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Wildlife Wednesday: Purple Martins Return to Walt Disney World Resort

Anne Savage, Ph.D.

by , Conservation Director, Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment

The beginning of a new year signals celebration and we’re off to a flying start at Walt Disney World Resort. We’re thrilled to report we’ve had one of the first 2018 purple martin sightings in the United States. Hundreds more will soon flock here, and as they continue to arrive, we look forward to learning more about these gorgeous migratory birds.

Each year, purple martins travel to Walt Disney World Resort to raise their young before flying more than 6,000 miles to the Brazilian rainforest and back, providing us with a unique front-row seat to the magic of nature.

Wildlife Wednesday: Purple martins return to Walt Disney World Resort

To prepare for the birds’ arrival, Disney VoluntEARS gear up a month in advance by cleaning and prepping all 20 purple martin bird houses across Walt Disney World Resort. Each house has multiple rooms, so we now have 460 nest compartments ready and waiting for purple martins to check in. All this preparation is important because purple martins have specific needs for nesting. They prefer birdhouses almost exclusively, which enables us to attract them to areas close enough for us to observe them as they find mates, as they find mates, lay eggs and care for their chicks until they learn to fly.

Over the past few years, we’ve learned a lot by studying the birds. For example, our conservation team collaborated on a study with Dr. Kevin Fraser of the University of Manitoba that used GPS technology to pinpoint where purple martins in Brazil go to settle at night. Based on past observations by Brazilian scientists, we knew that many purple martins come together at night in cities and towns in the Amazon basin, but we were surprised to learn they more often frequented small islands in the Amazon River and its tributaries. This new information is critically important because only about 17 percent of the roosts identified were in protected areas of Brazil.

Wildlife Wednesday: Purple martins return to Walt Disney World Resort

Here at Walt Disney World Resort, we have been just as curious about where our nesting birds spend the night. Using the same GPS technology, we found that our birds do not always sleep in their bird houses with their chicks. Instead, they spend some nights on freeway light fixtures. We believe these are popular spots because they attract nocturnal insects, which are easy early-morning meals. As soon as it starts to get bright outside, these birds race back to their nests to feed their young. And I mean they race! We found one of our birds flying back at 45 miles an hour.

I can’t wait to see what we learn this year! Be sure to watch the Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment Facebook page for updates throughout the purple martin nesting season. To learn more about migratory birds, visit DisneyAnimals.com.

Comments

  • I was at AK Last month going to The “Backstage Tails” tour and when I passed the Purple Martin Houses on the path leading up to the park, I could have sworn I heard the birds chirping inside.

  • I’d seen those structures before and always thought that they were for some festival or another, or some strange lighting setups, or something else. I always just figured I wasn’t there for whatever they were being used for. I never placed them as birdhouses.

    But now that I know what they are, this makes me happy. For Disney to provide places for these birds to stay, right in the middle of their parks, and that they are also studying the habits of these birds as opposed to simply providing a place to nest. This is how Disney stays ahead of the game: not just by entertaining people, but my also educating people in entertaining ways (or, if you prefer, entertaining people in educational ways).

  • AMAZING! Thank you for updating us on these birds every year. 🙂

  • Terrific! I never knew and I appreciate always learning something new.

  • Beautiful!

  • Wow so interesting! 😀

  • Interesting information, and very happy to hear of your collaboration with the University of Manitoba, just a few miles from my home in Winnipeg.

  • Last August at the Disney Data and Analytics Conference, I saw some prototype work on applying AI methodologies to detect significant events from video of the Purple Martin nests (e.g. eggs in nest, eggs hatching, feeding, etc.). It was pretty impressive. Is that work continuing?

  • Fascinating information and fascinating birds. Good job Disney, and thanks for contributing to help take care of our natural world!

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