How to tell a Purple Martin from a Starling?

Purple martins and starlings can be tricky to tell apart. But, with the right info, it’s easy! Let’s look at the key features of these birds.

Purple martins are known for their colorful feathers – dark purple with lighter purple underneath. Adult males flaunt a blue sheen on their wings. Starlings, however, have iridescent black feathers – sometimes green or purple.

Martins are bigger – about 8 inches in length and 15 inches in wingspan. Starlings are smaller7 inches in length and 13 inches in wingspan.

The bill shape is different too. Martins have short, thick bills that are triangular with curved edges. They use these to catch insects mid-flight. Starlings have slender, pointed bills, perfect for probing the ground or foliage to find food.

What are Purple Martins and Starlings?

Purple Martins and Starlings look similar, but are distinct. Martins have a deep purple hue and long bodies. They are native to North America and are a beloved sight. Starlings, on the other hand, have a black color with white spots and a stout body shape.

Size and behavior are two ways to differentiate between them. Martins are larger than Starlings, at 7-8 inches. They also have remarkable aerial acrobatics and prefer nesting in birdhouses. Starlings, however, are aggressive to other birds and often invade nests.

Creating an ideal habitat for Purple Martins will attract them. Gourds and condos should be placed 12-15 feet above ground. Also, it is important to keep them clean after each breeding season. Enjoy the beauty of these birds and help conserve them!

Physical Differences between Purple Martins and Starlings

Distinguishing Purple Martins from Starlings?

A few clues can help. Let’s explore!

Purple Martins are bigger, around 7-8 inches long.

Starlings are smaller – 6-7 inches.

Purple Martins show captivating purple-blue plumage. Starlings are black with speckles (breeding season).

Purple Martins have sleek bodies and forked tails. Starlings are stockier with straight tails.

Behavior? Both species fly similarly at times. But, Purple Martins soar gracefully. Whereas Starlings fly quickly and darting.

Tip: Observe physical features like size, coloring, body shape, and flight patterns. That’ll help identify which one is a Purple Martin or a Starling.

Behavi oral Differences between Purple Martins and Starlings

Purple Martins and Starlings have very different behaviors. Here’s a comparison:

Purple Martins Starlings
Feeding Insects Wide variety of food
Nesting Colonies Individual or small groups
Vocalization Melodic chirps Harsh, noisy calls
Mating Monogamous Polygamous
Migration Long-distance migration Short-distance migration

Purple Martins have adaptations for aerial feeding and nesting in man-made structures. Starlings are known for being aggressive to other birds and forming large flocks.

To attract Purple Martins, provide housing with multiple compartments. Offer specific insects as food. To manage Starling populations, reduce food sources and deter nest construction on buildings.

Knowing the differences between these birds can help with identification and conservation.

Tips for Identifying Purple Martins and Starlings

Emily was a bird lover on a mission: to learn the difference between Purple Martins and Starlings. She grabbed her binoculars and field guide, and set out to observe. She noted the birds’ behavior and jotted down their unique traits.

Size-wise, Purple Martins were bigger – around 7-8 inches. Starlings were slightly smaller, with a length of 6-7 inches.

Color-wise, Purple Martins had a purplish-blue hue with iridescent sheen on their backs. Starlings were glossy black and had white speckles or spots in winter.

Habitat-wise, Purple Martins lived near water sources like lakes or rivers. They nested in houses specifically designed for them. Contrarily, Starlings could thrive in any habitat – forests, grasslands, and even urban areas.

During breeding season, adult male Purple Martins got darker and lost their blue sheen.

Emily’s hard work paid off; she became a master in distinguishing between the two birds.


We’ve gained wisdom on how to spot a Purple Martin or Starling. Let’s wrap up our discoveries!

The birds have comparable features, yet it’s essential to concentrate on their behavior and nesting preferences for correct identification.

When watching these birds, notice their flight movements. Purple Martins display graceful aerial performances with agile maneuvers, usually soaring high in the sky. On the other hand, Starlings fly erratically, altering speed and direction quickly.

Pay attention to their nesting habits too. Purple Martins opt for communal nesting sites such as birdhouses or gourds placed in wide-open areas. However, Starlings build nests in different places, like tree cavities, buildings, or birdhouses made for other species.

Vocalizations are also helpful. Purple Martins sing melodious tunes with clear whistles and chirps. On the other hand, Starlings are known for mimicking other bird calls and making a variety of noises, such as chattering, squawking, and even human sounds.

In conclusion, although the birds look alike, their actions tell them apart. Keep an eye on flight patterns, nesting habits, and vocalizations for accurate identification.

Fun Fact: According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Purple Martins make one of the longest migratory journeys among North American songbirds.

Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ: How To Tell A Purple Martin From Starling

Q1: What are the differences between Purple Martins and Starlings?

A1: Purple Martins are native North American birds known for their glossy, dark purple feathers and melodious song. Starlings, on the other hand, are invasive species with iridescent black feathers and a harsh chatter-like call.

Q2: What is the size difference between Purple Martins and Starlings?

A2: Purple Martins are slightly larger than starlings, measuring about 7-8 inches in length. Starlings, on the contrary, are smaller, ranging from 7-9 inches in length.

Q3: How can I identify a Purple Martin by its flight pattern?

A3: Purple Martins have a distinctive flight pattern characterized by fast, direct flight with rapid wingbeats followed by short glides. They often fly in a group, while starlings have a more erratic flight pattern with frequent changes in direction and speed.

Q4: Are there any differences in their behavior?

A4: Yes, there are behavioral differences between Purple Martins and Starlings. Purple Martins are social birds that nest in colonies and are known for their cooperative behavior. Starlings, on the other hand, are highly aggressive and territorial birds.

Q5: Do Purple Martins and Starlings have different habitats?

A5: Yes, they have distinct habitat preferences. Purple Martins prefer open areas near water such as fields, meadows, or grasslands. Starlings, on the contrary, are adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats including urban areas, agricultural fields, and woodlands.

Q6: Can their songs help in identification?

A6: Absolutely! Purple Martins have a melodious song consisting of a series of sweet, flute-like notes. Starlings, on the other hand, produce a harsh, chattering song that lacks musicality. By listening to their songs, you can easily differentiate between the two species.

Julian Goldie - Owner of

Julian Goldie

I'm a bird enthusiast and creator of Chipper Birds, a blog sharing my experience caring for birds. I've traveled the world bird watching and I'm committed to helping others with bird care. Contact me at [email protected] for assistance.