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  • The return of the purple martin

    Wednesday, March 13, 2024   /   by Amy Brown

    The return of the purple martin

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    It is time for the purple martin, also known as the people's bird, to return from their wintering grounds in the Amazon basin of South America. A member of the swallow family, this graceful bird is a highly skilled acrobatic artist with a beautiful iridescent bluish purple hue. 

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    These birds travel in colonies and tend to return to their favorite nesting grounds every year. They are called the "people's bird" because they are unable to make their own nests. The purple martin relies upon manmade martin houses in order to survive through the summer. If not, then they have to search for the ever-elusive natural tree hollow or cave crevice. Martins prefer to live in groups so they like condo type homes on poles or gourds in order to live as a family.

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    From the elaborate to the simplistic, purple martin houses need to be in an open space at least 60' from the house where they can easily fly in and out. They also need to be placed on a tall pole. These homes can be very charming and a lovely yard accent.

    But here is why you might really want to put some effort into having purple martins as your neighbor. Purple martins eat bugs! And lots of them! They are a farmer's friend as they can eat enough bugs to actually save a crop and they keep annoying pests away. These large flocks will clean up crop destroying beetles, pesky gnats, fire ants, flies, moths, grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, termites and even spiders. Purple martins can eat up to 2000 insects per day!

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    Purple martins live as a nested pair and both male and female parent together. Purple martins will begin nesting 4-6 weeks after they return to their "condo". They will then lay 1 egg per day for a total of 2-8 eggs. Incubation lasts 15 days and then the new fledglings will emerge in about 26-32 days.

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    The species is on a decline due to a lack of housing...a similar problem in the human housing market. They now rely on living in symbiosis with us as their general contractors and in return their "payment" is a bug free yard and comfortable outdoor summer nights. So consider a purple martin habitat in your yard. I promise that you will be entertained and perhaps enjoy those sultry days even more.