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Posted In: Birding, Features

The Purple Martins of Bryan Park

Nick Kotula

July 21, 2015 10:26pm

A purple martin looks for food at the Bryan Park Colony. Credit: Nick Kotula

July 4th has come and gone. We’ve celebrated our independence from Britain by grilling, drinking, and shooting off fireworks, but did you know there are still colonies in the world? One of them is right here in Richmond!

When a group of purple martins comes together to nest and do what the birds and the bees do, they are called a colony. Bryan Park, located right at the split of 95 and 64 at the northern tip of Richmond is home to a very active colony. Every year these birds make the trip back from the Brazilian rainforests to spend the summer in the hot and humid RVA! To give you some sense of how big of an accomplishment this is for a small bird, I did a Google Maps search and was told it couldn’t calculate the route!


Adolph White talks to a family about purple martins. Credit: Nick Kotula

The purple martin is the largest swallow weighing in at 1.75 ounces which helps to explain how they are able to travel 3946 miles (as the martin flies) to call Richmond home. Purple martins are the only species of birds that are completely dependent on humans. Purple martins do not nest anywhere but in the houses and gourds created for them by committed volunteers who have an intense love and commitment to the birds.

At Bryan Park that person is former schoolteacher Adolph White. I met with Mr. White several times, and his commitment and love for these birds is apparent. He will gladly take time to share information and explain, modifications he has made to the houses to ensure a successful nesting spot. His enthusiasm is apparent and infectious.


A purple martin in flight. Credit: Nick Kotula

I’m looking forward to exploring all of Richmond’s parks and sharing the birds and other wildlife that I find. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the martins at Bryan Park, I highly recommend taking a few minutes to watch them swoop and soar through the park before they begin their annual migration back to the tropics!

About Nick Kotula

Nick Kotula is an Air Force brat, but has been in Virginia most of his life. He decided to settle down with his wife in Richmond where he enjoys exploring the city and the surrounding nature. He's the proud father of one, and will almost always have a kid or camera on his back! (Sometimes both!)