Purple Martin

Progne subis

Image of a purple martin, Progne subis.
Image by ‘VJAnderson’ on Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

Physical: Purple Martins are the largest swallows found in North America, measuring between 7.5 to 8.7 inches in length, with a wingspan of about 15.4 to 16.1 inches. Males are a glossy dark blue-purple throughout, while females display a grayish chest and belly against a darker, iridescent blue-green back and wings. Their slightly forked tail and pointed wings aid in their agile aerobatic pursuits. Their beady eyes and sleek bill give them an alert, inquisitive appearance.

Habitat: Purple Martins have a distinct preference for open habitats, often found near human settlements, as they’ve come to rely on man-made structures for nesting. They frequent open fields, wetlands, and are commonly seen darting above suburban neighborhoods, where they have access to their preferred housing: martin-specific birdhouses or gourds.

Feeding: These aerial experts primarily feast on flying insects, soaring through the air and skillfully nabbing their prey mid-flight. Their diet includes a variety of insects like beetles, flies, dragonflies, and even the occasional butterfly.

Breeding: Purple Martins exhibit a strong fidelity to their nesting sites, often returning to the same colony year after year. They’re cavity-nesting birds but have largely shifted to using man-made structures in the eastern parts of their range. The nests are made with twigs and lined with softer materials. After laying a clutch of 3-6 eggs, the female incubates them while the male typically helps in guarding the site and feeding the young once they hatch.

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