Behind our cottage on Sandy Lake, in northeast Ohio, two purple martin structures tower above the end of a dock, each harboring a dozen nest cavities. There are no vacancies this summer and the vocal residents put on a noisy show throughout the day.
Currently raising their second broods of the season, attentive parents are constantly leaving or returning to the nest sites, attempting to satiate their demanding chicks. Often hunting in pairs, they circle above the lake, twisting or diving to snare an insect. Resting between forays, some of the parents gather on the rooftops, twittering with one another (and perhaps sharing their frustration). At one point this morning, the entire flock suddenly took to the air, strafing the top of a shade tree until a sharp-shinned hawk escaped across the lake.
While the purple martins of the Eastern U.S. generally nest in man-made boxes, those in the West utilize abandoned woodpecker cavities in trees or cacti. As their breeding season comes to an end, our largest swallows gather in huge flocks before departing for wintering grounds in South America.