Summer Preview: The Purple Martins Return to Roost
The swallows may be famous for their return to Capistrano year after year, but in Richmond, it’s the Purple Martins who make their annual triumphant appearance in Shockoe Bottom. A festival welcoming back the winged residents who instinctively migrate each year from their place of birth to South America is the only known such urban bird event where “onlookers can watch the birds return to roost.” The highly social birds travel in large numbers for safety and comfort, obtaining both their food and water while in air (they eat insects and skim water off the top of ponds in flight). They are the largest of the Martin family and their primary predators are House Sparrows and European Starlings.
The Purple Martins arrive in Richmond with the summer months – in 2007 they began arriving in June. By August the roosts, which can number in the tens of thousands of birds, are sometimes large enough to capture on Doppler Radar! The birds can be noisy, communicating with each other through various chirps and songs. To encourage them to choose safe roosting sites, the mating call of one Purple Martin was recorded and is known as the “Dawn Song”. The call is used to attract the tens of thousands of birds to suitable sites in the city for their roosts.
While the 2012 details are pending, “Gone to the Birds” is generally scheduled in August during the birds’ peak presence – get your Historic Richmond Inns reservations early as the summer is high season for many fun festivals perfect for visitors of all backgrounds and interests. Ask your hospitable innkeeper for directions to the best roosts, and enjoy premium accommodations with daily gourmet breakfasts between bird-watching. We look forward to visiting with you!
Image courtesy of Matt Tillett via Creative Commons Attribution License