The Purple Martin (Progne subis) is the largest swallow in North America. They are colonial cavity-nesting birds and are almost completely dependent on human provided housing in the Eastern United States. Native Americans first attracted martins by hanging gourds beginning this long relationship between humans and Purple Martins. 

Purple Martins face nest cavity competition from aggressive non-native European Starlings and House Sparrows. Their nesting success depends on martin “landlords” ensuring that starlings and sparrows are evicted from nest sites.

Purple Martins over-winter in the Brazil and other South American countries and migrate to North America to breed. In Connecticut they nesting season runs from May through August. Males arrive in breeding sites before females and establish a territory. When the females arrive and pairs are formed, they cooperate equally in building their nest with sticks and grasses with a final layer of green leaves. Three to six eggs are laid and the female does the majority of the incubating. When the eggs hatch both take part in feeding the chicks.

Martins feed solely on flying insects and are extremely vulnerable to adverse weather conditions, especially weather that affects insect availability. The favorite food for feeding their chicks is dragon flies and numerous dragon fly wings can be found on the ground under a martin house. When the young fledge about about a month, the parents continue to feed them.

In late summer martins gather in flocks that can number in the thousands and slowly migrate to their winter homes in Brazil and Bolivia.

Photo: Terry Shaw

BirdLife International 2016. Progne subis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22712098A94319217. Downloaded on 27 May 2019.