Purple Martin

The Purple Martin (Progne subis) is the largest North American swallow at 20 cm length.

Both male and female adults have a forked tail. While the adult males are a glossy dark purple, the adult females are dark on top with some purple on the back, and lighter underparts. Juveniles are grayish-brown above and whitish below, gaining some purple feathers by their first winter.

Their breeding habitat is open areas across eastern North America, and also some locations on the west coast from British Columbia to Mexico. This species typically breeds in colonies.

The eastern nominate race nests exclusively in man-made bird houses, of which about a million are provided. It is the only bird totally dependent on humans for nest sites.

The paler subspecies P. s.hesperia of Arizona and western Mexico uses only woodpecker holes in Saguaro and other large cacti, and the large pale west coast form P. s.arboricola utilises woodpecker and other natural cavities as well as nesting boxes and gourds.

The Purple Martin migrates to the Amazon basin in winter. The first record of this species in Europe was a single bird on Lewis, Scotland on 5-6 September 2004, and the second was on the Azores on 6th September 2004.

These birds hunt for insects in flight, although sometimes they will pick up insects off the ground. They usually fly relatively high, so, contrary to popular opinion, mosquitoes do not form a large part of their diet.

The call is a gurgly tchew-tchew.