Introduction to Purple Martins

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Purple Martins are coveted by bird lovers because of their vivid plumage and sonorous chirping.

Every year over one million Americans erect housing for Purple Martins.  The largest member of the swallow family at approximately 7 to 8 inches, Purple Martins are coveted by bird lovers because of their vivid plumage and sonorous chirping.  Here are some basic facts about Purple Martins.

purple martin
Purple Martin

Physical Description

Male Purple Martins are a glossy black or violet color; their wings and tail are generally duller then their head and back.  The female has a lighter breast than the male.  Both males and females have long wings and a forked tail.

Migration Range

Purple Martins breed across America, Canada and into parts of Mexico.  In the winter, Purple Martins migrate to South America, populating areas as far south as Ecuador.  In 2004, a Purple Martin was recorded in Scotland, the first sighting on the European continent.  

It is suspected that the Purple Martin takes a variety of routes when traveling to South America.  Some Martins may 'island hop,' going from Cuba to Florida and then toward Central America.  Others follow the land route through Mexico and into Central America, while some may fly straight over the Gulf of Mexico.  The latter is an awe-inspiring journey, consisting of a single flight of hundreds of miles.

When preparing to migrate south, Purple Martins will congregate in huge flocks, which sometimes number 10,000 or more birds.

Purple Martin Nest Fidelity and Homing Instinct

Purple Martins are known for their incredible nest fidelity and homing instincts.  Despite traveling thousands of miles between breeding seasons, they will often return to the exact same nest.  In fact, in instances when Purple Martin females have been removed from their nests, they have traveled distances of over 200 miles by the next morning to return to their homes.

purple martin in flight
Purple Martin in Flight


Purple Martins breed near houses or other settlements where nesting houses have been built.  They are especially drawn to water and large open areas.  In the winter, they live in the rain forest and in clearings and other agricultural areas.  Purple Martins nest in cavities, either finding natural recesses in trees or taking over woodpecker nests.  However, east of the Mississippi, the Purple Martin is completely reliant upon human-made nest houses.


Purple Martins feed primarily on flying insects, as they rarely, if ever spend time on the ground.  Though they are rumored to be voracious consumers of mosquitoes, it has now been established that they generally fly too high to eat them.   The Purple Martin also gets its water in flight, hovering above a lake or stream and skimming water off with its bill.

Purple Martin Houses

Purple Martin houses are plentiful and martins frequent them.  A Purple Martin house is often broken up into apartments, and one Purple Martin house can hold anywhere between 2 and 30 Purple Martins.  Houses are made of wood, aluminum and a variety of materials and come in a number of styles and designs.

Ready to purchase a Purple Martin House?  Then browse our large online inventory of Purple Martin houses.Want to learn more about the Purple Martin?  Check out some of the additional articles below.