Purple Martins Acclimate to New World Discovery Nesting Location at Epcot
Every year, Purple Martins travel more than 3,000 miles from their native Brazil to Walt Disney World to raise their young in the springtime.
Unfortunately, this year there’s a ton of construction going on at Epcot and their nesting townhomes had to be moved from their old location near Mouse Gear to a new location by World Discovery.
Purple Martins are very averse to change and the movement of the bird houses was a huge risk. To the delight of Epcot conservation cast members, they already have nested in the towers!
Purple Martin eggs take just 15 days to hatch and they are expecting hatchlings any day now. Purple Martins lay their eggs between now and early June, which typically coincides with the dates for the International Flower and Garden Festival.
Sadly, the International Flower and Garden Festival was only open for two weeks this year before Walt Disney World closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s currently closed indefinitely. We’re hoping it will reopen by August 1st.
With Epcot now closed, it’s actually less stressful on the birds and, of course, there’s no noise from nightly fireworks shows at 9pm anymore! But, the flowers (and bugs!) are still there.
The original Disney Conservation team started with small hollowed out gourds for nesting houses over 20 years ago, and now have various house styles across 15 locations around Walt Disney World.
We got to check out the Purple Martins nesting last year:
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. (With global warming, some “early birds” have been spotted arriving at Epcot in December, right after Christmas!)
To Purple Martin enthusiasts, these feathered travelers, who spend their summer into late fall 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 Epcot’s annual flower and garden 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 tall white poles, but they are actually safe havens for birds who sometimes have to battle other sparrows and starlings for the treasured nesting 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. This was an early form of mosquito control in Florida! Spanish and later European settlers continued the practice and also started making Purple Martin bird houses shaped like human houses.
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 240 man-made white gourds and birdhouses on property. At Epcot, the 60 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
Elly’s video of the Purple Martins nesting at our vacation cabin in Minnesota:
We’ve written two books about our time working – and playing – as Disney Cast Members at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
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Have a magical day!