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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Purple Martin -- Progne subis

RANGE: Breeds from southwestern British Columbia south to Baja California; and from northeastern and east-central British Columbia and central Alberta to southern Ontario and New Brunswick south to Mexico, the Gulf Coast, and southern Florida, and west to eastern Idaho and central Utah. Local in the Rocky Mountains but avoids most other mountainous areas. Winters in South America, casually in Florida.

STATUS: Locally common; of special concern on blue list.

HABITAT: Inhabits open and cut over woodlands, open grassy river valleys, meadows around pools, shores of lakes, marsh edges, agricultural lands, saguaro deserts, parks and towns. Prefers habitats near open water. In the East, breeds almost exclusively in artificial colonial martin houses; in the West, still uses woodpecker-made cavities to a large extent.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Large, multi-roomed martin houses, tree cavities, or abandoned woodpecker holes for nesting, and open spaces for foraging.

NEST: Originally nested in cavities in large snags but is now largely dependent upon man-made martin houses. Nests colonially in houses preferably set 15 to 20 feet above the ground in open settings near suitable perches such as wires. Also uses cavities in cliffs or among loose rocks, and crevices in old buildings. In the west, still depends on old woodpecker holes for nesting; in the Arizona deserts, nests in old woodpecker holes in saguaro cacti.

FOOD: Catches flying insects on the wing for most of the diet. Also picks up a few insects and spiders from the ground.

REFERENCES: Allen and Nice 1952, Beal 1918, DeGraff et al. 1980, Forbush and May 1955, Johnsgard 1979, Tate and Tate 1982, Terres 1980.

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