Bird Watcher's Digest: Home Bird Watcher's Digest Magazine Watching Backyard Birds Newsletter The Bird Watcher's Digest App Bird Watcher's Digest Nature Shop

Bird Identification

Swallows & Martins

Purple Martin

Progne subis L 8" (20 cm)

Photo by Maslowski Wildlife Productions.

play the song/call of the purple martin

The purple martin is the largest of the eight swallow species that breed in North America. It weighs 55 grams (1.75 ounces), is about 7 to 8 inches long, and has a 14-inch wingspan. The male is a dark glossy purple-blue; females and juveniles are gray below.

Martins are the earliest tropical-wintering migrant to return to the North American continent, reaching Florida in early January. Their northward advance coincides with the emergence of the flying insects they need to survive. They are found only in the New World, breed only in Canada, the United States, and parts of Mexico, and winter in South America (mainly Brazil).

Although martins originally nested in natural cavities and old woodpecker cavities throughout their breeding range, today, east of the Rockies, they nest only in human-supplied housing. They are locally common where suitable housing is available.

The male song is is a low-pitched liquid gurgling, the female’s a mix of chortle calls and downslurred whistles. Martins have a variety of calls, with the most common being a descending cherr.

You Might Like

Enjoying Purple Martins More

This booklet is the first complete handbook for the purple martin landlord. Includes a scout-arrival-dates map, a predator baffle design, and a martin colony troubleshooting chart. Only $4.99 in our store!

An Identification Guide to Common Backyard Birds

This booklet is designed to introduce you to-and help you identify-many of the most common feeder birds in North America. For each species you will find a color photograph, notes about how to identify the species, a summary of its range and the times of year it is present, and general information about the food and the type of feeder it prefers. Only $4.99 in our store!

Thistle Sock Bird Feeder

Sock it to the birds! This Thistle Sock feeder attracts a variety of thistle-loving birds. Its quality nylon construction allows you to enjoy its visitors all season long. Very easy to use and clean. Only $5.00 in our store!

Identifying and Feeding Birds

This readable, friendly guide is intended for bird watchers and non-bird watchers alike—for anyone who wants to enjoy nature right in his or her own backyard. The longtime editor of Bird Watcher's Digest and author of numerous books on birds, Bill Thompson, III, has been feeding and watching birds for 40 years. He has tried everything, and he shares what he's learned so that readers can avoid the mistakes and skip right to successful bird feeding. Only $14.95 in our store!

Reduce Window Strikes With Featherguard

It has been estimated that as many as 975 million birds are killed each year in North America in collisions with glass windows and buildings. FeatherGuard is uniquely effective because it combines bright color, motion, and the birds' natural aversion to loose feathers. In nature loose feathers are often a sign that a bird has been killed by a predator. Try FeatherGuard today and make your windows safer for your wild birds. Only $7.50 in our store!

Announcing the Optics Annual 2014--a FREE eBook by BWD!