Natural Highlights: Purple Martins


Among our earliest spring migrants are the Purple Martins (Progne subis), the largest members of the Swallow Family (Hirundinidae) in North America. In the eastern U.S., Purple Martins are entirely dependent on nesting cavities provided by humans in the form of houses or gourds where the birds nest in colonies. FedEx volunteers helped Wolf River Conservancy erect a Purple Martin gourd rack system at the Lucius Burch Gateway last fall in what we hope is an ideal location - an open area near water which offers plenty of flying insects for these aerial insectivores.

The Human-Purple Martin partnership has been going on for a long time:  Native Americans put up hollow gourds to attract the birds long before Europeans arrived and continued the practice. John James Audubon noted the presence of a martin house at nearly every country inn during his travels around early America.  Why do people like having them around? Two likely reasons: Purple Martins eat flying insects and are charming company to boot.

If you're interested in adding Purple Martin housing to your property, keep in mind that competition from House Sparrows and Starlings can be an issue.  It's best to do your research, make sure you pick a good location, and invest in housing that discourages unwanted species.  A rack system that allows periodic cleaning is also a good idea. 

For more information, visit the Purple Martin Conservation Association.

For more information on Purple Martin identification and life history, follow this link.


Posted by Cathy Justis at 11:48 AM