Purple Martins are here for awhile!

The glossy Purple Martin, largest of North American swallows, winters in South America and migrates north to spend the breeding months across much of the United States. These aerial insectivores eat, drink, and bathe on the wing, feeding on flying insects (American Bird Conservancy). Purple Martins in the west tend to nest in tree cavities or abandoned woodpecker holes, but in the eastern U.S, they “nest almost exclusively in purple martin houses and gourds provided by man.” (Florida Birds). 438D8AEE-4F20-4392-BA1F-B45996C8C15F_1_201_aPurple Martin numbers have declined considerably in recent decades due to multiple factors, so there has been a widespread public awareness effort to establish Purple Martin gourds and houses (often called condos!), such as those pictured here, in parks, preserves, and even backyards. BDB6C2A6-F8D7-4B93-83D7-57A4CFACC925_1_201_aThe Purple Martin Conservation Association is a well-known advocacy group dedicated to promoting research, public education, and conservation of the Purple Martin, and provides info on constructing martin houses.5F87C091-47D8-4569-A735-DC5F7BDFE53E_1_201_aThe relationship between humans and Purple Martins has a long history here in North America. Before the arrival of European settlers, it is said that Native Americans would hang dried, hollow gourds on tree snags so that adult birds would nest in them. The Martins would chase off other birds like crows and hawks and they would also feed their chicks the thousands of insects that would otherwise ravage the crops (Audubon.org; Wikipedia; Statesman). According to All About Birds, even in the 1830’s, John James Audubon wrote about how common the sight of “martin houses” was in country taverns and lodging houses! 

The article linked here in the Audubon Everglades KITE June 2020 issue provides more context about a special Purple Martin Program in Palm Beach County, Florida (where I took these photos), including info about a number of public locations that are part of the project. A brochure published by the national Fish & Wildlife Service, Purple Martin Project in New York, also describes efforts in that state to preserve and protect the species. 

26 thoughts on “Purple Martins are here for awhile!

  1. I so enjoyed reading about the Purple Martin houses and gourds, BJ. We don’t see too many PMs in the western U.S., so I am always enchanted by the many PM houses whenever I visit the eastern half of the country. Some of them get so elaborate. And what a joy to see this magnificent flier swooping around the houses. I didn’t know there had been a decline and am happy there has been a successful movement toward their recovery. Thanks so much.

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    • Thanks so much for stopping and for your comments, Jet. At first, I didn’t think they even migrated to the western part of the US. Then I learned that there are areas where they can be found closer to you, in natural nesting cavities.

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  2. That’s very nice to know, that they are having great success with the Purple Martins colonies in Florida. Great captures! Thank you for the information, Carol. 🙂

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  3. We love the purple martins! Got 3 gourd racks containing 36 nesting gourds. Last year we fledged over 100 babies. We set up a mini-cam in one of the gourds, and we saw yesterday that the first egg of the spring nesting season was laid! Two eggs there today. Yay!

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  4. These are wonderful shots of the Purple Martin! I saw them arriving in Everglades City mid-March just before I left. 🙂 They are due here in Maryland now, I haven’t had chance to go out birding since getting home though to see if they have….. 😉

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    • They are amazing, aren’t they, Ann? It’s the males that are this deep glossy blue. As so often happens, the females are much plainer. This is the first year that I am beginning to be able to distinguish between Martins and other kinds of swallows, and Swifts – they all move so fast and always looked so similar to me!

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