In the birding world, few species generate more excitement than does the “Purple Martin,” a swallow that is arriving now in Georgia, with reports of “scouts” logged almost daily online.
Purple martins, the largest of the swallows in North America, are totally dependent on man-made housing east of the Rockies and faithfully return to the same locations each year, so it’s understandable that human “landlords” anxiously await the return of "their" birds from wintering grounds in South America.
Some of the earliest arrivals to North America trickle into southern Georgia in mid to late January prior to the new nesting season and dates/locations are watched by martin enthusiasts throughout the breeding range in the eastern United States and in Canada. Purple martins spend the winter over a wide range of Brazil.
Arrivals are posted on an online database — at www.purplemartin.org — maintained by the Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA), a nonprofit conservation organization.
Among Georgia arrivals this year: Jan. 15 in Moultrie; Feb. 6 in Americus and Feb. 10 in Thomaston, Madison and Ashburn.
The first wave consists of so-called “adult” martins — those two or more years old, with adult males sporting full dark-purple color. Females are a bit drab, with a gray breast. One-year-old martins — called “subadults” — arrive 6-8 weeks later than the older birds. These younger birds sometimes are more easily attracted to new housing locations.
Purple martins prefer to nest in colonies in gourds hung from large racks and in multi-compartment birdhouses. The term “scout” is a misnomer. These are simply experienced birds that are eager to reclaim their housing.
Many rural Georgian residents host martins, which are among birds that actually prefer to live near humans because there are fewer predators. Colonies also can be found in parks and nature centers, including one housed in large gourd racks at Birdsong Nature Center in Thomasville, and near the boat dock at Big Lazer Wildlife Management Area in Talbot County.
See Wednesday's edition for more details.