Purple Martins are Returning to Nashville!

Each March, we look to the skies for Purple Martins, one of our first migratory birds to return to Warner Parks, to assure us that spring is just around the corner. 

These beautiful, aerial insectivores have just spent the winter in South America and are returning to North America to breed. They will raise just one set, or clutch, of 4-6 young anytime between May and July. Unlike most birds, Purple Martins in the eastern United States depend on human-supplied housing, usually gourds or houses built in open areas. In Warner Parks, you can view these nest gourd systems at the Warner Park Nature Center and the Harpeth Hills Golf Course.

Naturalist Rachel Anderson adjusting the Purple Martin gourd system at the Warner Park Nature Center, photo by Laura Cook.

The BIRD Program has been monitoring the nest success of these gourds since 2002 and reporting the results to the Purple Martin Conservation Association.

In 2021, the Warner Parks BIRD Program began placing radio transmitters on Purple Martin nestlings. We have learned:

  • The young spend about a week near their nest area, learning to fly and forage for insects before venturing away from the nest area.
  • Our Warner Parks Purple Martins join the Nashville downtown pre-migration roost along with 100,000+ other martins before heading south for the winter.
  • For several weeks in July and August, these pre-migration martins spend their days foraging over a very large area of Middle Tennessee and return to the downtown roost in the evening.
  • One of our radio-tagged Purple Martins was last detected in our area on August 22, 2023, and detected 34. days later by a receiver station in eastern Costa Rica on its way to South America for the winter.
Purple Martin nest with four eggs, photo by Laura Cook.
Life tags (radio transmitters) on Purple Martins at Ellington Agricultural Center, photo by Laura Cook.
Purple Martin downtown Nashville roost outside the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, photo by Lindsay Hanna.

See our 2023 Warner Park BIRD Program Purple Martin Annual Report to learn more about our research efforts.

How you can help Purple Martins

  • If you have an open area, consider installing a Purple Martin gourd housing system.
  • Martins eat insects, exclusively. Do not use herbicides or pesticides.
  • Go visit the downtown Nashville roost– it is an amazing migration phenomenon. We try to have volunteers there each evening to engage visitors about the Purple Martins. Reach out to us if you would like to volunteer and help with these efforts.

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