An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide –

Purple Martin

Purple Martins Face Challenges Upon Returning To Breeding Grounds

Many of the Purple Martins that return from South America to the Northeast to breed have flown across the Gulf of Mexico to get here.  Once they’ve made this impressive trip, their challenges are far from over.  The reproductive success of Purple Martins depends not only on their arriving on their breeding grounds, but on surviving once they have arrived. One of the largest challenges that faces them upon their return is related to their diet, which consists exclusively of flying insects.  Purple Martins are particularly susceptible to spells of cold and rainy weather during the spring and early summer which can drastically reduce their supply of food.

Even when the weather doesn’t present them with nutritional challenges, Purple Martins have to contend with European Starlings and House Sparrows, both of which aggressively compete with them for artificial/human-made nest sites. Human intervention and management is often needed in order to protect the martin population. (Photo: male Purple Martin)

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to and click on the yellow “donate” button. 

Purple Martins Nesting

In April, North America’s largest swallow, the Purple Martin, returns to New England to breed.  Nesting is now underway, and here in the East takes place almost exclusively in man-made colonial nest boxes.  Prior to 1900, woodpecker holes in snags were the preferred nesting sites, but now only Purple Martins in the West tend to seek them out (unlike Purple Martins in the East, they often are solitary nesters). Even though humans have provided housing which has increased their population, there is still considerable competition from European Starlings and House Sparrows.

When they are not raising a ruckus at their nests, the iridescent dark blue-purple male and duller female Purple Martins can be seen swooping and gliding in the air as they hunt their insect prey.  If there is a cold, rainy spell in the spring or early summer it can reduce their insect food supply and they can suffer great losses.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to  and click on the yellow “donate” button.