Purple Martin

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Purple Martin on Gourd - ©Lyn Topinka_520x289

If you visit the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) anytime between May and September you are sure to notice the curious white gordes hanging from tall poles at the entrance and along the river. These are nesting sites for purple martins as they migrate here from places in South America like Brazil, Argentina and Peru.


At Steigerwald Lake NWR volunteers maintain forty artificial nesting gourds and eight wooden nest boxes. Eight of these were added to the entrance in 2014 so that people visiting to Refuge could immediately observe Purple Martins when they first arrived on site. These artificial nesting sites have been very successful with 90% of the gourds and 95% of the boxes at Steigerwald being occupied in 2014.

Use of gourdes to supplement nesting cavities was first used by Native Americans in the southeast. This practice is now a response to habitat destruction, the widespread removal of snags as a land management practice, and the introduction of non-native birds such as European starlings that take up natural nesting areas before purple martins arrive.

Purple martins of the eastern United States use these gourdes almost exclusively, while birds in the west still use natural nesting sites like woodpecker holes and other naturally occurring cavities in snags. You can see purple martins using natural nesting sites along Gibbons creek. Look high in the snags as you approach the creek and see if you notice parents going in and out of holes to feed their young.
Under the supervision and guidance of the Wildlife Service 78 chicks were banded this year at Steigerwald Lake NWR. Banded birds are observed in the spring and summer and the band identification numbers are recorded and reported to the Bird Band Laboratory. Birders are encouraged to report band numbers to either Refuge staff or the Bird Band Laboratory.

In 2014 volunteers observed five banded purple martins, all which were banded in 2013 at the same location. These banded birds all returned to the originally birth place, which is a common trend. Some birds will migrate to other locations and can be identified by the band numbers. In 2013 a Purple Martin band was observed at Steigerwald Lake NWR and was later determined to be a 9 year old bird originally from Sauvie Island near Portland, OR

Facts About Purple Martin

The largest North American swallow


Feeds exclusively on large insects such as dragonflies


Eats and drinks while still flying