the Martin colony is first to provide attractive housing. That was accomplished 2 years ago with a 24 gourd Martin condo. Next is to keep the English Sparrow out of the condo. Failing in that task is why we lost the first Martin tenants last year. The sparrows arrive earlier than the Martins, so can inhabit and begin the nesting process before the Martins move in. The Martins know that the sparrow will peck the Martin eggs and kill them before they hatch. Once the sparrows outnumbered them last year, the Martins left for other nesting places.
This year, we taped off the entrances during the period when the sparrows arrived. Some actually removed the tape and began gathering their nesting material, in which case we just re-taped. At the end of April, the Martins arrived and we removed the tape. By early March, we had Martins in their new homes. We still have to be vigilant for the sparrows will surely make this a contest again. But when we see them attempting to nest, we will tape off that entrance again. So far so good with the Martin project, adding another layer of diversity and natural balance at Jolie Vue. It’s a lot of fun, folks!