Birds – Purple Martin

(Progne subis) Swallow family

Length—7 to 8 inches. Two or three inches smaller than the robin.

Male—Rich glossy black with bluish and purple reflections ; duller black on wings and tail. Wings rather longer than the tail, which is forked.

Female—More brownish and mottled ; grayish below. Range—Peculiar to America. Penetrates from Arctic Circle to South America.

Migrations—Late April. Early September. Summer resident.

In old-fashioned gardens, set on a pole over which honey-suckle and roses climbed from a bed where China pinks, phlox, sweet Williams, and hollyhocks crowded each other below, martin boxes used always to be seen with a pair of these large, beautiful swallows circling overhead. But now, alas! the boxes, where set up at all, are quickly monopolized by the English spar-row, a bird that the martin, courageous as a kingbird in attacking crows and hawks, tolerates as a neighbor only when it must.

Bradford Torrey tells of seeing quantities of long-necked squashes dangling from poles about the negro cabins all through the South. One day he asked an old colored man what these squashes were for.

“Why, deh is martins’ boxes,” said Uncle Remus. “No danger of hawks carryin’ off de chickens so long as de martins am around.”

The Indians, too, have always had a special liking for this bird. They often lined a hollowed-out gourd with bits of bark and fastened it in the crotch of their tent poles to invite its friend-ship. The Mohegan Indians have called it “the bird that never rests “—a name better suited to the tireless barn swallow, Dr. Abbott thinks.

Wasps, beetles, and all manner of injurious garden insects constitute its diet—another reason for its universal popularity. It is simple enough to distinguish the martins from the other swallows by their larger size and iridescent dark coat, not to mention their song, which is very soft and sweet, like musical laughter, rippling up through the throat.