Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Meet the Martins

Each year around late January to early February, Karol Tenace of Marco Island eagerly awaits the arrival of the purple martins to their manmade birdhouses on her dock. Karol added that the males come first and choose the housing around late January to mid-February and then try to attract the females when they arrive. 

Purple Martins are the largest of the swallow family, but they roost exclusively in homes provided to them by humans. You’ve seen those white condo-type housing units perched on top of a metal pole, sometimes combined with manmade gourds with a small doorway cutout.

Karol’s new arrival is likely the same guests she had the previous year. They come back to the same man-made house each year; if they are still suitable. Long ago, Native Americans used to hollow out gourds and hung them around their villages to attract the purple martins hoping to keep insects from crops.

According to Karol, she’s had a purple martin house for a couple of years now and she loves them. Right now, they are in frantic nest building mode and “it is amazing to watch them bringing in sticks and grasses and trying to get them through those small openings.”

The species gets its name from the males, they sport deep blue-purple iridescent feathers and the ladies have less showy brown-gray feathers. They are loved for their melodious songs and aerial dances. Karol added, “Males sing the best dawn song when they first arrive. There is nothing like waking up to their beautiful songs and wait for them to come home each evening when they sit on their porches and sing before heading into bed.” 

Photos by Jean Hall | Female purple martin with is less than showy brown-gray feathers bringing a blade of grass for nesting.

Karol saw the purple martin house at Leigh Plummer Park when she first moved to Marco and decided to try attracting purple martins to her house. She ordered a purple martin house and had it up with success for about 7- 8 years. Purple Martins tolerate their human landlords very well and the colonies are almost 100% dependent on human supplied housing. 

However, Karol moved from her original house and set up a new purple martin house and was able to attract them the first year. She does not feed them as they eat insects on the fly. They are here to nest, mate and lay eggs and once that is done—they start the long migration back to South America.

Purple Martins travel from North America in the summer to South America as far as Brazil and Argentina in the winter. The full migration can take 2-3 months to complete as birds rest and feed along the way.

For the purple martins, after a long flight, they arrive in Marco just in time to feast on the abundance of tasty flying insects, ready summer lodgings, open space and plenty of open water in Karol Tenace’s backyard. And they tend to come back to those amenities year after year.

Karol has seen crows trying to get into the purple martin house to eat the chicks. Karol has become a member of The Purple Martin Conservation Association and gets a lot of information from them. She also purchased her purple martin house from them.

If you are interested in knowing more about purple martins, please visit The Purple Martin Conservation Association website: www.purplemartin.org.


The Purple Martin housing unit at Leigh Plummer Park showing the gourd housing.

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