Beak of the Week – Purple Martin

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

Family: Hirundinidae

Purple Martins are the largest member of the swallow family in North America. Adult males are iridescent, dark blue-purple overall with brown-black wings and tail. Females and immatures have dusky throats, light bellies, and dull purplish-black upperparts.

Purple martins have undergone a complete tradition shift in their nesting behavior. They once nested in natural tree hollows and cliff crevices. Native Americans hung up empty gourds for Purple Martins before Europeans arrived in North America. The successful nesting of Martins in human-supplied housing coupled with the decline of natural cavities led to a behavior shift. Now, they nest almost exclusively in man-made homes, such as natural and artificial gourds and elaborate bird house condominiums known as “martin houses.”

Purple Martins feed during the day in open areas near water. They eat flying insects such as beetles, flies, dragonflies, damselflies, leafhoppers, grasshoppers, crickets, and cicadas. In addition to consuming all their food in flight, they also get water on the wing. They skim the surface of a pond and use their lower bills to scoop up water.

Purple Martins roost together by the thousands in late summer, as soon as the chicks leave the nest. They form such dense gatherings that you can easily see them on weather radar. Purple Martins are currently gathering in huge flocks in Willowbrook. Come witness this spectacular event as the birds prepare for their migration to South America.

Greg Lavaty
Greg Lavaty
 Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds! 

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