Purple Martin

Hey guys, welcome back. Today we have the largest member of the swallow family in North America, the purple martin! Perhaps best known as residents of bird condos throughout the US, the gourd shaped nest houses have recently begun to replace traditional style bird condos. Actually, the gourd style isn’t new. Native Americans used hollowed out gourds for purple martins before Europeans even came to this continent! When not nesting in human made bird communities, they use hollows inside trees and other structures. They are gregarious birds, nesting in colonies sometimes of over 100 birds!

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Purple martins, Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

Despite their name, the purple martin is more of a dark metallic blue than purple. Adult males are almost entirely this indigo color, with black wingtips and face. They typically take about 2 years to obtain their full adult plumage. Females, and young males, are more gray, but still sport some darker blue highlights. Purple martins breed throughout the eastern half of the US and extreme southern Canada, as well as a population along the Pacific coast.

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Purple martin, Mentor Lagoons State Nature Preserve, Mentor, OH

I remember seeing one in Central Park. NYC isn’t exactly teeming with martins. In fact, in all the years I worked in Central Park, I think my sighting at the Harlem Meer was the only one. When I got to St. Louis, there were quite a bit more of them. Forest Park had gourd boxes up for them near their skating rink. And here in northeast Ohio, there’s a number of parks that are each home to their own purple martin colonies! They gather together by the thousands in late summer before heading back down to South America for the winter! Like other swallows, they’re fast, agile, and very aerodynamic, sporting long pointed wings. They catch insects in air, and even drink while flying, skimming the surface of the water. So be on the lookout for these cool birds, and listen for their gurgling chirps! Next up, another cool bird that’s like a swallow in many ways, only nocturnal. See you then!

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