Restoring the Belgrade Purple Martin Colony.


The Purple Martin is an iconic bird of the Northeast and has long had a “relationship” with people. Their large apartment-style houses grace the yards of many homeowners. However, this large swallow species reaches its northern range limit in Maine, so nesting colonies in our state are very localized and spread out. One such colony has been active since at least 1909 in Belgrade. Over the years, Maggie and Carl Yeaton maintained several martin houses on this property, most recently with assistance from Hammond Lumber Company workers. But, there has come a point where even those houses started to fall into disrepair. Without these houses would this colony that birders from far and wide come to see disappear, as other colonies this far north have done? Many of Maine’s birders, including myself, saw their first Purple Martins here, and the colony is frequented by birders working on their state and year lists, or just want to enjoy one of the state’s rarest breeding birds.


Last summer, I stopped at the colony with a client, John Alexander, visiting from Sheffield, MA. After noticing the poor state of the houses, Alexander offered a donation to replace them. That got the ball rolling. I then contacted local resident, birder, and active member of the Belgrade community, Don Mairs to assist with the project. Don was instrumental in getting this project going; we couldn’t have done it without him. He arranged for all of the permissions necessary, and began to drum up local support for the project.

IMG_1250_edited-2The martins have been returning annually to houses that are now beyond repair. Something needed to be done before this vibrant colony no longer had adequate housing.

One year later, in May 2015, our store, Freeport Wild Bird Supply procured a new steel pole with pulleys (to facilitate cleaning) and plastic gourd array, which is now the preferred style of martin dwelling. With the additional help of local volunteers, Bob Lewis and Ed Slattery, this new set-up was established at the old Yeaton property, now owned by Don and Mary Hammond, of Hammond Lumber.IMG_5413The new gourd array in the background of the colony between Depot Road and Rte 27.

But, the plan does not stop there. Alexander and FWBS supplied a second array to be placed in another location. The thought here is that as martins from the original colony are out foraging, they may notice this nearby housing and eventually establish themselves in this “suburb;” starting an auxiliary colony as a back-up in case the original colony was to fail due to some catastrophic event or circumstances changed. After consultation with Belgrade Librarian Janet Patterson and her Board, and President Mike Barrett of the Friends of the Library Board, it was decided to put this other gourd set-up in the open space behind the library.  This pleasant and bird-friendly location has the advantage of proximity to Belgrade Central School, with obvious potential for collaboration.

IMG_5474It was obvious that Maine birders do not have much experience installing martin poles. The second installation, however, took about 1/4 of the time than the first, so clearly we are learning…slowly.

IMG_5478Sasha’s supervision must have made the difference.

Although it is probably too late for nesters to use the new set-ups this year, the idea is to give the inhabitants of the old houses a chance to check out the new arrays, which they are already doing, along with allowing prospecting immatures to check out future homes. And, as of last check at the library, a pair of Tree Swallows had taken up residence in one of the gourds – a good sign. We at FWBS are excited that this collaboration between us, the Hammonds, the Belgrade Library, and several local residents has resulted in what may just be the beginning of a project to maintain and grow this Purple Martin colony.

5 thoughts on “Restoring the Belgrade Purple Martin Colony.

  1. Aletha Boyle

    Hi Derek, I live in Belgrade and in the future if you need any help I can! Last fall the sandhill cranes and their chick were foraging in the Yeaton’s fields behind their house often. My mom was a master birder and Yeaton’s martin houses and the Snow pond boat landing were a must stop.
    Had a single male indigo bunting at the feeder yesterday morning.
    I do not post stuff on the blog as there is some sort of jury process. I guess they do not know me or trust me but I am a pretty good birder… learned from the best… my mom … Betty Boyle.
    Thanks Aletha

  2. Peter McCarthy

    Congratulations from New Brunswick, Canada on all your efforts. We are struggling here in NB to maintain the remaining few purple martin colonies. Regarding your new housing, I would definately not allow tree swallows to take up residence in your gourds or housing. They will aggressively drive away any curious purple martins from the site.

  3. Joyce Zimmerman

    My family is trying to start a purple Martin colony at our camp or summer home on Millinocket Lake in Millinocket, Maine. We realize the area is pretty far north, but we are trying. We purchased an aluminum, 12 room house, with 2 fake birds 2 years ago, but have had no success at attracting purple martins. No other species has taken residence either. We have centralized the house, with extension pole, on our lakeside property. We are inundated with black flies & mosquitoes every spring as we are in the woods so there is an abundance of food, but still no birds. Do you have any suggestions for our success?

    1. Derek Post author

      Unfortunately, there are only about 4, maybe 6, colonies of Purple Martins left in the state, so it’s virtually impossible to have enough birds wandering around to start a new colony. Since martins feed high above treeline, mosquitoes and black flies are not a part of their diet, and in Maine, they require extensive freshwater or saltwater marshes to feed over. There are just not enough martins in Maine.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s