Bird’s ID – Purple Martin

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 20Β cm (7.9Β 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.


Photo Gallery



Β© HJ Ruiz – Avian101

12 thoughts on “Bird’s ID – Purple Martin

  1. I love to watch purple martins at their houses, there is so much going on, and, like all swallows, their aerial gifts are a marvel. We don’t see too many of these on the west coast, as you noted, but I always take joy when I visit the east or Midwest. Wonderful post, HJ.

    • I captured these photos in a location in Florida. I haven’t seen any in Georgia. Thank you, my friend. πŸ™‚

  2. I visited a place herein alberta called Ellis Bird farm where one weekend scientists were fitting Purple Martins with tiny radio receptors to record their migration patterns.. Great photos!

  3. Great photos. I think I have seen more Purple Martins on their wintering grounds. You have given me incentive to go looking for them in the vicinity of lakes this summer.

  4. Neat πŸ™‚ Dad & I always erected a ‘Martin Condo’ on the lake cottages we remolded in central Minnesota ! They keep the mosquito and deer fly population down πŸ˜‰ {I did not know fire ants flew❓ }

    • Thank you for sharing my friend. In the purple martin case, if they are low in mosquitos, they raid the fire ants’ colonies.Not flying but on land. πŸ™‚

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