Purple Martin Habit – Everything You Need To Know

Purple Martin Habit

Are you a bird lover? Are you attracted to Purple Martin? There’s a lot to learn about Purple martin habits, and your journey starts here.

If you are lucky enough to attract a colony of Purple Martins to nest in your backyard, your summer won’t be the same again, I assure you.

Every year, they will return to your backyard and give you that excitement of watching them as they mate, nest, and feed themselves.

In North America, Purple martins are the most prominent swallows over there.

Description Of A Purple Martin

Purple martins are usually eight inches in length, and their tail is a bit forked. Adult male Purple martins that are two years old or above are completely black with a smooth steel blue sheen.

It’s interesting to note that the two-year-olds are very easy to identify.

Many rookie bird lovers or watchers make the mistake of identifying Tree Swallows and Starlings for Martins.

For the 2-year-old adult females, they have a dark top color, with a little blue sheen. Although, they have light underparts.

The semi-adult female Martin (those who have already made one migration trip) looks similar to the adult females. However, the difference is that they don’t have the blue sheen on their back.

Meanwhile, the semi-adult males are pretty easy to recognize. They look like the females, but the difference is just that, on their chest, you’ll find firm black feathers in random patterns.

Marting Habits

When it comes to Purple martin mating habits, older adult males will first need to return from their winter trip to claim nesting sites at the same place they used the previous year.

This can only happen as long as the previous nesting site is up for grabs.

On some rare occasions, female adult Martins will be the first to reach the nesting sites. When the males later arrive, they’ll attract one of the females and invite them to their chosen nesting site.

Once the female Martin picks any of the males that caught her eye, the male will follow her to her nest, regardless of what nesting site he chose.

After the adults have spent four weeks in the nesting sites, the semi-adults will start arriving to start mating with their chosen partners.

With so many males available, there’s bound to be some scuffles here and there. The young male martins will fight one another or any of the older males to secure a female of their choice so they can mate.

Nesting Habits

When it comes to housing, Martins are a bit dependent on men for shelter. Purple martins prefer huge nesting grounds to have enough space to hunt and train their young, among other things.

Most man-made housing for the purple martins are built as a six by six-inch cavity. However, some intelligent manufacturers prefer to make theirs 11 by 7 inches wide.

Plastic and natural gourds are also used to offer wide and deep nesting sites to the martins.

Furthermore, the gourds can also protect the martins from flying predators like hawks and owls from getting inside the nest to attack their nestlings.

If you closely observe the Purple martin nesting behavior, you’ll notice that the females are the ones gathering nesting supplies and moving them to the nest cavity.

Next, they’ll fly to a treetop, use their beak to cut off a leaf, and take it with them to their nesting site.

Also, if you closely monitor a pair, you’ll notice that the male will start singing some notes in his lovely song as soon as the female moves into the nest hole.

This is a way of alerting her of his presence that he’s close by so she doesn’t have to feel worried.

A typical Purple martin nest is made from natural materials like grass, leaves and straw, pine needles, and sticks. It takes about one to two weeks to finish building a purple martin nest.

Purple Martin Eggs

Usually, the female Martin will lay about three to seven eggs on average. Although, it’s important to state that the older and more mature female martins lay more eggs than the younger ones.

The females are in charge of incubation, though the males can decide to sit on the eggs every once in a while. However, they don’t have a brooding patch that will help them incubate the eggs.

Only the females have it.

However, you also need to understand that incubation is not a round-the-clock exercise. Most times, the birds will cover the eggs with leaves, while the parents go out searching for food, leaving their eggs unattended.

This can sometimes be an unfortunate decision of the Martins because predators like Starlings, House Wrens and House sparrows can take advantage of the opportunity, get into the nest, and cause chaos.

The entire incubation process takes about 15 to 17 days. The young chicks, once hatched, will stay inside the nest until they are between 28 to 32 days old before heading outside.

Once the young chicks are outside, the parents will continue to watch their backs, feed them and show them how to be good hunters. 

First Arrival – Scout

As soon as the young chicks have completed their training and can provide food for themselves and take cover from predators, they’ll begin their journey to adulthood and become independent of their parents.

The state of gaining independence from one’s parents in the bird world is called fledging.

In most cases, during fledging, young chicks find their way back to their parent’s nest after one or two weeks, and this happens at night or in the evening. However, some young ones may be unlucky and get picked up by hungry owls and hawks.

Also, if the nest hole is infested with mites or the nest is wet, the young chick may not come back.

The above nest issues are enough reasons why you need to conduct nest checks and maintain the nests as long as you’re hosting Purple martins.

Feeding Habits

Purple martins are aerial hunters. They prey on flying insects and their menu list include the following;

  • Cicadas
  • Crickets
  • Dragonflies
  • Grasshoppers
  • Damselflies
  • Moths
  • Butterflies
  • Beetles
  • Wasps
  • Stink bugs
  • Bees
  • Horseflies
  • Mayflies
  • Midges

At the same time, Purple martins also have super predators that prey on them and they are;

  • Hawks
  • Raccoons
  • Snakes
  • House Sparrows
  • European
  • Starlings
  • Owls
  • Cats

If you’re hosting purple martins on your property, courtesy demands that you do everything within your power to ensure that they are safe from threats above and on the ground.

You can use predator guards and nets on poles to stop snakes and other predators from climbing the pole to feed on the martins.

To ensure the safety of the Purple martins, you need to trap European starlings and House sparrows and eliminate them. These two predator birds are sworn enemies of the purple Martin and will harm them at any given opportunity.

If you have cats on your premises, put a leash on them before they feed on your birds.

What Do I Feed Purple Martins To Attract Them?

The only thing you can feed purple martins on rare occasions are insects, and you have to throw the insect up in the sky so they can pick it up on the move.

Usually, martins only hunt flying insects as their food. You’ll hardly see them come around your feeder, fountain, and bath. They drink and eat on the move.

Are Purple Martins Messy Birds?

It’s a capital NO for me because Purple martins are one of the cleanest birds you can find. They’re widely known for going far away from their nest holes to drop excrements.

Not only that, they’ll also pick up excrement sacs from their nestlings and drop them in the open.

What Is The Ideal Height Of A Purple Martins House?

The ideal height should be between 10 to 12ft high, and once you set it up, martins will come and live there.

Preferably, the birdhouse needs to be very high, so the birds can get comfortable and a bit low, so we can enjoy the view.

The Relationship Between Sparrows And Purple Martins

Sparrows are the number one enemies of the adorable martins, so you have to do all it takes to ensure that they don’t harm the purple martins.

If you discover a sparrow nest in the same building that houses the martins, you need to get rid of that nest. Sparrows are very persistent and creative with nest building.

Once you find their nest, wait until they lay their eggs so you can have total control of the situation. If you remove the nest too quickly, the Sparrow will move to another location to lay her eggs and increase her family.

Bear in mind that the Sparrow is very dangerous and can attack young martin chicks, poking their eyes out among many other cruel things it does to them.

Sparrows are known for sneaking into purple martins‘ nests to kill the young and destroy any eggs they find.

The Bottom Line

The Purple martins are remarkable birds that you can host, and you’ll come to love them. However, you need to ensure they are safe from any harm.