Species: Progne subis
photo Ivan Andrijevic
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
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.
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.
Deep, rich chirping and
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