Purple Martin Imposters

While Purple Martins are a distinctive bird, there are other species that are commonly mistaken for Purple Martins.  Some species have similar plumages, while others have similar flying styles.  The photos and information below will help determine whether you have a Purple Martin at your colony site, or an imposter!


Tree Swallows

A member of the swallow family, like the Purple Martin, the Tree Swallow is smaller with a bluish-green back and a snowy white belly.  They usually nest in single unit cavities such as bluebird boxes, but may try to take over Purple Martin housing. 


Barn Swallow


Also a member of the swallow family, the Barn Swallow is smaller than a Purple Martin, but slightly larger than a Tree Swallow.  They have a deeply forked tail, blueish-black back, wings, and tail; and a cinnamon colored forehead and throat. 


Bank Swallows

This swallow is much smaller and more compact with a brownish back and white throat and belly.  Like the Purple Martin, Bank Swallows are colonial nesters, however these swallows tunnel into banks.  They are more easily mistaken for a Purple Martin during flight.


Cliff Swallows

Cliff swallows are a short, compact swallow with a stubby tail.  They have a bluish head and back with orange on the rump and cheeks.  Cliff swallows nest in colonies and construct housing made from mud and grass. 


European Starlings

A non-native bird, the starling is larger with a long yellow beak.  Starlings have much longer legs than Purple Martins and you will often find them on the ground or at your bird feeders.

Recommended Reading:

Nest Identification