Certainly we were willing and open. We followed the directions to the letter, positioning the gleaming white plastic “gourds” near the house and near water, yet with some trees nearby – but not too many trees; with open grassy areas – yet not too much openness. The pole was set in cement and was of the telescoping kind so that we could be good landlords and check on the birds, clean the nests out at the end of the season. We read that we needed to provide string for their nests and egg shells for their diet. We read that purple martins seek out people and even like to be chatted with so that they come to know their landlord’s voice.
Two summers ago a flock of eight young purple martins hung about the property for about a week. They would sit side by side on the electrical wire above the garden, practice their flying and preen. They spent the day zooming around the garden catching insects. We thought it was a good sign and felt sure that next spring some of these same birds would return to take up residence in the spotless martin complex near the pond. How could they not? We never saw them again after that week. Then this spring a pair spent about half an hour carefully and thoroughly investigating each gourd. Again our hopes were raised and again they were dashed as the couple flew off never to return. There are all kinds of things you can do wrong when trying to lure purple martins to your home and sometimes it doesn't matter if you do everything right; it's a delicate balance of human involvement, timing and location. It's a little like it must've been for a gentleman to court a proper southern belle before the Civil War.
Even the sparrows, grackles, cow birds, wrens and bluebirds show no interest in the houses. Crows broke off the perches on some of them to be used in a manner only a crow would understand. All around town there are purple martin houses, most of them faded, falling apart, tipping over, and all of them are at 100% occupancy, or at least it seems that way to us.
But we are still open and willing...and waiting. The purple martin condo will remain as long as we live here. Sure, each time we see the white gourds they are a painful reminder of our failure. Standing empty like half-built houses abandoned during the housing bust, forlorn and sad. But you never know, after the gourds fade and crack and the pole starts canting, we may get our birds.