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Purple Martin

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(House Martin) 

Order: Passeriformes
Family: Hirundinidae
Genus: Progne
Species: subis

La. passer  sparrow, small bird
La. forma  form, kind, species
La. hirundo  a swallow
Gr. Prokne  mythological King
     Tereus, Philomela, and
     Prokne were turned into
     birds, a hoopoe, a
     nightingale, and a swallow
La. subis  a kind of bird

Largest swallow, about eight inches long with a twelve inch wingspan. Dark steel-blue except for brownish black wings.

Purple Martin, R. Bruce Horsfall, A Year with the Birds, Alice Ball, 1916

R. Bruce Horsfall

Female is brownish above and grayish underneath.


Long thin speedy wings, moderately forked tail.  Purple Martins inhabit most of temperate North America from Mexico throughout the eastern U.S., north to Newfoundland, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, in parts of the southwest and along the Pacific coast. Winters in northern South America.

       USGS Purple Martin Map

Builds nests of twigs, leaves, grasses, feathers, odd rubbish and sometimes mud, formerly in natural or abandoned tree hollows and rock crevices, now mostly in the popular martin houses or other nest boxes, gourds and a few in roof eaves.

Lays three to five white eggs, which hatch after about two weeks incubation and young leave the nest in about another three weeks.

Scatters out over the country catching flying insects in graceful almost falcon like flight, each parent returning to feed their young about one hundred times between sunup and sundown. 
Purple Martins, Allan Brooks, Birds of America, 1917
Allan Brooks
Social birds, greeting each other gurgling and chattering, even visiting each other's nests.  Martins need monitoring and special care. Mobs of English Sparrows sometimes drive the weaker colonies from their homes which is why Martin houses should contain several homes or multiple nest boxes should be mounted.
Colonies often just disappear because they are driven away by pests or because they are attracted to a nicer Martin house. They feed on available flying insects depending on the area and seasonal fly hatches, moths, dragonflies, butterflies, horse flies, and deer flies.
gonflies, butterflies, horse flies, and deer flies. They typically fly and feed low in cooler, cloudy weather and higher on warm sunny days. They migrate south about the middle of August in large flocks. In southern U.S. they return as early as February and in Canada as late as May.
Purple Martins, F.C. Hennessey, Birds of Western Canada, P.A. Taverner, 1926
F. C. Hennessey
The preponderance of Purple Martins now nest in artificially provided structures although there are rare reports of pairs or colonies nesting in their historical homes in cliff nooks, tree hollows and woodpecker holes, usually in the west.

Their popularity and reliance on martin houses has created one of the great North American Pastimes: attracting colonies of dozens of martins to apartment like birdhouses mounted high in wide open backyards.  Enticing colonies to occupy martin houses is so competitive enthusiasts utilize the latest research and tips - white paint to keep houses cool in the hot sun, room sizes, entrance hole sizes, specially designed holes shaped to deter intruders, railings to protect the new born from falling, guards against crawling and flying predators and more.

Read on for more information on attracting colonies, when to raise martin houses, the care they need and protection from predators.

       Page 2:    Attracting and Caring for Purple Martins














Print This Purple Martin House Design from the U S Fish & Wildlife Service

US Fish & Wildlife Service Design


Print This Purple Martin House Design from the U S Geological Survey's Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Northern Prairie Wildlife
Research Center Design



Purple Martin House Design from North Dakota State Univeristy
North Dakota State
University Design


Violet-green Swallow

Violet-green Swallow


Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow


Tree Swallow


Cliff Swallow


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