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Tall houses bring great neighbors: Purple Martins with Kelly Applegate

 Ten martins are sitting on little ledges outside the nesting box entrance holes; there are many individual units in the martin house. There are heads poking out from some of the nests.
LeAnn Plinske via iNaturalist
A Purple Martin house teems with occupants in Hackensack, Minnesota on June 1, 2021.

Kelly Applegate, the Commissioner of Natural Resources for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, discusses his efforts to restore declining purple martin populations in Minnesota. This segment is a follow-up to "Bird Declines" — a series produced by Mark Jacobs, that investigates the causes and complexities of bird population decreases in Minnesota.

KAXE's Tuesday Morning Show strives to take an in-depth look at some natural resource-based issues important to our region. Producer Mark Jacobs and hosts Heidi Holtan and John Latimer discuss not only the problems, but highlight some creative solutions.

Kelly Applegate, Commissioner of Natural Resources for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, views his job as being the protector of natural and cultural resources for future generations. He has made a considerable effort in recent years to work on restoring declining purple martin populations in Minnesota.

The purple martin is the largest of the swallow species in our region. Purple martins are aerial insectivores, catching insects in flight as their primary food source. They successfully adapted to humans, which began centuries ago by using dried and hollowed gourds as nesting sites in Native American villages.

This relationship with humans continues today with their dependence on “purple martin houses” for nesting. Unfortunately, fewer people are erecting these housing structures, which likely contributed to their population decline.

Kelly describes the natural history of this fascinating bird species and what you can do to help their cause. Listen to the conversation above.

Kelly recommends as a resource to learn more.


  • Introduction (0:00-0:46) 
  • Responsibilities of Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Commissioner of Natural Resources (0:46-1:30) 
  • Introduction to Purple Martins (1:30-3:15) 
  • Factors contributing to the decline in Purple Martins (1:30-5:36) 
    • Lack of appropriate housing (1:30-4:56) 
    • Invasive species (3:45-4:56) 
    • Climate (4:56-5:36) 
  • How to provide housing (5:36-9:26) 
    • Finding the right location (5:58-6:35) 
    • Number of units in the housing(6:35-7:01) 
    • Recommended starting model (build) (buy) (6:45-7:25) 
      • Other options from build or buy 
    • Research/checking on the nests and hatchlings (7:05-9:26) 
  • Purple Martins’ acclimation to humans (7:24-9:26) 
  • Indigenous North Americans’ partnerships with Purple Martins (9:26-12:16) 
    • How Purple Martins started nesting in human-provided housing (9:26-10:52) 
    • How the martins helped the Native communities (10:52-11:26) 
    • Pleasant neighbors (11:26-12:16) 
  • Purple Martin calls (12:16-13:09, 16:47-17:14) 
  • Phenology and migration of the Purple Martin (13:09-14:09) 
  • Outlook for Purple Martins (14:09-15:27)
  • Supplemental feeding of migrating martins (15:27-16:05) 
  • Purple Martin hotspot at Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge (16:05-16:37) 
  • Conclusion (16:37-17:46) 

Do you or your family have Purple Martin houses? Let us know what the experience is like! Text us at (218) 326-1234.

Purple Martin calls at the beginning and ending of the segment are adapted from a recording by iNaturalist user entz, recorded on June 17, 2023 in Pelican Rapids, MN. CC-BY-NC.

Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).

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