Purple martins, those large, iridescent purple, colonial nesting, flying insect eating swallows are on their way back home. They’ve spent the winter south of the border in places like Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. Scouts have already been seen in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansa, Louisiana, and Texas. In fact, the first reported sighting was in St. James City, Florida on New Years Day.
Purple martins are our largest swallow. In the east, they nest, almost exclusively, in structures built and installed just for them. In your travels, you may have noticed farm houses, lakeshores, or even golf courses with tall, white poles out front with large white multi-room bird houses mounted atop or large white gourds hanging from yardarms. These structures are meant to attract purple martins.
Since the birds eat flying insects, people like to have them around during hot buggy summer days. They’re also fun to watch as they wheel and glide in big circles while hunting their aerial insect prey. And, they make a bubbly series of chirps and pops as they glide along, pleasant to listen to.
So, if they eat nothing but flying insects, what are they doing coming back to our area in the dead of winter? The birds being seen are scouts, older birds who have been there before. They’ve probably nested the previous year in the location they’re returning to and arrive early to stake a claim. Our birds, here in North Carolina, typically arrive (the scouts) in March.
March can be quite warm and pleasant in the Piedmont, but it’s also prone to occasional periods of ice and snow. Some of the early arrivals may not make it. But as long as those cold spells are short-lived and the local insect population begins emerging from their winter pupal states, dormancies, or hatching from overwintering eggs, all will be well.
Check out this web site for more martin info, and a current map of just where martins are being seen and when.
If you have an interest in birds of prey, how about checking out this site which concerns itself with osprey migration. The site monitors ospreys caught and radio-tagged at sites in North America and follows their migrations to the Caribbean and beyond, way beyond.