Royally Purple

When I look at photos of our Purple Martins, I get the sense that these are very “upper crust” creatures. They project an impression of aristocracy about them. That concept got me wondering about why purple is considered the color of royalty.

I found this interesting quite off

The reason for purple’s regal reputation comes down to a simple case of supply and demand. For centuries, the purple dye trade was centered in the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre in modern day Lebanon. The Phoenicians’ “Tyrian purple” came from a species of sea snail now known as Bolinus brandaris, and it was so exceedingly rare that it became worth its weight in gold. To harvest it, dye-makers had to crack open the snail’s shell, extract a purple-producing mucus and expose it to sunlight for a precise amount of time. It took as many as 250,000 mollusks to yield just one ounce of usable dye, but the result was a vibrant and long-lasting shade of purple.

Interesting, right?

Purple Martins in eastern North America now nest almost exclusively in birdhouses, but those in the West use mostly natural cavities.” We first put up a single, barn-red purple martin apartment (16 units I think) a few years ago and immediately had residents arrive and thrive. Since then, we’ve added a gourd tower, then the next year a gourd horizontal pole. With each addition we seemed to have more birds use our housing.

Purple Martins hunt in flight, but they also drink while on the wing. I frequently observe them skimming our pond’s surface to take in a beakful of water. Barn Swallows (the smallest swallows we have here), Tree Swallows and the less often seen Northern Rough-winged Swallows all take their water off the pond’s surface. If all I see on a given visit to the pond is the swallows skimming the surface, I feel fulfilled.

This year, we put up a new, white with green roof model (12 units) and the Purple Martins immediately took advantage of the new digs. The red house and the gourds still have many pairs building nests. I’m amazed at how many Purple Martins call our place their summer home, when four years ago we had not yet erected the first house for them.

I can’t help but think of these birds as local royalty with their stern beauty and clear command over their movements and their intentions. I think the females are absolutely lovely and the males are strikingly handsome. I love their social nature and they have a cheerful series of vocalizations that I never tire of. I can’t say the same of the Meadowlarks or the House Wrens whose songs being to wear on me by the end of the season.

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