purple martin - where are purple martins now

Where Are Purple Martins Now?

purple martin house - where are purple martins nowWhere are Purple Martins Now?  Do you still have any hanging around your nesting houses?   If you do you probably live up north as they are already starting to congregate in large groups called roosts, in the more southern states.

By up north I mean places such as Erie, Pennsylvania, where the Purple Martin Conservation Association Live Nest Cam was showing nestlings up until recently that had not yet left the nest.   The babies did finally fledge on July 28th.  Now it won’t be long before these martins finally depart too if they haven’t already.





But let’s start from the beginning……

It is always good to know how and when they got here in the first place. Back in January they first started to arrive in the more southernpurple martin - where are purple martins now areas of the United States (i.e. Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas) after migrating from their winter homes in South America.  Then continuing up through May they made their way further north to their breeding grounds.

Note:  Purple Martins return to the same colonies (housing) from the previous year.  

The Martins will then take another four to six weeks until they begin to nest.  Incubation of the eggs will take fifteen days when the babies will hatch.  Once hatched it will take another twenty six to thirty one days before the babies (nestlings)  finally leave or fledge the nest.

Purple Martins have one brood each year rarely two, unless there was any problems with the first one.  When all of this takes place, meaning once the fledglings have left the nest and can fend for themselves, they will join the adults in what is called pre-migration or roosting.


What is Roosting?

Purple Martins leave their nesting colonies to gather in large groups congregating at a roosting sight. These roosting sights can usually be found near mature woods by large bodies of water.  There can be thousands of Martins found in just one small area as they feed, socialize, and rest in trees, on bridges, and the like.

Just to give you an example, on July 22nd of this year, there have been ten thousand Purple Martins reported at a roosting sight near Lexington, Kentucky.  Other roosting sights have already been observed in several other cities and states too.

Roosting is the beginning of migration.  Large flocks can contain up to tens of thousands of birds, with some so big that they can be seen on radar.  Eventually these large groups which can be active for up to twelve weeks, will break down into smaller groups before they begin their long journey back to South America.

Note:  There are supposedly three hundred and fifty migratory roosts found in the United States.

Once these birds get to South America they will spend the winter months living in large urban roosts.  They do not nest during this time.


More About Purple Martins

baby purple martin - purple martin birdhousesPurple Martins are the largest North American swallow at seven and half to eight inches in length.   They are known for their speed and agility in flight as they feed on their diet of mainly insects such as dragonflies (their favorite), beetles, flies, moths, and mosquitoes.

The adult males are a dark purple color and the females and juveniles are duller with more grey coloring around the neck,  and on the underside.

Purple Martins have adapted well over time living in nesting cavities provided by humans.  These are usually store bought nesting boxes or housing which are specifically made for Purple Martins.  By this I mean clustered housing.  Martins live in colonies and can have anywhere from two to two hundred martins in it.

Purple Martins eat insects while in flight.  They also get their water that way.  How do they do that?  They fly across the surface of water such as a pond or lake and scoop up water with their bill.

Purple Martins can live from five to seven years old.  Some have lived as long as ten years.

The largest roosting colony of Purple Martins was said to have up to one million birds at a time.

Purple Martins catch their food (insects) at heights of one hundred sixty to five hundred feet high.


When Should You Take Down Purple Martin Nesting Boxes?

birdhouse - where are purple martins nowYou should not take the housing down until late September even though Purple Martins are no longer using them.  Young fledglings will be looking for a breeding sight for next year as they generally do not return to the same nesting sight.  So it is good to keep housing up until then.

Once you do finally take the housing down be sure to clean it out thoroughly and plug it up as you do not want other birds taking it over for next season.


To Conclude

It is that time of year when Purple Martins are leaving their nesting sights to start their pre-migration roosting.    This roosting can involve thousands of birds congregating to socialize, feed, and to rest too.  There are over three hundred and fifty six roosting spots that have been reported over the years that martins have been known to flock to each year.  Or at least in areas close by.

Once Purple Martins gather in these roosts they will then break out into smaller groups before leaving to their winter homes in South America.

This is a spectacular sight to see too.   People from all over gather to watch this amazing occurrence.  Something for which I have not been lucky enough to encounter.  My husband and I tried to go see a roosting sight here in Northern Kentucky that was reported back in 2016.  However we somehow missed it.  I think that we probably just waited too long to go see it and that was a big disappointment.


Have you ever seen Purple Martins roosting near you?  I would love to hear about your experience.  Please feel free to make your comments below.


Happy Birding!





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