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Purple Martin

Chris Packham presents the purple martin from eastern North America.

Tweet of the Day is the voice of birds and our relationship with them, from around the world.

Chris Packham presents the purple martin from eastern North America. Every spring, across the land from Chicago to St Louis, you can hear couples squabbling over the best real estate. But these aren't human house-buyers, they're purple martins. Purple Martins are the largest North American swallow, glossy blue-black rather than purple and much chunkier than the well-known barn swallow. They spend the winter in insect-rich places in South America and return to their North American breeding colonies each spring. In the west, they nest in holes in trees or even in giant saguaro cacti, but in the east where they're much more common, they almost exclusively rely on people to provide them with nest-sites. Visit almost any city, town or homestead and you'll see multi-story nest-boxes, the home of a score of purple martin families. Around 1 million people are thought to erect housing each year. Their human landlords take a personal pride in their martin colonies, listening each spring for those first pebbly calls which are a sign that their protégés have made it back from the tropics, once again.

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2 minutes

Last on

Tue 13 Aug 2019 05:58

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

Webpage image courtesy of Tom Vezo /

NPL Ref 01120655 © Tom Vezo /

Radio 4: Shared Planet / 9 July 2013

Shared Planet is a series that looks at the crunch point between human population and the natural world.  In this edition, the focus is towns and cities, with a report from North America about their largest Swallow, the Purple Martin. Purple Martins are totally dependent on human habitation east of the Rockies for nest sites. West of the mountain range they largely nest in their ancestral way using abandoned woodpecker cavities. As we clear land to build the world's towns and cities what is the impact on the natural world and are there ideas to embrace wildlife in built environment planning?


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