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What’s The Difference Between Barn Swallow and Purple Martin?

what's the difference between a barn swallow and a purple martin

The Barn Swallow is a migratory bird that lives in the northern hemisphere. This widespread Swallow species can be found throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. The Purple Martin also resides in the same regions in the North and on some west coast regions.

They are both magnificent birds in the Hirundinidae or songbird family with an elegant yet strong flight. Still, there should be clues to tell them apart, right?

So, what’s the difference between a Barn Swallow and a Purple Martin? Keep reading to find out.

Differences between Barn Swallow and Purple Martin

Size and Shape

Both belong to the Passerine bird family, but Barn Swallows are much smaller than Purple Martins. In fact, the Purple Martin is the largest member, compared to its relatives.

  • A Barn Swallow is 6.4 – 7.8 inches in length. It has a forked tail and a wingspan as long as 12 inches. As a small bird, its average weight is only around 0.6 ounces.
  • A Purple Martin’s average length is 7.5 – 8.5 inches; some male Martins can be as long as 10 inches. Besides, Purple Martins weigh around 1.6–2.1 ounces and have a squared-off tail.

Many are confused between a Male Barn Swallow and a female Purple Martin since their size is pretty similar. However, looking at their tails will help us distinguish them more easily.

Color Pattern

The color pattern on the tail, wings, chest, and head is another distinguishing feature between Barn Swallows and Purple Martins.

  • The throat patch on a Barn Swallow or Gorget ranges from cinnamon to dark red. Also, its wings, black, and tail are in a blue-black shade.
  • Purple Martin’s throats are light blue to violet with black spotting. A mature male Martin has brown-black color on its tail and wings.

Additionally, Purple Martins have white feathers below their eyes, which Barn Swallows do not.

Nesting Habits

Purple Martins often nest when the spring comes, and its nesting period lasts around 3 – 4 weeks. Meanwhile, Barn Swallows find a place to build their family when the summer starts, around June or July.

  • Barn Swallows typically nest in stables or barns, with grass and mud to put all materials together. They lay 4 to 5 eggs in their nesting season.
  • Purple Martins, on the other hand, prefer to nest in a house of twigs and straws. In the nest, they typically lay 4 – 6 eggs.

Migration Patterns

Barn Swallows are migratory birds spending the winter in Central and South America at the end of June or July. Purple Martins is a long-distance migratory species. They fly to North America and spend the winter there.


The Barn Swallow is a more aggressive bird than the Purple Martin. It will defend its territory against other birds, including the Purple Martins.

  • The Barn Swallow is also more likely to build its nest in an exposed location, such as on a beam or roof.
  • The Purple Martin typically builds its nest in a sheltered spot, like a barn or other structure. It has been known to go as far as building its nest around one of a Barn Swallow, and evict their relative’s family from the nest!
  • While this would not typically be considered behavior conducive for interspecies relations, it does ultimately serve the best interests of both species by keeping them from competing for the same nesting locations.

In biology, a species is defined as members of a group similar enough to interbreed and produce fertile offspring in nature (although this does not always hold in captive breeding programs). In other words, Purple Martins can breed with Barn Swallows, and not vice versa.


The most obvious difference, however, is the birds’ habitats.

  • Barn Swallows prefer to live in barns and other man-made structures.
  • Purple Martins often live in open areas near water. Because of this, they are more likely to be seen around humans.

How do you Attract Purple Martins?

differences between barn swallow and purple martin

One of the most common ways to attract Purple Martins is setting up gourds and condos, which you can buy at local hardware or department stores during the summer months. The house should be placed at around 10 to 15 feet high, away from big trees and buildings.

When placing your Purple Martin house, you should also consider using Purple Martin feeders and water stations to help them quickly become acclimated to their new home.

Another way is by setting up birdhouses around your yard filled with non-toxic nesting materials such as pine needles and straws for them to build their nests there.

You can also attract Purple Martins by planting purple or white flowers and placing purple bird feeders around your yard.

Remember that Purple Martins are migratory birds, so you’ll need to keep an eye on their whereabouts during the winter months. Therefmake sure they have a place to stay warm and safe.

How do you Attract Barn Swallows?

You can attract Barn Swallows to your home with a nesting box. And, they’re most likely to come during the summer months. In this season, their younglings are in need of food and shelter.

Barn Swallows like their nests high up, so you should put them on or near the roofline where birds have an easier time swooping down into them, away from other predators. You might even consider putting one on each side of your house just in case two females want to nest next door!

Barn Swallows enjoy mud baths before arriving at their new homes for the breeding season, so adding something for them to bathe in is always appreciated too. For instance, you can place a birdbath under some cover to welcome warm sunlight.

Putting up a feeder is the way to go. They love insects, so fill your feeder with something that will attract them and watch as these graceful birds come to the feast! Make sure the feeder is hung in an open area where there’s plenty of space for the birds to fly in and out.

You might also consider placing a platform feeder on the ground for them to land on; they’ll appreciate having a place where they can rest if they get tired from hunting for food.

And don’t forget water – Barn Swallows need it too! A bird bath or fountain nearby will do the trick.


The Purple Martin and Barn Swallow are two birds in the Swallow family living in North America. They both migrate to the southern United States during the winter months but travel different distances on their migrations.

They can be identified by their long, slender body and bright blue-green feathers. And we can find them near farms and other open areas.

They enjoy eating insects, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and other invertebrates. Therefore, it is important to maintain a healthy habitat for these animals so they can thrive in your backyard or garden!

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1 thought on “What’s The Difference Between Barn Swallow and Purple Martin?”

  1. Could not decide if i have martins or barn swallows. Now i know. We have a almost perfect area in our field next to our pond. A birdfeeder is also available. The house is about 20 feet up, its an octagonal, multi hole, two story, structure. Trees border the field. It is fun to watch them fly and catch insects.


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