Eastern Purple Martins (Progne subis subis) have an unusually close relationship with humans, as they nest exclusively in man-made nest boxes. Current conservation policy directly promotes further interaction with this species by advocating regular replacement of nest materials during the nestling phase to reduce ectoparasite load and increase nestling fitness. We conducted the first test of the efficacy of this recommendation and found that it was partially effective in reducing parasite abundance, but had no effect on nestling fledging success, body mass, leukocyte count, or triglyceride or uric acid concentration. We found a small but significant increase in nestling hematocrit associated with nest material replacement, implying that parasites may induce nestling anemia. Contrary to our expectations, we also found elevated heterophil/lymphocyte ratios in nestlings with replacements, possibly indicating elevated physiological stress associated with nest replacements. Based on our results, we do not recommend nest material replacements to combat routine parasite infestations.
Purple Martins are believed to have a high abundance of blood-feeding parasites (fleas, mites, and blowfly larvae) in their nests.
A current conservation policy recommends that nest box managers regularly remove and replace nest materials during the nestling phase to reduce parasite abundance. We tested the efficacy of this policy.
Nest replacements reduced flea and blowfly larvae abundance, but mite abundance rebounded quickly.
There was no difference in fledging rate, body mass, white blood cell count, or triglyceride or uric acid levels for nestlings with or without nest replacements.
Nestlings with nest replacements were less anemic and had a higher ratio of heterophils to lymphocytes.