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Purple Martins Change Their Habits

A behavioral shift in response to human influence
© Ashley Versluis View Large

While Purple Martins west of the Rockies will happily nest in an old woodpecker hole, Purple Martins east of the Rockies rarely nest in natural cavities. Instead, they nest in birdhouses provided by humans. They depend on people to a huge extent and thrive close by their homes. People, in turn, tend to get pretty passionate about these little birds. The observation of this bond goes back a long way, beginning with Native American tribes. And by the time of John James Audubon’s travels in the 1830s, martin houses adorned many country inns.

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BirdNote®
Purple Martins Change Their Habits
Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

[Purple Martin song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/107431]

In the East and Midwest, Purple Martins nest — almost to a pair — only in birdhouses provided by humans. They depend on people to a huge extent and thrive close by their homes. People, in turn, tend to get pretty passionate about these little birds. 

This bond goes back a long way. European settlers in the 1600s found that Native American tribes like the Choctaw and Chickasaw in the Southeast routinely hung up hollow gourds for Purple Martins to nest in.

Anthropologist Frank Speck argued that these tribes, which planted extensive gardens, learned to attract nesting martins as a way of reducing insect pests. And because martins fiercely guard their nest areas, they would drive away crows and blackbirds at planting time. [Purple Martin song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/107431]

Early European settlers soon took up the practice, too, hanging gourds and building the first multi-cavity bird houses for martins. By the time of John James Audubon’s travels in the 1830s, martin houses adorned many country inns.  

Today, while Purple Martins west of the Rockies will happily nest in an old woodpecker hole or similar space, Purple Martins east of the Rockies rarely nest in natural cavities. Living alongside humans has resulted in a nearly complete behavioral shift in the habits of this wild species. [Purple Martin song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/107431]

For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann. 

###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Purple Martins [107431] recorded by W L Hershberger
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black

© 2016 Tune In to Nature.org  March 2016/2019   Narrator: Mary McCann

ID#    PUMA-05-2016-03-25 PUMA-05  

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