Purple Martins

A Muppet

Nestling #500, showing why we nicknamed baby Martins “muppets”

PUMA mo bandPURPLE MARTINS – “America’s Most Wanted Bird”

In late January 2011, Randy Harlin emailed us to say that he had a thriving colony of Purple Martins at his home in the country north of Marshall. Would we be interested in doing some research with his Martins? Sure! With continued encouragement from Randy, and under the tutelage of the class-act Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA), in June 2011 we launched a banding project in which Purple Martin nestlings were fitted with special color bands that will allow Martin “landlords” across the state to identify individual fledglings this year and adults when they return next spring. This re-sight data will enable MRBO and our landlord colleagues to track longevity and dispersal of the fledglings produced at their colonies. Purple Martin nestling banding will continue again next summer, and we are interested in adding a few colonies in other parts of the state. The Missouri landlords who take part in this banding project are highly dedicated individuals who spend a large amount of time observing their birds for bands. In 2011, we banded 800 nestlings and 16 adults. Please see recent articles about this project in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Marshall Democrat-News, and the Licking News.

MO bands

Strands of Missouri and federal bands.

Our Purple Martin banding follows PMCA protocol, which has been successfully adopted by banders in many different states. Each state receives their own color for Martin bands and each band is etched with the state abbreviation and a serial number (such as A001). Birds banded by MRBO here in Missouri receive a yellow aluminum band with black numbering.These auxiliary bands are in addition to the standard aluminum federal band; the federal band is placed on the birds’ right leg, and the yellow band on the left. The serial numbers (in the case of the female pictured to the right “A059”) are legible on perched birds with a spotting scope. The Purple Martin Conservation Association also has several other citizen science programs that Martin landlords can become involved in, including Project Martinwatch (nest data collection) and the Scout Arrival Study (recording the first observations of returning Purple Martins each year).

Beginning in 2011, we’ve had the pleasure of working with excellent Martin landlords in St. Louis, Marshall, Licking, and Platte City, Missouri. These folks are talented and devoted Citizen Scientists who not only provide sound housing for their Purple Martins, but also accurately track the reproductive status of pairs using the colonies, including egg hatch date, number of nestlings, and number of fleglings. This data collection requires checking each nest at least once every 3-5 days. Not only does this allow thelandlord to keep long-term track of the success of their colonies, it lets us know when nestlings are ready to be banded. We’ve found the optimal age to band nestlings is 11-19 days. When colonies are regularly tracked, the landlords know exactly which gourds or nest cavities are ready for banding. This speeds things up during a banding session, resulting in as little disruption as possible to the colony. Below are more photos of our adventures with Purple Martins and their landlords. In 2012, we added two new sites to this project, one in Kingsville, MO and one in South St. Louis County. The 2012 Martin season came on fast, likely due to the unseasonably warm weather in May and June. Most of the 2012 nests were already fledged around the time we were at the height of banding in 2011!! Overall in 2012, we banded 1,063 Martin
nestlings and 12 adults. More importantly, our landlords have resighted almost 40 birds that were banded last year!


Strands of standard USGS bands along with Missouri bands.