Thousands of Purple Martins roosting before their trek to South America

Local News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — If you have been in downtown Nashville at sunrise or sunset over the last month, you may have noticed tens of thousands of birds flying around. It’s something that happens every year when the Purple Martins roost before they migrate south during the late summer.

It might seem like something right out of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds.” This is what downtown Nashville looked like at sunset this week. Purple Martins, thousands of them, returning to their roost for the night.

Downtown Nashville earlier this week. Picture courtesy of Amanda Nolan.
Downtown Nashville earlier this week. Picture courtesy of Amanda Nolan.

They even show up on radar during the morning when they leave their roost and fly around in a circle that expands as they head out to look for food during the day.

There’s also a roost up in Bowling Green, Kentucky, as well as down in Winchester in Franklin County. They’re all over the Mid-South.

David Hanni is the Bird Conservation Coordinator for the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency:

“The Purple Martins, they are the largest swallow in North America. Right now, they’re starting their migration. So they’ve been nesting in Purple Martin nesting houses all over the east. Now they’re getting together and gathering up and getting ready to migrate down to South America. So right now, they have established these large roosting sites. And it’s pretty amazing.

Four years ago I went to one that was near downtown Nashville right by the Titans stadium, and there were probably 60-70 thousand birds that would come down into a small little area of bushes. So it’s an amazing sight to see. It almost looks like a bird tornado coming down with birds falling out of the sky!”

Purple Martins in 2010 near I-24, courtesy of Scott Somershoe

It’s hard to believe over the next few weeks that these birds will fly some 3,000 miles to South America!

“There’s been some research that shows that they’re going down into Brazil and that area, in lowlands east of the Andes is where most of the information has shown,” explained David Hanni.

Purple Martin migration routes

And you can do something to help them out for when they return next spring:

Purple Martin “gourd” style house. Photo courtesy of Susan Lanier.

“The main thing would be putting up Purple Martin houses,” said Hanni. “These birds really depend on these Purple Martin houses. We have some at Ellington Agricultural Center. They’re just gourds that you put up. You need to put them up in large open areas, typically near water.”

And there is also something that they will do for you:

“These birds are insectivorous, and so that means they’re eating a lot of insects,” Hanni explained. “So they’re getting rid of a lot of the mosquitoes and other things during the summer.”

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