Purple Martin

Common Name: Purple martin
Class: Aves
Order:
Passeriformes
Family:
Hirundinidae
Genus:
Progne
Species:
Progne subis

photo Ivan Andrijevic

Taxonomy/Description

The Purple Martin belongs to the order Passeriformes, which translates as “sparrow form”. Birds in this order are perching birds: they have three toes that face forwards and one toe that faces backwards, which enables them to grasp branches. The Purple Martin belongs to the family Hirundinidae, which consists of swallows and martins.

The Purple Martin is the largest bird in Hirundinidae, ranging from 7.5-8.5 inches (18-21 cm) long and weighing 1.9 ounces (55 g). It has a wingspan of 15-16 inches (39-41 cm). It has a medium sized fork in its tail. The male Purple Martin is a dark bluish black color both above and below. It is the only swallow that has a dark colored belly. The female is larger than the male and is dark above, but has a light gray underside.

photo Ivan Andrijevic


Habitat/Diet

Purple Martins can be found in open areas like the country, or in towns and farms. They typically live in areas near water. During the winter, Purple Martins can be found in Brazil, South America. Their summer breeding range includes northern Mexico to the southern portions of Canada.

Purple Martins are aerial insectivores: they only eat flying insects. They have a wide range of flying insects that they consume, including dragonflies, butterflies, Japanese beetles, flies, moths, June bugs, grasshoppers, and bees. Contrary to popular belief, mosquitoes are rarely, if ever, consumed. Purple Martins feed during the day and often glide in circles around an area to catch the insects. They also obtain water by skimming the surface of a water source and scooping it up into the lower bill.

Behavior/Reproduction

Purple Martins are monogamous, and both parents contribute to nest building and caring for the young. Males will sing in order to attract a mate. Males will also “mate-guard” their female counterpart by trailing behind her on both the ground and in the air. It is thought that this behavior is done to ensure that his mate’s eggs will only be fertilized by him.

Purple Martins nest in colonies of varying sizes, of which members are typically unrelated to each other. Purple Martins now almost exclusively nest in martin houses, shifting away from the more traditional tree or cacti holes and cliff crevices. The nest is mainly made out of mud, mixed in with twigs and grass. The female Purple Martin can lay between two to seven eggs. These eggs are pure white in color. The female incubates them for fifteen to eighteen days. Once they hatch, the young depend on their parents for food for about four weeks until they fledge.

Vocalization

Deep, rich chirping and gurgling sounds.

Where to see them in WNY

Purple Martins can be seen around human dwelling if there are large, open spaces or water sources nearby. They are attracted to martin houses, such as those that can be found at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.

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