Indiana Purple Martin Spotted in Pennsylvania in 2004

Ken Kostka
Purple Martin Preservation Alliance
Natrona Heights, PA

    Over the past six years, I have banded or been involved in the banding of thousands of Purple Martin nestlings in Western Pennsylvania. Hundreds of these nestlings were from martin colonies within 8-35 miles of my home in Natrona Heights, about 20 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, PA.  I have attempted to establish a colony of martins at this site for the past 25 years, and, in the process, seen dozens of investigating martins. One pair nested in 1999 and had many visitors. Since 1999, I've used a Swarovski high power spotting scope to check for leg bands on any martins that arrive at the site, if only for a few minutes.  Never once did I see a banded martin investigate -- that is until this past spring.

    On June 1, 2004 at 6:40 PM, I saw a martin swooping near the dawnsong speaker. It eventually landed on the gourd rack and I was able get a good look at it.  He was an subadult male (SY-M) with a light green plastic band on his left leg. The band started with the number 1, which was probably followed by several more numbers and a letter. However, I could not see any additional markings because the band did not spin. However, banding records indicate that this bird was banded in the state of Indiana.  This martin took off and came back several times. He would fly very high - to the point where he was just a speck in the sky - then come back and land again. He was briefly and lightly harassed in flight by a pair of Tree Swallows that were nesting nearby.

    I have banded hundreds of nestlings over the past five years within 35 miles of my home, but the first banded bird I saw at this site was from over 300 miles away!