Nest Camera FAQ

PMCA NestCam Frequently Asked Questions


What kind of birds are these? 
These are Purple Martins, a native songbird and the largest member of the swallow family in North America.   Purple Martins are a migratory species that breeds in North America and winters in South America.  They spend the winter months in Brazil.   Learn more about Purple Martins here.

Where do they nest?
East of the Rocky Mountains Purple Martins are entirely dependent on human-supplied housing.  Purple Martins like to nest in groups, they will use apartment-style housing or gourd racks which contain clusters of gourds like these. 

Can I have Purple Martins at my house? 
Purple Martins only nest in North America.  If you are in the United States or Canada you can view the map below to see if you are in their breeding range.  Learn how to get started with Purple Martins here. 


Which is the male and which is the female?  How old are they? 
The Purple Martins nesting in this gourd are adults.  The adult males have all blue/purple plumage.  The adult females have purple on their heads and back and their chest is brown/gray in color.  They will not have any blue feathers on their chest or undertail.  Adult birds are also called ASY for After-Second-Year.

Subadults (also called Second-Year, SY) are younger birds that fledged last season.  Subadult males will have at least one, sometimes many, solid purple feather on their throat, chest, or undertail.  Subadult females have more brown color on their head and back and have a much lighter chest and undertail.  See examples of male and female Purple Martins here. 

What do they eat? 
Purple Martins are aerial insectivores, consuming their food while flying.  They have a varied diet including dragonflies, cicadas, moths, butterflies, flies, beetles and other flying insects.  Purple Martins do not eat many mosquitoes.  Martins feed high in the air during the daytime, they do not encounter mosquitoes often.   


What do they use to build their nest? 
Purple Martins build their nests out of straw, twigs, dried pine needles and mud.  They also line the nest with green leaves.  Both the male and female will bring in nesting material.  The Purple Martin Conservation Association adds dried pine needles from White Pine trees to each cavity before the martins arrive; once they've chosen their nesting cavities they will bring in additional nesting material and green leaves. 


How many eggs do they normally lay? 
The female will lay one egg per day, usually in the morning.  The eggs are pure white and the female lays an average of 4 to 6 per nest.   

When will the eggs hatch?
Incubation lasts 15-16 days, although can be delayed due to cold weather.  Hatching may be spread out over two or three days.   


Does the male sit on the eggs too? 
Only the female can incubate the eggs—she has a brood patch which is a featherless area on her belly that transfers heat to the eggs.  The male may sit on the eggs when she is out feeding, however he is unable to incubate. 

Why are the parents sitting on the young? 
When the nestlings are very young they do not have any feathers.  The parents cover them with their bodies and wings to help keep them warm.   They won't harm them.  


They have bugs! 
You may see some parasites such as fleas or mites in nest or on the birds.  This is normal for Purple Martins, and all birds.  We will do a nest replacement—removing the old nesting material and replacing it with fresh—when the nestlings are around 10 days old.  This will help remove the majority of parasites.    

There's another bird in the nest!   
You may see a subadult male or female enter the nest.  The subadult males may try to peck the eggs or nestlings, trying to break up the bond between the adult male and female so they can breed with the female on her next nesting attempt.


When will they leave the nest? 
The nestlings will fledge (leave the nest) between 26-32 days after hatching.  They may return to their cavity at night for one to two weeks after fledging.   


Where do they go after they leave? 
Once they leave the nest the nestlings and parents will head to a migratory roost.  Migratory roosts are where thousands of martins gather together to feed, socialize and rest before beginning their long migration to South America.  You can learn more about roosts here 

Who runs this livestream? 
The Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of the Purple Martin through research and education.  The PMCA is headquartered at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center in Erie, Pennsylvania.  


Why are there people around the nests, I thought these were wild birds? 
Over many years Purple Martins have adapted to live close to humans.  The nest is located at an environmental center on a state park which has over 1 million visitors annually.   The PMCA also conducts nest checks once a week where we lower down the housing and check each nest.  We record the type of nest, number of eggs and young and the age of the young.  The parents will return shortly after the housing is raised.     


What are they nesting in? 
The martins are nesting in a plastic gourd,  and the gourd rack we are using is found here-which comes with the gourd rack, gourds and a predator guard. 

We also have owl guards attached to the gourd rack-the curved metal rods that extend out in front of the entrance.  These are to help protect the martins from hawks and owls.   The gourd with the closed entrance on the upper left contains camera equipment.   


Where are the parents? 
While the nestlings are young the male and female usually take turns going out to feed and bring in insects for the young.  As the nestlings age both parents may be out foraging at the same time.  It's a full-time job feeding hungry nestlings!  Don’t worry, they'll be back. 


How do they know which nestling to feed? 
The parents will feed whichever nestling is begging for food.  Hungry nestlings will raise their heads and open their beaks when they hear the parents outside of the gourd.  


When do the martins arrive? 
In Erie, Pennsylvania the adult Purple Martins arrive around the first part of April.  They will spend several weeks finding a mate, claiming their cavity and then start building their nests. 

What are those other birds landing on the gourds? 
We currently have several pairs of Purple Martins in the gourd rack.  You may also see other small brown birds which are House Sparrows.  House Sparrows (sometimes called English Sparrows) are non-native species and we try to prevent them from nesting with  traps that you may see us insert into the gourd the sparrows are entering.
These birds are great, how can I help? 
Glad you asked! Please share the stream with your friends and family, the more exposure these birds receive, the better.  If you live in an area where you can attract and manage Purple Martins, consider putting up a martin house or gourd rack.  If you'd like to support the livestream and our conservation efforts please visit