Purple Martins (Progne subis) are the largest member of the swallow family in North America, measuring 7 1/2 inches (19 cm) long and weighing 1.9 ounces (55 grams). Three races (subspecies) are recognized: Progne subis subis breeding in eastern North America and eastern Mexico; Progne subis hesperia breeding in the deserts of Arizona, western Mexico, and Baja California; and Progne subis arboricola breeding along the Pacific coast of the United States and Canada, and in the Rocky Mountains. Purple Martins spend the non-breeding season mostly in Brazil. They then migrate to North America to nest. Most folks are quite familiar with this species, which in the eastern U.S. is now wholly dependent on human-supplied nest houses and has been for over 100 years!
Due to this dependence, Wake Audubon Society is working with the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences and the Purple Martin Preservation Alliance to establish new breeding sites for Purple Martins within Wake County. These organizations have agreed to work together to expand the number of nest site locations. Houses have been in place at Anderson Point Park since early 2002, with a pair breeding in 2006. We are hopeful that we will get another pair this year! Our plan includes playing the “Dawn Song” to attract martin scouts to the park.
Other martin houses were erected at three new sites in west Raleigh; in 2003 at the NCSU University Club, in 2004 at the Prairie Ridge Environmental Learning Center property of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, and the NC Art Museum. Birds began occupying the new NCSU University Club quarters that first spring and then expanded into unfilled cavities in 2004. Purple Martins have occupied the site ever since. Currently, martins are successful at all three sites!
We also have a banding program at the various colonies to attempt to monitor any inter-colony movements and acquire data on other life history traits (how long do they live, how faithful are the birds to these new sites, etc.).
For information about the Purple Martin Preservation Alliance, visit:
To learn about one of the largest purple martin roosts in the area, in Manns Harbor, NC, visit www.purplemartinroost.com.Bird of the Year Index