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). Purple 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. The 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.The 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.