Purple Martin Project

Purple martins © Mary Keleher
© Mary Keleher

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Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the few nesting sites in Massachusetts for the purple martin—North America’s largest swallow. Currently, the sanctuary has a metal housing structure that has lured some purple martins to nest. After nestlings mature and leave the housing structure, they return the following spring to where they were born in order to begin their own families, forming the beginnings of a colony at Stony Brook.  

However, our current structure is not built to support population monitoring and has limited nesting space. If we do not expand the housing structure at Stony Brook, returning purple martins will very quickly find themselves without a nesting space in the emerging colony.

Help Us Expand Our Purple Martin Housing

Currently, purple martins dwell in only a few Massachusetts localities that are almost exclusively along the coast. Nine years ago, we erected a purple martin nest box at Stony Brook without any high expectations for its success. Then three years ago, a single pair of Purple Martins found the house and has successfully established what we hope will be a strong and vibrant nesting colony of martins.

Last summer, we enthusiastically watched as four pairs of purple martins successfully raised their young. We are very excited by the prospect of increasing our nesting population of these beautiful birds and we want to help them along by upgrading the quality and number of their nesting quarters.

In order to prepare for the return of our purple martins next spring, we need to provide new gourd houses for the expanding colony. And we need your help to make it happen. 

New purple martin gourds

Off to a Good Start

Thanks to the generosity of Missi Salzberg and Chickadee Seed and Feed in Walpole, we now have received a number of the gourds necessary to establish a thriving colony of purple martins on the wildlife sanctuary's grounds.

The next step is to purchase another block of gourds and then to secure the staging and monitoring equipment so that we can begin the installation.

But we still need need your support!

Please consider making a gift today in support of this project. All project supporters who make a gift will be contacted with a unique opportunity to participate in the nestlings monitoring program this summer. 

Please support the Purple Martin Fund.

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About the Purple Martin

In early April, we look forward to the return of North America's largest swallow, the purple martin (Progne subis), to Stony Brook. Having spent the winter in Brazil and Argentina, adult males arrive first with their striking all glossy purple plumage.

Purple martin

Their song is rich and gurgling, unmistakable, but difficult to describe. Singing from dawn until dusk, the first comers attract mates and, then, a few weeks later, sub adults (birds that hatched in 2016) begin to arrive to fill out their colony.

Like many other North American swallows, martins are social colonial nesters. As aerial insectivores, they often hunt their insect prey high in the sky swooping and gliding gracefully, almost as if to impress their peers.

Martin populations plummeted in the 20th century largely due to increasing nest competition from the more aggressive non-native European starlings and English house sparrows. Martins require cavities in which to raise their young and only raise one brood of 4-7 young per year.

Before European colonists arrived, Native Americans would hang hollow gourds to attract nesting martins to their villages. While martins still nest in old woodpecker holes in the American West, martins east of the Mississippi River now nest almost exclusively in human-provided housing. Several generations ago, small family farmers often provided martins with housing both for their song and for insect control. As the small farms disappeared, however, fewer nest structures were maintained.

Now, purple martins need our help to continue thriving in this area. Please support this project by making a donation today.