Purple Haze? No Jimi, it’s just a bunch of Purple Martins
People around Belize have been wondering why powerlines and tree branches are suddenly weighted down by masses of striking steely blue-black or blue and light grey birds.
Is this something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie? Should we be running for cover or trying to appease the invaders with bowls of seed?
Nah, not to worry – the Purple Martins are back in town, bigger and more numerous than ever this year.
Every year flocks of Purple Martins migrate from North America to warmer climes in the Amazonas regions of Ecuador and Brazil, and Belize is one of their favourite stops along the way, something that tells us these avian travellers are smart.
But we digress.
Belize is in the martins’ migratory flight path, and given the vast tracts of pristine wilderness here they tend to stop and refuel, taking advantage of the abundance of insects that inhabit Belize’s forests.
This year people are commenting that there seems to be more Purple Martins than ever, so we asked Chaa Creek’s expert birding guides and folks from the Belize Natural History Centre what was going on.
Apparently, the Purple Martin, the biggest swallow in North America, by the way, is one of the earliest migratory visitors to Belize, showing up from between July to late August. We see them in large numbers because, when they are not breeding, they hang out in huge flocks and roost together in great numbers.
Also, interestingly enough, martins have long had a cosy relationship with humans, to the point that on the East Coast of the USA many martins have come to depend upon manmade structures to breed and nest. This has been going on for a long time, with evidence that Native Americans hallowed out gourds just for this purpose. To this day you’ll find plastic gourds, along with more traditional style birdhouses made just for our feathered friends.
So no surprise that these guys aren’t shy of people as they pass through.
The Belize Audubon Society confirms that people have been ringing in asking why there are more martins around this year. The BAS publicity coordinator, Dirk Francisco, agrees that there does seem to be more, with reports of sighting of 30,000 to 40,000 martins this year. He speculates that it may have something to do with Belize using less pesticides than neighbouring countries, making for better dining and a more hospitable environment.
There you have it. Just as we see more people from North America as the weather gets colder, we also get more birds arriving for more or less the same reasons – wonderful weather, an unspoiled environment, enjoying a well-earned rest and relaxing with plenty of fresh food.