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Behavior of the Purple Martin

Richard F. Johnston and John William Hardy
The Wilson Bulletin
Vol. 74, No. 3 (Sep., 1962), pp. 243-262
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4159068
Page Count: 20
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Behavior of the Purple Martin
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Abstract

This report describes some elements of the reproductive, aggressive, and group behavior of the Purple Martin in spring and summer in Kansas and Illinois. Purple Martins arrive on breeding grounds some two months before they lay eggs. Such timing is unusual for a swallow and is a result of early arrival, for their breeding schedules seem to be wholly in line with schedules characteristic of other swallows in temperate North America. Early arrival is advantageous in securing a nesting cavity. Formation of the pair-bond is accomplished without ritualization of behavioral elements. Pair-formation is a function of interaction between a male, a female, and a colony-site. Females exert ultimate control over pair-formation because they choose a nest-box-male combination, and not one of these alone. Nest-building is sporadically engaged in for about a month prior to egg-laying. The green leaves brought to nests by both sexes may serve as a source of fumigant acting against ectoparasites developing in the detritus of the nest. Aggression is effected by few and simple postural and auditory mechanisms. Horizontal Threat, Gaping, Bill-snapping, Claiming--Reclaiming, and several vocalizations are described. The Stooped--Submissive posture is a notable sign of defeat in a male martin. Purple Martins operate at all times of the year in groups. Activities significant in formation of colonies include general investigatory behavior and Claiming--Reclaiming. Formation of preening groups seems to be facilitated by a white signal-mark on the backs of the birds. An obligatory (and probably nonsocial) sunning posture is described. Social facilitation of reproductive activities seems not to be significant for Purple Martins. It is fairly clear that timing of the reproductive effort is partly dependent on ages of the birds, and any tendency toward colonial synchrony and increase in reproductive success is a result of birds of like ages being together.

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