When we were at Epcot last month, the Purple Martins had just returned two weeks earlier, around January 25, 2019. It was fun to see their nesting boxes all set up for them.
Right before Epcot’s annual International Flower and Garden Festival each year, Purple Martins, the largest of the North American swallows, fly 3,000 miles to return to comfy white homes behind Epcot’s Mouse Gear to start their new families, typically arriving in late January. (Some “early birds” have been spotted arriving at Epcot right after Christmas!)
To Purple Martin enthusiasts, these feathered travelers, who spend their summer into early winter in warm Brazil, are captivating not only because of their beauty, but also because they are so social. They are actually not purple in color but a deep blackish-blue that in a certain light can look a deep purple.
As crowds gather to enjoy the flower festival, the Purple Martins go about their daily routine of raising their next generation, paying no attention to the hustle and bustle of nearby guests.
Some guests imagine that those white PVC gourds with an alphabet letter on them are cameras or special lighting fixtures on a white pole, but they are actually safe havens for birds who sometimes have to battle other sparrows and starlings for the treasured space. The letters help identify each gourd for documentation by the Animal Programs team.
Purple martins are dependent on man-made housing to nest, a situation that has existed for hundreds of years when local Native Americans first hollowed out actual gourds and hung them on trees.
The Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians put up poles with hollow gourds around their villages for the Purple Martins to nest in. Early settlers continued the practice and also started making “bird houses” shaped like human habitations.
With increased urbanization, the number of people putting up Purple Martin houses declined from the 1950s through the 1980s, but there has been a resurgence of interest in these birds and they are making a comeback from being a threatened species.
As part of Disney’s commitment to conservation efforts, there are more than 200 man-made white gourds on property. At Epcot, the temporary residences are located on stage between Mouse Gear and Test Track, while at Disney’s Animal Kingdom an area over twice that size exists backstage.
There are approximately 60 houses at Epcot, and between 160 to 180 houses backstage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
In 2005, Disney’s Animal Kingdom set up their first six houses for Purple Martins and used speakers playing a recording of a special song that the male Purple Martins sing to attract other martins. It worked, and two pairs set up house, one pair in each of two martin houses.
The Purple Martin conservation program began more than fifteen years ago as part of a backyard bird garden exhibit for Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Show, and continues today.
Read more from Disney Parks Blog: Purple Martins Return to Epcot
Video of the Purple Martins nesting at our vacation cabin in Minnesota:
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Have a magical day!