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Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Purple Martin


Hebrides Bird Sightings : Purple Martin
View a large photograph of this Juvenile Purple Martin 90Kb

Purple Martin

Progne subis


Photograph © Martin Scott
Ness - Isle of Lewis - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
5th September 2004


Our Swallow and Martins photographs

Barn Swallow
Barn swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Purple Martin


  • Purple Martin
  • Progne subis
  • WI: Very rare visitor - one record which was the first for Europe!
  • Breeds: Colonies located near human houses. United States & Southern Canada.
  • Winters: Eastern South America & to Argentina. Moving south by late August
  • Diet: Insectivore: Catches winged insects in the air. (Usually flying fairly high)
  • Adult (after 2nd yr) male glossy, blue-black plumage. Adult female similar above & paler below.
    2nd yr females similar to adult females without blue-black gloss to back.
    2nd yr male like 2nd yr female, plus developing blotchy pattern of black feathers on breast gradually moulting to adult plumage.


Within the sub-family Hirundiniae, the name "Martin" usually refers to the squarer-tailed species, and the name "Swallow" to the more fork-tailed species. There is no scientific distinction between these Martins and Swallows. The family contains around 83 species!



Purple Martin records in the Western Isles

On Sunday 5th September 2004 a juvenile Purple Martin was discovered in Ness on the Isle of Lewis. This was the first record in Europe.
The bird remained until Monday lunchtime before disappearing.


"...The martin was spotted on Sunday afternoon, and by yesterday morning the first twitchers were arriving on the island of Lewis by plane: all scheduled flights into Stornoway airport were full, and other birders arrived on chartered light aircraft. By midday, all hire cars had gone and the ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne was said to have been "inundated" with requests for tickets on its ferry services to Lewis from Uig in Skye and Ullapool on the mainland..."

Read full Independent article about the Purple Martin Twitch


British Ornithologists' Union Records Committee (BOURC) decision

Eric Meek, Chairman of BOURC commented...

'Long-hailed as a potential addition to the British List, the finding of the Purple Martin at the Butt of Lewis must rank as one of the outstanding birding moments of recent years. The Butt of Lewis is not exactly the easiest place in Britain to access but, nevertheless, a respectable number of birders did make a successful journey before the bird moved on.

The quality of the descriptions and photographs left no doubt as to the bird's identity and Neotropical congeners such as Southern Martin P. elegans (which has been recorded once in Florida), Caribbean Martin P. dominicensis , Cuban Martin P. (d.) cryptoleuca and Grey-breasted Martin P. chalybea could all be ruled out.

With no evidence of the species ever being kept in captivity, BOURC were unanimous in accepting Purple Martin onto Category A of the British List. ”


Read the more about the BOURC decision on the Purple Martin



Other local bird photographs

Sources of information for the bird sightings section

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