Purple Martins – Where are they now?

by Donna Lewis

We have not been able to hear the lovely and enchanting sound of our Martin friends since they left in late summer.

Have any of you wondered where they go and what they are doing right now? I thought you might want to know.

Some of my babies

The Martins leave on their migration journey in late summer. They are coming from as far north as the border of Canada.  So quite a journey for some. Others have mated and reside here in Texas.  They might be the smarter ones. Not as far to migrate when the time comes.

No one knows for sure how they decide the time to get going south. Factors such as weather and available food factor into the decision. Martins are highly social birds.   After leaving their nesting colonies where their landlords cared for them, they form communal roosts.  They will sleep at night and wait for more to join them.   

Babies from 2011

Then all of a sudden, they will start to leave a few at a time and head South. They arrive and live amongst the Amazon jungles and South American areas where water is plentiful. They will live in these areas which include Venezuela, Columbia, Bolivia, and the most researched Sao Paulo Brazil till the instinct to return to North America comes over them.

Who returns first?  It is the older males first. This is most likely to obtain the highest and safest housing. Of course, this can be the worst thing if the weather stays too cold or wet.   

Newborn!

The youngest Martins may take 6 weeks to return. So many things can end their journey.   Weather, food, and loss of their housing can result in loss of life. One banded female was confirmed to have made a 4,000-mile trip in 47 days to return to her landlord.

Climate Change is also becoming a factor. When an unexpected freeze occurs here in Texas, the insects that die from it mean no food for the Martins. They do not and will not eat seeds like many other birds. They eat live insects.

Older babies from 2015

Time will tell how our friends can adapt to the changing world around them. If I can help them, I will.

But we also have to remember that we cannot make them pets. They need to stay wild.

Do what you can, where you are.