Graceful in flight, musical in its pre-dawn singing, this big swallow is one of our most popular birds.
Purple martins are members of the swallow family. The purple martin migration from North America to South America happens every year during the late summer. Before beginning their individual migration, the purple martins build up their endurance and rest.
Each summer the skies over Bomb Island on Lake Murray come to life as the Purple Martins arrive for their summer vacation. It is estimated that more than one million birds venture north for the summer and roost on the island, giving spectators a rare look at one of nature’s true phenomenons.
The birds funnel in starting about 30-45 minutes before sunset, but will be flying in until dark. From 7:00pm-9:15pm is the best time to be there in mid-July. In the morning 5:30am-7:00am, the birds begin leaving the island as soon as there is any light in the sky.
The Purple Martin not only gets all its food in flight, it gets all its water that way too. It skims the surface of a pond and scoops up the water with its lower bill. To bathe, they belly-flop.
Purple Martins roost together by the thousands in late summer, as soon as the chicks leave the nest. They form such dense gatherings that you can easily see them on weather radar. It’s particularly noticeable in the early morning as the birds leave their roosts for the day and looks like an expanding donut on the radar map. It has been recorded that when the birds leave in the morning, it is like an explosion and the local weather radar has said the image is larger than Hurricane Hugo was in 1989.
Photo credit: JJ Cadiz.