Doug Leier

Many people who don't hunt or fish are still familiar with national conservation organizations like Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Pheasants Forever.

In addition, we have the active men and women from local wildlife clubs who work diligently on local habitat and conservation issues as well as involving youth in outdoor events.

In addition, other organizations focus on species that do not fall into the "game" category, but generated interest from conservation-minded citizens just the same. That's where Perry Vogel and the Purple Martin Association of the Dakotas come in.

Purple Martin

Purple Martin Association of the Dakota's​

Vogel is president of the group and has taken a keen interest in this bird, which for many people is simply one of the dozens of species that share the warm months with us.

Purple martins are the heaviest and largest of the nine swallows that breed in North America, Vogel says. Traditionally, purple martins are secondary-cavity nesters,
Vogel added, which means they don't excavate or build their own nest, but rather reuse abandon cavities excavated by other birds such as woodpeckers.

Over time, purple martins started to lose their native nesting cavities because of forest clearcutting and other habitat loss such as clearing of tree snags.

As the landscaped changed and the historical forest disappeared, purple martins became dependent upon humans to provide alternative nesting structures. And many humans are more than happy to help the martins' cause, either on their own or through an organization.

While martins are revered as voracious consumers of mosquitoes, Vogel says that realistically, purple martin diet studies reveal they prefer larger, more energetically-rewarding insects.

Here's some other purple martin facts:

  • The purple martin pair-bond is monogamous for one season. Purple martins want to survive and both the male and the female share in raising the young. Only the females can incubate the eggs, but the males provide protection for the females.

  • Many times the males escort the females on outings. Males also protect the nests of eggs or young.

  • When a pair successfully fledges young, they are likely to return to the same colony the following year, but each individual will find a new mate. Nest failure will likely result in the pair seeking a different colony the following year.

  • Purple martins remain genetically healthy because the young that fledge from their natal colony will seek out new colonies the following season to raise young of their own.

  • Purple martins typically migrate all the way to Brazil to spend the winter.

  • Male purple martins don't develop the solid dark black (iridescent steel-blue) plumage until after their second year.

If you'd like to attract purple martins, there's plenty of resources available. "Install high quality manageable purple martin systems in an area with the most open airspace near human activity, and as far away from trees as possible," Vogel advises.

Ideally, he added, the structures should have 6 x 6 x 12- inch compartments equipped for the house to be lowered and raised without disturbing the nests on a horizontal plain.

Some plastic housing offers little or no protection from the extreme elements of the Dakotas, Vogel says, so natural and artificial gourds are an excellent choice when used on a multiple pulley system with nylon rope.

Condominium style houses made of S1S2E Western red cedar board provide good insulation against temperature extremes, and they also provide protection from predators.

If you're interested in learning more about these special birds that call North Dakota home for part of the year, visit the Purple Martin Association of the Dakota's website at

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: [email protected]