Purple Martins

It’s been several years since I last ventured to the Purple Martin colony at Lemon Creek on Staten Island. There are at least half a dozen nests going now. It’s hard to count with all the comings and goings. Also, House Sparrows and European Starlings have taken some of the spaces, adding to the difficulty of counting. (Overly purple lures to attract the birds, like the ones at the far left and right of the above, were not counted.)Progne subis, the largest of our swallows. Progne, or Procne, was an unfortunate Greek mythological character whose husband cut her tongue out because he wanted to marry her sister Philomel. Procne and Philomel had their revenge, but it was gruesome enough to upset the gods, who turned Procne into a swallow and Philomel into a nightingale. Meanwhile, at Lemon Creek, there were fledglings perching and flying, as well as nestlings still in the condos and gourd-shapes. (Hollowed gourds were used by Native Americans for Purple Martin nests; the ones here are plastic, alas.)

This week, I will be celebrating the 200th birth of Henry David Thoreau. On April 17, 1852, he wrote “When I was young and compelled to pass my Sunday in the house without the aid of interesting books [because of the grim New England Sabbath], I used to spend many an hour till the wished-for sundown watching the martins soar (from an attic window) — and fortunate indeed did I deem myself when a hawk appeared in the heavens though far toward the horizon against a downy cloud — and I searched for hours till I had found his mate. They at least took my thoughts from earthly things.”
And John James Audubon, in 1831, judging the accommodations by their martin houses: “Almost every country tavern has a martin box on the upper part of its sign-board; and I have observed that the handsomer the box, the better does the inn generally prove to be.”

1 Response to “Purple Martins”


  1. 1 peopleplaceswords July 9, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    mentions of classical origin and Thoreau appreciated. my learned mother would pause to savor Latin plaques when we visited arboretums, further irritating my childhood. I find myself doing the same, but sadly without her depth of knowledge.


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