What is a purple martin and why does it need a new home? The purple martin
(Progne subis) is a bird in the swallow family, the largest swallow in North
America, measuring about 7.9 inches from bill to tail. Like most swallows,
it is an aerial acrobat and eats prodigous amounts of flying insects. The martin
nests in cavities, and on the east coast of this continent it is totally dependent
on man-made structures for nesting. Even before the arrival of Europeans here,
Native Americans are thought to have attracted these birds to their villages
using hollowed-out gourds. Designs and materials have changed over the
years, but the tradition of putting up gourds for martins continues.
New Purple Martin Homes at The Point
The Friends of Greenwich Point is supporting a project organized by board
member Mike Aurelia to erect new purple martin housing on Greenwich Point.
And the Town's Conservation Commission and Department of Parks and
Recreation have agreed. Mike has been working with local birders, Meredith
Sampson of Wild Wings, Brian O'Toole at Audubon Greenwich, Cynthia Ehlinger of the Bruce Musem, and with the Parks Department to find an appropriate site at least 40 feet from tall trees or housing.
New Homes Are Important
Martins are somewhat particular about where they live. Each spring, the purple martins return from their winter home in South America to the same nesting site if they were successful raising young the previous year. They like to live in open areas, often near water. They don't mind living in close proximity to other martins, but if starlings or house sparrows try to set up housekeeping in their complex, the purple martins will leave.
The earliest arrivals in spring, called scouts, will set up territories and claim the nesting site. But if the colony has grown to large or the housing availability has changed, a new site must be found. That is why the erection of new martin homes is important. Currently there is an active purple martin colony on the other side of Greenwich Cove on private property in Riverside. Making a new site available nearby allows that colony to expand. So the next time you stroll around the Point and see some strange looking gourds hanging around, look again to see if the purple martins have discovered a new home yet.
Spring 2012 Newsletter
for Purple Martins
By Cynthia Ehlinger