The coming of a new year is an exciting time for many, but purple martin landlords have an extra reason to be excited. That reason is that purple martin “scouts” will soon begin arriving and searching for nesting sites. Purple martin enthusiasts should be busying themselves with cleaning and maintaining their birdhouses in preparation for a colony of martins, which could arrive as early as December.
In the following paragraphs, we will discuss what purple martin scouts really are, when to get purple martin birdhouses up and ready for them, and why being a purple martin landlord is an important role.
When a Scout Is Not a Scout
It was once believed that the early arriving martins would somehow communicate with other purple martins upon finding a suitable nesting site, but such is not the case. They are often still referred to as “scouts” out of habit and familiarity, but it is a misnomer. Early birds of the purple martin variety are simply adults that know where they are going. They get preferred seating, one might say.
Nesting Site Fidelity
Site fidelity is a term describing a very interesting characteristic of purple martin behavior. If a purple martin pair finds a birdhouse where they successfully nest and raise their young, there is a very high likelihood that they will return to that same purple martin birdhouse the next year.
For purple martin landlords, site fidelity means that the hardest part of hosting a purple martin colony is getting that first pair or two to nest. After that, the birds will probably return. Of course, the owner of a purple martin birdhouse must always be vigilant and diligent in his or her efforts. The reward of a successful colony is worth it.
If You See It, Say It
Over the last twenty to thirty years, purple martins have recovered from near-disastrous population declines, mostly because of caring people who put up and properly maintain purple martin birdhouses. These wonderful birds are not out of the woods yet, however. Opportunities for new purple martin landlords abound.
Another thing people can do to help bolster the purple martins’ progress is to report sightings and breeding successes to proper organizations. There are many such institutions, like the Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the Purple Martin Conservation Association.
The PMCA has several “citizen science” projects, including the annual Scout Arrival Study. Purple martin lovers (not necessarily landlords) report to the PMCA whenever they see a purple martin scout in their area. This helps monitor the migration habits of the birds; purple martin landlords may use it to know when to open up their purple martin birdhouses in a particular area. For example, in the 2004, 2005, and 2006 seasons, the first sightings in Florida came in December of the previous year! Meanwhile, the first scout sightings in New York came in mid-April of those years. The rest of the purple martins begin arriving two to four weeks after the scouts in a given area.
Purple martin scouts, which are not scouts at all, but adult birds eager to return to a familiar birdhouse, are a welcome sight in the early months of a new year. The full population of martins completes its spring migration as late as June in its northern abodes, so there are many opportunities for purple martin landlords to begin or expand colonies. It is a happy time, indeed; so put your purple martin birdhouse up and get ready to enjoy the show!