Purple Martin Monitoring

Purple Martins are native songbirds in the Swallow family. They have long been one of America’s favorite birds, loved for their graceful flight, social practices, and insect-eating habits. Click here for Purple Martin Data SheetBlue and yellow banded PM 2

The Conservation Commission manages one purple martin colony in the Clam Bake area at Greenwich Point Park from March through to September.  New in 2022, together with the Parks and Recreation Department, a second colony will be installed at Byram Park. 

Female red banded PM-02
DK banding 4
DK banding
PM and dragonfly
Female red banded PM-04

An Incredible Trip

Purple Martins are long-distance migrator birds, traveling up to 10,000 miles each year. Martins spend their summer in North America where they lay eggs and raise young. In winter, the birds can be found in many warm South American countries. Each spring, the birds travel north again to their same homes in colonies throughout the United States and Canada.

Purple Martin ID

Purple Martins get their name from the iridescent purple feathers on adult males. Female martins are duller in color with gray on their head and chest, and a light lower belly. Every year, CT DEEP bands Purple Martins with both color and metal bands. These bands identify individual birds and the location they were banded. Typically, juvenile purple martins are fitted with both a standard silver United States Geological Survey (USGS) band and a color band. Each unique colony is assigned a different color (red, blue, green, purple, orange, or yellow) to facilitate the identification of the natal colony during future sightings of these birds. Additionally, each of the color bands has a unique alphanumeric code (CT###) so that individual birds can be identified.

Female purple martinmale purple martin

Nesting6-23 nest 7

Nest are constructed of dry plant material, twigs and mud, lined with green leaves. Female Martins typically lay 3-6 eggs per clutch. The egg hatches in about 14 days. Baby birds stay in the nest about 28 days, then fledge to practice flight skills, socialize with other Martins, and learn how to hunt insects.

Eating on the Fly

Martins are aerial insectivores, meaning that they eat flying insects. Dragonflies, butterflies, moths, bees and wasps make up their diet. Martins are fast fliers and are able to catch insects with their beaks, in midflight.

Becoming a Landlord

Purple Martins are colonial cavity nesters - they like to nest in groups hidden from sight. Hundreds of years ago, Native Americans began providing empty gourds for the Martins to build their nests, lay eggs, and raise young. Today, in the Eastern US, Martins nest almost exclusively in human-made bird houses and artificial gourds. In the West they nest mainly in natural tree cavities. Once Martins have bred successfully at a specific location, the same individuals return year after year. 

For more information, visit the Friends of Greenwich Point Purple Martin webpage.

Article written by Ellie Tiedemann, Greenwich resident and student.