If you see plastic gourds hung up in backyards, odds are they’ve been erected for Purple Martins to use as nesting locations. But what you might not have known is the practice of doing so dates back several centuries—Native Americans were doing the same thing before the Europeans arrived on the continent.
Purple Martins are generally between 7-1/2 and 8 inches long, and they usually live for 5 to 7 years. The largest species of swallow in North America, they are black in color (females are slightly more gray) and possess a glossy blue sheen that easily distinguishes them from other birds and gives them their name.
The Purple Martin’s range covers all of the eastern United States as far west as Texas, although there have been sporadic sightings further toward the Pacific coast. They are monogamous by breeding season, although the breeding is usually done while part of a larger group. And both the male and female may sporadically mate outside of their primary bond. As with many other birds, the courtship process is largely initiated by the male—he will advertise his availability to a female through song and his displays of physical prowess and appearance.
Purple Martins eat almost exclusively insects, so it won’t do much good to attempt to attract them to your yard with any kind of bird food or bird feeders. In fact, they rarely come to the ground in order to feed. Instead, they use their great speed, agility and diving ability to catch winged insects right out of the air. They will, however, gratefully show up in your backyard if you set up birdhouses, such as the Purple Martin Barn with Pole. Purple Martins like to nest in the aforementioned groups, and houses with multiple compartments are exactly what they’re looking for. Shop Purple Martin houses at duncraft.com. Happy Birding!