Purple Martin

Progne subis
Range Map

These, the largest of American swallows, are common summer visitors in eastern North America and a few places in the west, but all fly south in the winter, some as far as northern Argentina. Man-made nest boxes, or Martin condos, are the norm in the eastern USA, but birds in the western USA seem to prefer natural cavities, such as woodpecker holes for nesting.

Prior to visiting Texas in 2020, my only encounters with Purple Martins were with high-flyers zipping through the air at break-neck speeds. Thanks to a Martin condo in the RV park, where I stayed during the earliest lock-down phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, I was blessed with intimate encounters with these birds. The opportunity played a pivotal role in keeping me sane during insane times. I learned to recognise their bubbling songs and the calls they shared with the world, while they chased high-flying insects.

Today, science recognised three subspecies of Purple Martin:

  • P. s. subis breeds across eastern North America from southern Canada south to southeastern USA, from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic coast, and south to south-central Mexico. They spend winters in South America east of the Andes.
  • P. s. arboricola breeds throughout the Rocky Mountains, south to western Texas, southern Baja California (Mexico), and in the Pacific Northwest. Researchers believe they spend winters in South America.
  • P. s. hesperia breeds in deserts of southern Baja California (Mexico) and southern Arizona south to Sonora (Mexico). Probably spends winters in South America.

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