The Purple Martin (Progne subis) is the largest North American swallow. 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. Sub-adult females look similar to adult females minus the steel blue sheen and browner on the back. Sub-adult 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.
These aerial acrobats have speed and agility in flight, and when approaching their housing, will dive from the sky at great speeds with their wings tucked. [Wikipedia]
Putting up a Purple Martin house is like installing a miniature neighborhood in your backyard. In the East, dark, glossy-blue males and brown females will peer from the entrances and chirp from the rooftops all summer. In the West, martins mainly still nest the old-fashioned way—in woodpecker holes. Our largest Swallows, Purple Martins, perform aerial acrobatics to snap up flying insects. At the end of the breeding season, they gather in big flocks and make their way to South America. [All About Birds]
Purple Martin Facts [All About Birds]
- Putting up martin houses used to be so common that John James Audubon used them to choose his lodgings for the night. In 1831, he remarked, “Almost every country tavern has a martin box on the upper part of its sign-board; and I have observed that the handsomer the box, the better does the inn generally prove to be.”
- Native Americans hung up empty gourds for the Purple Martin before Europeans arrived in North America. Purple Martins in eastern North America now nest almost exclusively in birdhouses, but those in the West use mostly natural cavities.
- European Starlings and House Sparrows often push Purple Martins out of local areas by taking over all of the nest sites, including houses that people put up specifically for the Martins.
- The oldest Purple Martin on record was at least 13 years, 9 months old, banded in 1933 and found in 1947. It lived in Illinois.