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First purple martins of the year spotted in West Virginia

ELEANOR, W.Va. (AP) — The first purple martins of the year have been spotted in West Virginia, the Parkersburg News and Sentinel reported this week.

The birds were seen on March 21 in Eleanor by a purple martin enthusiast, Purple Martin Conservation Association President Joe Siegrist said.

“The purple martins arrival in West Virginia show the birds are making steady progress northward since they first made landfall in Florida two days before Christmas,” Siegrist said.

North America’s largest species of swallow winters in the rainforests of Brazil before making an up-to-7,000-mile migration north into the eastern United States and Canada.

The annual migration is a testament to the martins’ resilience as well as the dedication of thousands of martin enthusiasts who maintain multi-compartment nesting boxes that are essential for the birds’ survival, Siegrist said. Due to habitat loss, the birds do not have enough suitable natural nests and need the nesting boxes put up by birders to survive.

The purple martin “landlords” are rewarded with “a family-like bond with the birds who return to the same colony year after year like clockwork,” Siegrist said.

Once widespread in rural America, the species that eats billions of flying insects each year has lost one-third of its population over the last 50 years, Siegrist said. In addition to habitat loss, the birds are suffering from competing invasive species, decreasing prey availability, and climate change, Siegrist said.