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Purple Martin

Progne subis ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: HIRUNDINIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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.

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Songs

Purple Martins sing with boisterous, throaty chirps and creaky rattles. During courtship, males make a croak song that can be 4 seconds long; he only does this when a female is nearby, often before dawn and from inside the nest cavity. Females make a chortle song. The loudest song is the dawn song, which males sing before daylight, possibly to attract other martins to the colonial nest site.

Calls

The building blocks of their songs are also used as calls, in a variety of situations. In addition, martins make a hee-hee call while fighting over territories and zwrack and zweet calls during stressful interaction with other species. Females use a choo call for leading fledglings.

Other Sounds

Males sometimes make click sounds during courtship by snapping their bills together.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Put up a Purple Martin house in your backyard, and you just might be treated to a close-up look at these engaging birds all through the breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

You can put out crushed eggshells to give the martins a source of grit for digesting insect exoskeletons.

Find This Bird

In eastern North America during the summer, look for Purple Martins around martin houses, the miniature condominiums that many people put up in yards. The birds are more challenging to find in the West, where they nest in woodpecker holes in dead snags. Foraging Purple Martins hunt insects higher in the air than other swallows, but in the afternoon and evening they may feed low and close to nest sites. In late summer you might see enormous roosts of Purple Martins, particularly in the Southeast as they prepare to cross the Gulf of Mexico.

Get Involved

Purple Martins are a focal species in Project NestWatch. Learn more about them and contribute your data at their Purple Martin page.

House Sparrows and European Starlings are major competitors for martin nest boxes and can keep Purple Martins from breeding. Our Project NestWatch offers some suggestions for deterring these non-native species.

Our eBird project is a great way to keep track of the dates Purple Martins arrive and depart each year, and any other sightings in between.