NASHVILLE, Tenn. – For the last several weeks at sunset, people have been spotting an unusual dark swirling mass in the sky just east of downtown.
Scott Somershoe with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said what they are seeing are swarms of Purple Martins, the largest type of swallow in North America.
He told News 2 the birds nest in gourds that are put up specifically for them.
He said, "In late summer, they gather in mid-July through August in these large groups, and they form roosts of up to 50,000-100,000 birds."
The birds flock to the roost in the last 30 minutes of daylight.
"They swirl and they swarm around, it looks like a big tornado, and then they're just dropping out of the sky by the hundreds and thousands into the roost."
When the birds leave their roosts in the morning, they can even be seen by weather radar.
News 2's Stormtracker picked up the birds recently leaving a roost at Dale Hollow Lake.
The birds create a donut shape on the radar with a hole in the middle that spreads out as the birds spiraled away from their roost.
In Tennessee, Somershoe said Purple Martins are well-known by farmers and bird lovers.
"They readily take over houses and structures that people have specifically put up there for them, and they arrive in mid-March, early April, and they watch them raise their broods all the way through the summer," he said.
The birds will migrate all the way to Brazil in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, they can be seen gathering in the area just north of LP Field at the end of the day, from 7:30 p.m. to 7:50 p.m.
Somershoe said, "By 8 p.m., they're all in the roost, and you've missed them."
To learn more about Purple Martins, visit the Purple Martin Conservation Association's Web site.
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