The Purple Martin is the largest swallow found in North America . Measuring about seven inches in length, the male is completely iridescent purple or steely-blue and often looks black at a distance. The female has white underparts with a dark band across the breast. Sub-adults are similar to females. Unlike some swallows, the tail of the Purple Martin is only slightly forked.
Diet: Purple Martins consume large amounts of insects in flight. They also get their water from skimming over the surface of a pond, lake, or river.
Habitat: Open areas near water, deserts.
Range: Purple Martins nest throughout the eastern and central states and southern Canada , though they are absent in parts of that range where suitable habitat does not exist. They also nest in isolated patches in the western states and in the desert southwest. They are particularly common along the coasts and near large bodies of water. Purple Martins winter in South America .
Nesting: In the eastern United States , Purple Martins nest exclusively in martin houses, or sets of gourds. Martin houses are modified bird houses with multiple compartments erected on a pole 10-15 feet above the ground. Martins are loyal to their “house” and will often return to the same house for many years. Chosen houses are usually near water and are located in spaces free of trees. Martin landlords, people with such houses on their property, go to great lengths to ensure their martins are successfully in raising chicks and will often remove the nests of competing species that try to take residence in the house such as House Sparrows and Starlings. Native Americans originally attracted martins with hollowed out gourds hung on tree branches or on a structure. The martins were thought to consume mosquitoes. Western martins are more likely to nest in tree cavities and cacti.
Female martins lay 3-6 white eggs in the spring. The eggs are incubated for 15-18 days and the young martins fledge (leave the nest) within a month.
Status: Thought to be declining in much of its range.
Purple Martins trying to gain possession of nesting gourds