Weekend Birding: Purple Martins
The Purple Martin is the largest of the North American Swallows. They can be found across most of the US and Southern Canada except for the interior mountain areas.
Martins are unusual because they nest in colonies. The eastern Martins nest almost exclusively in man made multi-unit birdhouses like the one below and are now dependent on humans to provide them with nesting sites.
Part of last month’s birdwalk was a presentation on Purple Martins. This Martin house is on a golf course and is monitored by a volunteer from the bird club. It’s on a retractable pole and can be brought down to ground level allowing monitoring and an up close look into the nests. This group of Martins is accustomed to people and did not appear upset that we were looking at their little ones. They gathered on several of the roosting poles and observed us observing them.
Above are two photos of the nests. The first one only has eggs. The second one has older nestlings that will soon be leaving. There are three youngsters in there. Two are hiding but one curious bird sat up to look around. (Click photos for sharper images).
The parents were patiently waiting for us to leave so they could resume caring for their youngsters. They were sitting high up on one of the roosting poles. The dark glossy bird is the male, the female has whitish underparts. If you look closely you can see they are holding a meal of bugs in their beaks for the hungry babies.
- The Purple Martin eats flying insects which it catches in flight.
- Birds in Eastern North America now nest almost exclusively in birdhouses, but those in the West use mostly natural cavities.
- The male and female build the nest and feed the young and the couples are monogamous. Only the female incubates the eggs.
- Native Americans hung up empty gourds for these birds to nest in before Europeans arrived in North America. It is theorized that the Martins kept the Crows away from their corn crop.
- The Martins spend their winters in Brazil and return to the same nesting area each spring.
- The Purple Martin Conservation Association supports the study of the Purple Martin, and has more information available on its web site.
For more bird photos check out my previous Weekend Birding posts.