Bird’s ID – Purple Martin
The Purple Martin (Progne subis) is the largest North American swallow. They are known for their speed and agility in flight, and when approaching their housing, will dive from the sky at great speeds with their wings tucked.
Purple martins are a kind of swallow, of the genus Progne. Like other members of this genus, they are larger than most of the other swallows. The average length from bill to tail is 20 cm (7.9 in). Adults have a slightly forked tail. Adult males are entirely black with glossy steel blue sheen, the only swallow in North America with such coloration. Adult females are dark on top with some steel blue sheen, and lighter underparts. Subadult females look similar to adult females minus the steel blue sheen and browner on the back. Subadult males look very much like females, but solid black feathers emerge on their chest in a blotchy, random pattern as they molt to their adult plumage.
Purple martins’ breeding range is throughout temperate North America. Their breeding habitat is open areas across eastern North America, and also some locations on the west coast from British Columbia to Mexico. Martins make their nests in cavities, either natural or artificial. In many places, humans put up real or artificial hollow gourds, or houses for martins, especially in the East, where purple martins are almost entirely dependent on such structures. As a result, this subspecies typically breeds in colonies located in proximity to people, even within cities and towns. This makes their distribution patchy, as they are usually absent from areas where no nest sites are provided. Western birds often make use of natural cavities such as old woodpecker holes in trees or saguaro cacti.
Wintering in South America, purple martins migrate to North America in spring to breed. Spring migration is somewhat staggered, with arrivals in southern areas such as Florida and Texas in January, but showing up in the northern United States in April and in Canada as late as May. Males usually arrive at a site before females.
Purple martins are aerial insectivores, meaning that they catch insects from the air. The birds are agile hunters and eat a variety of winged insects. Rarely, they will come to the ground to eat insects. They usually fly relatively high, so, contrary to popular opinion, mosquitoes do not form a large part of their diet. Recent research, however, does indicate that the Purple Martin feeds on invasive fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) and that they may make up a significant portion of their diet.