Shyamala Rao - Artist
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Welcome to my blog. This will be an ongoing blog in which I will discuss things I am working on, as well as my thoughts on wildlife conservation. Please come back to this page regularly, as I will update it from time to time.

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May 5, 2013

Miracles of Migration Series IV : The Purple Martin

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:23 am

The Purple Martins are welcome spring visitors all over North America as they are prodigious insect consumers. The Purple Martins reduce the number of “biting critters” that we humans have to contend with, during the warm humid summer months. Purple Martins belong to the Swallow family and they are among the largest of the swallows and the adults are almost 8 inches long. The Purple Martins are found all across North America and can be seen along the west coast across the plains and along the Atlantic Seaboard.


The Purple Martins return to North America in late January and early February to Southern and central Texas. By the end of March the Purple Martins reach as far north as Illinois and by May they are in Southern Canada. The migrating birds fly low and when flying over water they can be seen just a few feet above the water surface. They return in large flocks and build their nests in natural cavities and also in artificial Martin houses. The nests are built in open spaces close to a supply of water. The Purple Martin male in breeding plumage is a splendid iridescent blue/purple with black wings and a forked tail. The female is gray with whitish under parts. Their diet is primarily insects and they eat flies, ants, dragon flies and mosquitoes. They also forage on berries but much less frequently and only when the insect population is low.


The female lays 3 to 4 eggs and incubates them for 2 to 3 weeks. When the chicks hatch both parents feed the babies until they fledge in 4 weeks and can fly and catch insects on their own. Colonies of Purple martins raise their young in urban areas and the little chicks can be seen emerging from the nests and venturing forth into the open spaces to test their wings and to find insects.

At the end of summer the Purple Martins get ready to depart. They depart in early September and the last of the Purple Martins to leave the shores of North America may be in October. Their migration is in large flocks and once again they make the long journey south to Central America and primarily the Amazonian Basin in Ecuador and Brazil. The distance from Vancouver Canada to Amazonian Ecuador is 3749 miles. This is just one way. In the spring the Purple Martins have to make the return journey to North America. They are very susceptible to unseasonably cold spells and if the insect population dips many Purple Martins can suffer starvation. The population of Purple Martins has diminished markedly in the 20th century. The migration stresses take their toll. In addition the explosion in the population of European Starlings which compete for nesting areas and food with the Purple Martins has contributed to their decline.


In the last days of winter in South Central Texas the Purple Martins begin to reappear and bring a smile to everyone who notices. They are truly a harbinger of spring in our area viz. the Hill Country of Texas.

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