Backyard Nature Wednesday: Purple Martins
|Male Purple Martin photographed at our backyard martin house some years ago. These are the birds that are our first spring migrant arrivals. The adult male scouts generally start arriving here in late January. None have been reported in Texas yet, but they are already arriving in Florida and Georgia and soon they will be present all across the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.|
These birds are long distance migrants. Most of the martins that nest in the eastern half of North America fly across the Gulf of Mexico in spring and fall, although some probably take the land route through Mexico. They spend their late falls and winters distributed throughout much of South America and their springs and summers throughout eastern and central North America right up into Canada. By mid-April, they will have made it all the way up into New England and many will continue even farther north.
Purple Martins have lived in close proximity to human beings for hundreds of years. Native Americans used to put up gourds as nest boxes around their villages in hopes of encouraging the birds that are voracious consumers of flying insects. We have continued that tradition and, from simple gourds to elaborately designed and constructed "martin mansions," these artificial houses now sprout all across the land. Martins in the eastern part of the continent live almost exclusively in housing provided for them by humans. Those that nest in the West still, for the most part, nest in natural cavities as all of them once did.
For those of us in this area, it is the martin that is the harbinger of spring rather than the American Robin. We have robins with us all year, but we look and listen for that first martin to assure us that spring has really arrived. I expect them any day now.