Purple Martin

Back on Memorial Day, I ran across this very neat setup at a park here in central Ohio.  We often think in terms of humans interfering with nature, but in this case, humans have created a wonderful setup for our feathered friends.  On two poles in a sunny meadow, a collection of hollow nesting ‘gourds’ have been placed.

Looking closer, you can see that these gourds are inhabited.

Who are these interesting birds?  And why have they been provided with such special accommodations?

These birds are Purple Martins, the largest swallows in North America.  Their pleasant liquid call is a prime way to identify them on a summer’s day, swooping through the air catching insects.  Like many other swallows, they like to nest in colonies.

Mature males are dark purple and brown; here are two hanging out at the apartments.  Notice the forked tails.

Females and first-year males have dark backs and heads with light streaked breasts- here one sits on top of her gourd.

Purple Martins spend their summers in the eastern and central part of the United States, then winter in South America.  In the eastern part of the country, these birds nest almost exclusively in bird houses and gourds placed by people to attract them.  This is an old tradition.  Native Americans hung gourds for them to nest in long before European settlers came to the New World.  These birds eat a large amount of insects, and that suits people just fine.  Who wouldn’t want a pleasant neighbor such as them keeping the bug population down?

Here’s a mother martin feeding one of her young.

This father uses his tail to prop himself up on the gourd to feed his not-so-little one.

It looks like this male is passing food to a female to feed another hungry youngster.

An interesting fact about these birds is that they almost always eat and drink while flying, catching food on the wing and skimming bodies of water to slake their thirst.  They are fun to watch, wheeling and maneuvering through the air with graceful motions.

This male Red-Winged Blackbird who was singing on territory in the field nearby seemed interested in parts of the gourd nest scaffolding.  Perhaps he was looking for nesting material?  Or is it the instinctual attraction that some birds have to shiny things?  The martin residents did not bother him, so he must have posed no threat.

The martins were coming (far right) and going (far left) frequently, feeding hungry nestlings who will perhaps return to have nests of their own here in the future.

It’s a big wide world outside!

This parent had to lean in far to deliver a bug to hungry offspring.  No problem!

It’s easy to spend lots of time watching such interesting birds.  I didn’t want to leave.