Martins and Swallows

Purple Martin Progne subis
Purple Martin is a species in serious decline in recent years and can be difficult to find in Duval County, even when searching for them. There are some early observations from February, but most arrivals are reported beginning the first week of March. They can be found throughout the spring and summer in small numbers, and are generally departed by the end of August. The best places to look for them are Taye Brown Regional Park and New World Avenue on the westside of town, M&M Dairy, and the Lem Turner Road spray fields at the intersection of Lannie Road. In mid to late June, they have been known to mass off New World Avenue near Waterworks Street, where one can see anywhere from 60-140 individuals in one group. They can be found in similar numbers along the remote areas of Pritchard Road, often roosting on the power lines there.

There is a remarkable account of over 10,000 that would amass at Hemming Plaza downtown in the late 1940’s. On 12 October 1950 the trees were razed and the phenomenon ceased with the removal (Brookfield, 1951). On 5 July 1964, Grimes noted recently hatched young and the following year he noted nesting as early as 20 March 1965 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). In 1974, Ogden noted a roost in downtown Jacksonville of over 1,000 birds from 15 June through 30 July; perhaps this was a remnant of the roost forsaken in 1950. In June through July 2017, there were tens of thousands of Martins roosting in downtown Jacksonville adjacent to the now demolished “Jacksonville Landing”. Some estimates in July reached 35,000 to 40,000 birds. The following year in 2018, numbers topped out around 130, leaving no explanation as to why they’d choose one area in a year and abandon it the next.

Tree Swallow Tachycneta bicolor
Tree Swallow is chiefly a winter resident species that can be found from the first of September through early May. In most fall and winter months, it is by far our most abundant swallow species. Stevenson and Anderson (1994) noted one on 16 July 1960 as the earliest fall migrant in the state. Tree Swallows can be found throughout the county, but some of the better locations include Huguenot Memorial Park and Spoonbill Pond where they can number into the thousands on some winter days.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis
Northern Rough-winged Swallow is our most abundant breeding swallow species; known to have bred in the County since at least Howell’s time in 1932 (p. 331). They arrive in early to mid-March and can be found through the middle of October; there are a handful of records into early November. They really favor nesting under tractor trailers, and find an abundance of nesting sites in this port city. They can be readily be found at Imeson Center, Westside Industrial Park, and the warehouses around the M&M Dairy.

Bank Swallow Riparia riparia
Bank Swallow is extremely rare in spring in Northeast Florida, with just a few county observations in April and early May. They are more easily found in fall migration, where they move through the area in mid to late August in their highest numbers. Having said that, you are unlikely to see more than a handful at any time during that window. The best bet for this species is to work the northwest part of the inlet at Huguenot Memorial Park along the dunes from 14-23 August.

Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
Cliff Swallow is an extremely rare spring migrant here, and a fairly rare fall migrant that is missed more often than seen in most years by local birders. The “wheelhouse” for the species is 10-17 August and the best place I’ve found to seek them out is Huguenot Memorial Park and the Lem Turner spray fields. A good plan is to target Huguenot since you can look for the almost equally rare Bank Swallow; look for both species along the dunes separating the ocean from the lagoon. I’ve seen Cliffs around the jetties all the way up to the north end of the park and around the dunes. On 16 August 2013, I recorded the highest known occurrence of the species in county history there with as many as 45 individuals. There is a single winter report of 31 December 1951 from Little Talbot Island State Park (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva
There are no reports or records of Cave Swallow in Duval County, but there are two reports from St. Johns County just to the south. The first was 19 December 2009 and the other 20 January 2011. I expect they will be reported one day in Duval County, thus their inclusion in this section.

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Barn Swallow is our second most abundant swallow species behind Tree Swallow, but is absent in the winter months of December through February. They typically arrive the second week of March and can be seen through the end of November; their numbers peak in mid-August. There is one notable winter report of 23 November 1981, when a group of 15 was reported at Little Talbot Island State Park (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

Barn Swallows are tied very closely with bodies of water, and are thus seen mainly along the coast and St. Johns River; inland they can be found at places with many ponds like Westside Industrial Park or Lem Turner spray fields. They are a limited or localized breeder in the area. The earliest noted Barn Swallow in Duval is 29 June 1924, which was then noted as a “late” date (Howell, 1932, p. 332). They were first confirmed as a breeding species on 26 June 1977, with sporadic affirmations of breeding throughout the early 1980’s (1981, 22 June 1983, and 1984).

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