Purple Martin Apartment Quest
by Lew Smith

This is answer for the PM enthusiast with tiny fingers and a huge amount of patience. It works into a sturdy, two-level, 12-room hexagon house that's fairly light weight.

After assembly and mounting this PM house is ready and waiting for its new occupants.

Right up front I have to be honest and disclose three facts about this article:

1)  I’ve had first-hand experience building (and hosting) six Purple Martin (PM) apartments:  two home-made from wood, two store-bought aluminum and two store-bought polypropylene units.

2)  Just one (home-made wood) has ever housed a PM colony.

3)  As far as flying pest eradicator birds go, I much prefer Barn Swallows (BSs) and Eastern Phoebes (EPs) over PMs.

So, having confessed a preference for BSs, why go to so much trouble to buy/make/build and maintain six (6) PM apartments?   I’m not really sure.  But, I think it’s because I wanted to be fair or just because it was a challenge to see if I could actually succeed.  One out of six attempts hasn’t exactly spelled success,  but I did learn a bit about PM houses.

First, I’d like to discourage home-made wooden ones.  They look great (quaint), but are hellaciously heavy.  I don’t have the physics formula, but it’s certain that the more weight you put at the end of a 15-ft. pole, the bigger the lifting problem.  And, they go to pieces way faster than the aluminum and poly varieties.

The built-in pulley system for "easy up and down" access is a plus feature on this poly, S&K 12 room barn. A necessity is keeping the cord where it ought to be on the pulley. Otherwise, It can be something of a challenge to remedy.

A few Sparrows moved into this colorful S&K 16-room barn within minutes of its "opening." This may deter PM occupation, but so be it. Haven't the heart to evict the sparrows. The polypropylene holds down the weight.

The manufacturers behind the other houses seriously create the impression they know about all there is to know about the science of PM home-making.  I trusted them, so the fault must be mine that I’ve seldom become a PM landlord.
There are about 10 failings that will produce that result.  I’ve avoided all but one religiously.  That one is my absolute refusal to throw out or refuse homesteading to any bird family but a PM in my houses.  I say: “Who’m I to decide who lives there and who doesn’t?”  Even Phoebes take advantage of BS mud nests, adding on straw, etc. to make many of their homes, while the BSs just go at it making another mud nest. 

Meanwhile, a couple of things I’ve learned about the manufactured homes might be helpful.  For example, when it comes to aluminum houses (such as Heath’s) be prepared for an old-fashioned erector-set sort of challenge.  You’ve never encountered so many tiny (very tiny) screws and nuts to be inserted and tightened in spaces never meant for human fingers or most tools.  Patience and no small kids looking on is a necessity.   On the other hand, the (S&K mfg) poly varieties are (relatively) easy to assemble.

It’s now get-em-into-the-sky time.  Best advice is to get a helper.  If not heavy (weight at end of long pole), they’re awkward.  And, remember (being PM places), you’ll need to hoist and lower them at least twice a year!  Pulleys bind, sliding pipes get in a bind from grit and become obstinate, so the lean ‘em over method remains the most straight forward (but again, don’t try it alone).


There’s something about a PM house on a pole and a dog in the yard that makes a home a little more at home in the Wimberley Valley.


The Musings of Lew Smith.

The Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica, Nature's Aerial Acrobat
Cabin On A Hill
Fischer, Texas
Purple Martin Apartment Quest
The Texas Longhorn
Rain Water Harvesting To The Rescue
Wimberley Native Fences-Gates-Walls

Visitwimberley.com contributor Lewis Smith,shares his Purple Martin home building experiences.
Photographs and Article by Lewis Smith.