I was poking around Twitter last night and came upon a tweet from someone saying that their purple martins had returned and were again starting to build a nest under their eave of the persons home. I had to chuckle since I knew it was no Purple Martin. As many serious birders will tell you, one of the most important facts in properly identifying a bird is knowing the birds range, behavior and habitat. This person makes a perfect example. Knowing that purple martins do not nest on house eaves makes it easy to correctly I.D this bird as a Barn Swallow. Commonly mistaken by the novice birder, many of the swallow species like Purple Martins, Tree swallows, Barn Swallows can be confusing to some. Add in there Rough Wing Swallows and Violet-Green Swallows and even Bank Swallows, even the experience birders will have to look closely and carefully to distinguish these birds from one another.Heck, I wouldn’t have been able to tell a Rough Wing Swallow from a SY Purple Martin before reading up on it myself.
I found a great little site with some great photo comparisons of these commonly mistaken birds at BirdingIsFun.com which has some great tips to help you quickly tell these apart. As for the person tweeting about the purple martins mud nest under the eave of their home, I don’t think they care. But still it makes me think of how many people are out there convinced they are helping martins who may not be? Every year I hear from well meaning people that place housing and tell me about the bright yellow bills of their purple martins or how their martins will not allow other martins to nest in the house. Inevitably I find out that starlings nesting or Tree Swallows are dominating the house. Not to compare a Starling factory with a pair of Tree Swallows, but both examples show how purple martins can be pushed aside.
I recommend our Purple Martin vs Starling ID page to help those that are new to the world of birding. It is a side by side comparison of Purple Martins and Starlings. Even if you are not new, take a look and be sure…If I had a dollar for every time someone swears they have Martins and come to find out they are not!
Another great resource we recently added to our parent site was the addition of Daniel C. Drew, M.D. page on Tree Swallow/Purple Martin and Bluebird/Purple Martin INTERFERENCE. With his permission we added this page to our site so that new landlords can be more successful in getting purple martins in their Martin housing and Tree Swallows and Bluebirds in their respective housing as well. Though that page is up again, in its original site we both thought that the information contained within it is vital to new landlords that have lots of tree swallows and bluebirds but no luck in attracting Purple Martins to their properly set up site.