Photos and article by Charly Mann
The Purple Martin is totally dependent on humans for their housing and survival. Over the last 150 years two non-native birds, the European Starling and the House Sparrow began taking over their natural nesting sites, which are decaying tree cavities and abandoned woodpecker holes. Today almost all Purple Martins live in large apartment-like birdhouses that are specifically designed for them.
Male Purple Martin near Claremore, Oklahoma
Purple Martins are not purple. Males are dark blue-black all over with an iridescent sheen. Even their bill is this color. They have a large head, their wings are pointed, and they have a short tail with a small notch at the bottom. Females have a dark gray head and back with a white belly. They have a dark tail and wings. Young Purple Martins look similar to the female.
Purple Martin showing his magnificent wings
Purple Martins are about 7 inches long and have a 15 inch wingspan. They can weigh up to 2 ounces.
Purple Martins are social birds that live in colonies.
Purple Martins live on insects they catch while flying at between 160 and 500 feet above the ground.
Female Purple Martin
Newborn Purple Martins are fed insects as many as 60 times a day by their parents.
Entire colonies of Purple Martins can be wiped out when it is too rainy for insects to fly in the air for more than two or three days.
Purple Martins have lived as long as 13 years.
Purple Martins can fly up to 40 miles per hour.
Male and Female Purple Martin enjoying an Oklahoma summer day
Purple Martins migrate to South America in mid to late summer. Their migration often takes up to three months.
The Purple Martin is a swallow... the largest one that lives in North America.