U.S. Army Corps of Engineer sites are ideal locations

From: Ken Kostka, info@purple-martin.org, Purple Martin Preservation Alliance, Natrona Heights, PA
Date: 9/17/99

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After trying unsuccessfully for 19 years to attract Purple Martins to my parent's backyard in a suburban area north of Pittsburgh, I decided it was time to try a different approach. My parent's backyard had become sort of tree-encroached over the years (and I dared not ask my brother to sacrifice his prized chestnut trees), so I thought of offering martin housing in an ideal location nearby, in hopes that if this ideal site was colonized, the overflow martins would eventually colonize less desirable areas nearby, like my parent's backyard.  Since my parents live about 1/3rd mile from the Allegheny River, I decided to try to get permission to erect a martin house at the nearby U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Lock & Dam facility, about a mile away on the Allegheny River.   I contacted the USACE District office and was put in touch with the district's wildlife biologist. He thought it was a great idea and offered to meet with me and the facility manager to work out plans for erecting a martin house at the site. To make a long story short, by May 1st there was martin housing in place at THREE Lock & Dam facilities along the river (Lock & Dam #'s 4, 5, and 6) I  received permission to place the housing right out on the Lock wall. I was able to visit the sites on weekends to manage them. Well, it was a real eye-opener. For one thing, starlings and House Sparrows did not even attempt to nest in the housing!  Hopefully, this will hold true in future years. Unbelievable, since I had trapped and dispatched dozens of these pests only a mile away in my parent's backyard, where they were quite abundant! I also put up Tree Swallow boxes at all three sites,  and all were occupied.  To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time Tree Swallows have nested that far south on the Allegheny River for quite some time.  So if you live in an area where martins are scarce and are determined to establish a colony in your area, consider the USACE sites. They are right on water and usually out in the open, with lots of human activity nearby. I have found Corps personnel to be very friendly and cooperative.  By the way, this aerial photo was taken before the housing was installed, so you won't see it in the photo.

Ken Kostka, Purple Martin Preservation Alliance