Purple Martin Progne subis Scientific name definitions

Charles R. Brown, Daniel A. Airola, and Scott Tarof
Version: 2.0 — Published September 10, 2021

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Photos from this Account

Adult male

Large, broad-chested swallow with a slightly hooked bill and long, tapered wings. Adult males are iridescent, dark blue-purple overall with brown-black wings and tail.

Female/immature male

Large and chunky swallow. Females/immatures are duller, with variable amounts of gray on the head and chest and a dingy lower belly. Note gray collar around the neck.

Male and female
Adult male

In flight, note long, tapered wings and forked tail. Adult males are dark purplish overall, but often appear black.

Female/immature male

Females/immatures in flight look brownish below with a paler speckled belly.

Female/immature male

Large and long-bodied with a small head and bill. Females/immatures are duller, with variable amounts of gray on the head and chest and a dingy lower belly with variable amounts of speckling.

Adult male

In the East, nests with other Purple Martins in artificial nest boxes clustered together in groups.

Female/immature male
Male and female
Adult female

In the West, nests in holes in trees with dozens of martins nesting nearby.

Male Purple Martin.
Juvenile Purple Martins.

Juveniles have fresh plumage in July-September and show pale fringed upperpart feathers and fine streaking to the throat and breast.

Juvenile Purple Martin.

Note the fresh upperwing feathers with pale fringes; older birds have more worn feathering in August.

Formative Purple Martin.

Purple Martins are reported to undergo a complete Preformative Molt; however, a search of the Macaulay Library turns up few or no first-year birds molting primaries whereas at least some birds in spring appear to have retained juvenile primaries and rectrices. Might the Preformative Molt be partial in this species?

Formative Male Purple Martin.

Formative males can closely resembling females, with little or no glossy purple feathers to the underparts; however, most have at least a few purple feathers which allows both ageing and sexing in March-September.

Formative Male (left) and Female (right) Purple Martins.

Formative males can show a few purple feathers to the underparts and Formative females are duller and browner above than Definitive Basic females, and can lack a prominent hind collar.

Male Purple Martin undergoing Second Prebasic Molt.

The Second Prebasic Molt can extend into spring, allowing males of 18-20 months to be aged in their third calendar year by retained brown formative feathers.

Definitive Basic Female Purple Martin.

Adult females tend to have a substantial metallic wash to the upperpart feathers and show a distinct black mask, but retain white underparts to distinguish them from Definitive Basic males.

Definitive Basic Male Purple Martin.

Entirely glossy purple body feathering and blackish wing feathers distinguished Definitive Basic males from those in Formative Plumage.

Definitive Basic Male Purple Martin.
Adult male showing head detail.
Female (left) and male (right) (subspecies subis).
Female ventral view (subspecies subis).
Male ventral view (subspecies subis).
Male (left) and female (right) (subspecies arboricola).
Female frontal view (subspecies arboricola).
Female dorsal view (subspecies arboricola).
Female ventral view (subspecies arboricola).
Female (left) and male (right) (subspecies hesperia).
Male frontal view (subspecies hesperia).
Female lateral view (subspecies hesperia).
Female frontal view (subspecies hesperia).
Female ventral view (subspecies hesperia).
Exemplar breeding habitat: Massachusetts, United States.
Exemplar breeding habitat (hesperia); Arizona, United States.
Catching an insect.
Male with food for nestlings.
Female with food for nestlings.
Female with food for nestlings.
Female with food for nestlings.
Male House Sparrow at a Purple Martin's nest box.
Subspecies hesperia nests primarily in saguaro cactus.
Purple Martin birdhouse.
Purple Martin birdhouse.
Purple Martin birdhouse.
Subspecies arboricola nesting in trees.
Subspecies arboricola nesting in trees.
Subspecies hesperia nesting in cactus.
Adult collecting nest material.
Adult carrying nest material.
Adult carrying a green leaf for nest.
Nest with eggs.
Female incubating.
Nestlings naked.
Nestlings with wing pins but no feather emergency.
Nestlings fully feathered.
Adult with food for a fledgling.
Adult male with nestlings at nest box; British Columbia, Canada.

Macaulay Library Photos for Purple Martin

Top-rated photos submitted to the Macaulay Library via eBird. Note: Our content editors have not confirmed the species identification for these photos.

Recommended Citation

Brown, C. R., D. A. Airola, and S. Tarof (2021). Purple Martin (Progne subis), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.purmar.02