Have You Been Seeing Flocks of Small Purple Martins?

by Donna Lewis

I have been getting numerous calls from people about this phenomenon. 

There’s something on the fence, but what?

Most of our purple martins have left our area for Brazil now. There could be a few lost souls who just don’t want to fly fast, but most have gone south. So, what is it that everyone is seeing, including myself?

Mystery birds on a wire.

We are seeing northern rough-winged swallows.  They are in the same swallow family as the purple martins. Their Latin name is Stelgidopteryx serripennis. They are smaller and make much less noise.  Unlike the martins, they fly closer to the ground to catch live insects.  They also perch lower on fences.  Their breasts are white and they have smaller blunt-looking tails.   

Northern rough-winged swallow in Arizona. Photo by heyitshelios on iNaturalist.

The rough-winged swallows are going south also, but stop around Mexico. They are solitary unless they are migrating.

This will help you ID them in flight. Photo by davidpickett on iNaturalist.

For me the way I really know them is that they are much quieter than our martin friends. But for a moment I was reminded of the Martins and it brought a smile to my face.

Have a wonderful stay in your winter retreat little friends.