Every summer, my family looks forward to the purple martins’ arrival in Austin. For decades, purple martins used the oak trees around Highland Mall as their pre-migration roost site. Two years ago they hopped across I-35 to Capital Plaza Shopping Center. then relocated last year to the Embassy Suites parking lot. This year, they’ve landed at Texas Land & Cattle near the intersection of I-35 and Hwy 290. Now that they’re here, it’s purple martin party time in Austin! Here’s what you should know about these incredible birds and how best to view them.
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Purple martins come to North America to nest and breed, then hang around until their young are big enough to make the long flight back to South America. During this period, they spend their days feeding on flying insects all day before settling into the oaks, crepe myrtles, and shrubs at Texas Land & Cattle for the night. This may not sound super exciting but–trust me–this is an experience you’ll never forget.
According to the Travis Audubon Society, hundreds of thousands of purple martins gather nightly at this single site. Let that sink in: hundreds of thousands of birds! And they don’t just fly in and land. They swirl in beautiful patterns as they fly, moving together in tremendous, mesmerizing waves. You can hear their wings humming as they fly low above you, coming in to land. My favorite part is the sound of they make flapping and chirping as they jockey for space in the roosting trees. When my son was little, he said the trees were noisy like a giant rain stick and I still can’t think of a better way to describe the sound. It’s phenomenal.
When we arrived about 8:15 on a Monday evening, there were only two other people waiting for the birds, so we had plenty of room to spread out. The restaurant’s back parking lot was completely empty, so we parked there and had our own little tailgating party. (Please be respectful of the fact that a business is operating at the site. If the restaurant’s lot is busy, there is ample street parking on Clayton Lane.) I’d recommend bringing lawn chairs, binoculars, and hats and/or umbrellas. The birds started trickling in around dusk and their numbers swelled slowly until they all finally settled into the trees at nightfall, right around 9:00 p.m. The purple martins will put on their show every night through early August, when they’ll leave to continue their migration.
Travis Audubon Society is hosting FREE Purple Martin Parties on Friday and Saturday nights, July 7-8, 14-15, 21-22, and 28-29 from 8-9:30 p.m. If you attend a Purple Martin Party, please park on Clayton Lane and not in the restaurant’s parking lot. If you’re interested in dinner before the show, Travis Audubon’s website says that Texas Land & Cattle is offering a free appetizer to each party who has dinner and mentions that they are there for the purple martins. Habesha, the Ethiopian restaurant immediately north of Texas Land & Cattle, is also supportive of the birds. They are offering a free dessert to each party who dines at their restaurant and specifically mentions that they are there for the purple martins. Please call the restaurants to confirm these offers before dining.
Texas Land & Cattle
6007 North IH 35
Austin, TX 78723