Purple Martins: Nesting and Mating

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Learn more about Purple Martins and their processes of mating and nesting, including how they select a nest, how they feed their young and more.


Purple Martins arrive in the spring between January and April.  Though arrival times vary throughout the country, they can be quite regular for specific locales. Purple Martins are known for their nest fidelity, so the only Purple Martins who will be looking for new nests are last year's fledglings.  Often, you will hear the term 'scout' used for the first Purple Martin's to enter an area.  However, despite rumors, these birds aren't seeking new spots for their flocks, but are simply the first Purple Martins to return for the breeding season.

Purple Martins select a nest

purple martin nestlings
Female Martin on Her Nest

Males usually select nesting territory, though they are sometimes assisted by a female.  If visiting a house with many apartments,  Purple Martins will often go room to room before making up their mind.  Once a male has selected an apartment, he will defend it vigorously against any male Purple Martin who trespasses.  Fights between Purple Martins are common and can be vicious.  

Purple Martin nesting and copulation

Upon selecting a nesting apartment, Purple Martins begin to build nests immediately.  Purple Martin nests are typically made of twigs, grass, leaves and mud.  It is during the nest building stage that copulation takes place.  Occasionally, copulation will result in 'sexual flights,' in which the male races around in circles chasing the female.

Egg laying

Purple Martins lay between 3 and 8 eggs, with the average number being around 5.  Eggs are laid on successive days of the week, usually in the morning.  Purple Martin eggs are usually a pure white color.  The incubation period for Purple Martins is on average 13 to 14 days.  The female performs incubation alone, but both sexes feed the young Martins.

Purple martin nestlings

Purple Martins are born extremely weak and without down.  They are constantly hungry and their parents will make frequent trips outside to feed them, sometimes arriving with food every 30 seconds.  The young Purple Martins grow their feathers between the 12th and 20th day.  They generally stay in the nest for between 20 and 30 days, after which they take off for the outside world.

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.