About The Purple Martin

The Purple Martin is the largest swallow in North America. It measures in at 19 – 20 cm (7 – 8 in), with a wingspan of 39 – 41 cm (15 – 16 in), and a weight of 45 – 60 grams. Though considered a large swallow, it is still a medium-sized song bird. The Purple Martin has a large head and a thick chest. Its wings are broad and pointed while its tail is short and a little bit notched.
The male Purple Martin is unique in that it is the only swallow that doesn’t have a light belly. In fact, the male Purple Martin is a glossy blue-black all over – head, chest, back, and belly. Even its bill is blue-black! The female Purple Martin has basically the same color on the back although not as glossy as the male. It has a lighter chest and belly – ranging from dirty gray to dirty brown. Sometimes it has a gray collar around its neck. The immature Purple Martin is similar to the adult female but its color is drabber, and its underparts dirty white.

The Purple Martin Nesting Preferences

The Purple Martin breeds near where humans are. They are quite tame already and will nest in birdhouses and nest boxes many times. They also nest in tree cavities, cacti cavities, crevices, and buildings. However, most of the time these natural nesting places are already taken over by other species. That is why the Purple Martin most often nests in manmade structures. The nest of the Purple Martin is made up of twigs, plant materials, grass, and mud.

Building a Birdhouse For The Purple Martin

When building a birdhouse for Purple Martins, make sure to situate it in a large open space, preferably in the center of a clearing. Try not to place it too near trees. The house should be placed about 10 to 17 feet above the ground, without any connecting poles or wires so as to discourage predators.
The floor area should be at least 6”x 6” but if you can make it larger, the better it would be. A floor area of 7” x 12” would be great. For the entrance hole, a diameter of 2 1/8 inches would serve its purpose well. The box itself should be about 6 inches high.

The Purple Martin Mating Habits

Purple Martins are colonial breeders. Once the mating season starts, the adult males sing a “dawn song” which attracts other young males to the breeding site. As the breeding season goes by, the older males also mate with the other females already paired with young males. As a result, they have more than one brood in a year.

The Purple Martin Feeding Preferences

Purple Martins mostly eat insects. They sometimes eat mosquitoes but prefer the larger insects. The unique thing about Purple Martins is that they catch their food in mid-flight, as they do with water.

Interesting Purple Martin Facts

  • Purple Martins have always almost nested in nest boxes for the past 100 years (at least in the eastern part of North America)! In fact, prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the Native Americans used to hang empty gourds for the Purple Martins to nest in.
  • When nesting in nest boxes, Purple Martins will share a single nest box as long as there are multiple compartments.