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Visit our education pages for information about attracting purple martins, the purple martin life cycle, annual purple martin migration, how to be a good purple martin landlord, and other purple martin resources.

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Purple Martin Education

Articles and Links to Purple Martin Information and Resources

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Purple Martin Life Cycle

Purple Martins winter for several months primarily in the Amazon basin of Brazil, but also in urban or rural areas in northern Argentina and Southern Brazil.

Purple martin igration back to North America begins in January, with mature male "scouts" arriving in Florida and along the Gulf Coast as early as the first or second week of January. Migration usually lasts as late as May.

Possible migration routes could include through Central America and Mexico, or Central America to the Yucatan, then across the Gulf of Mexico. The older adult birds typically arrive first at breeding sites, often returning to their nesting site from the previous year.  Adults are followed about 4 – 8 weeks later by sub-adults, those birds that fledged the previous year.

As females arrive, pairs are formed and breeding occurs. Both parents participate in building the nest and in the care of the young. Nests are built out of pine needles, twigs, straw, bark, leaves, and mud about 4-6 weeks after arriving at the breeding site. It may take about 3-4 weeks to complete. 

Eggs are laid in the morning, 1 per day. A clutch may be from 1 to 7 eggs, with an average of 5 eggs. Incubation is 15-17 days, an average of 16 days after the last egg is laid.  In some cases, bad weather can delay the start of incubation by a few days. Some estimates are that approximately 80% of eggs hatch.

Chicks remain in the nest for 26-32 days until they fledge (begin to fly).  Andrew Troyer has estimated that 60% of eggs laid reach fledging stage.  Some loss of chicks between hatching and fledging is inevitable.

The fledglings remain dependent on their parents for 7-10 days. During this time the parents can tease the fledglings with food.  As the parents fly off, they drop the food, teaching their babies to seek flying insects.

As migration approaches, large flocks of Purple Martins gather to spend the night at roost sites.  Other swallow species may also be found in these gatherings. North American roosts are often found in trees near wetlands or in parking lots of commercial centers or shopping malls. Some roosts have been estimated at up to half a million birds.  These roosting sites can remain active for a month to 2 months. Purple Martins then break into smaller groups to begin the journey back to South America.  Migration may start as early as July from northern states and Canada as the birds make their way south across the US.  The southern US may see migration as late as October.

The next year fledglings usually return to their natal colony
or other colonies within 50-60 miles. These second year (SY) adults have their first breeding season.  They follow the
same migration patterns, and return the next year as full adults, known as ASY or "after second year" adults in the full adult plumage.

Purple Martin Roost in Stafford, Texas, August 2019. Click for larger picture. Images copyright Dee Dee King.

Purple Martin Resources

Nature Canada has an interactive site - Life of the Purple Martin .  The site has maps, charts and other graphics.  Use the "Up" and "Down" buttons on the keyboard to navigate the narrative section.
Texas Parks and Wildlife has a very informative guide to purple martins in Texas.   Former TPW employee James D. Ray authored The Purple Martin and its Management in Texas , 4th edition, 2012.  Click here to download the PDF.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a very informative section on purple martins.  The Purple Martin - Introduction is free; however, additional articles require a subscription. Wonderful abundance and breeding range map and graphs.