Overview

Distribution

Range

West Indies (except Cuba and Isle of Pines); Tobago.

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Geographic Range

Caribbean martins are found in Mexico, the West Indies, and Cuba. There is also some speculation that they spend their winters in South America.

Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )

  • Flieg, M., A. Sander. 2000. Birds of the West Indes. UK: New Holland Publishers.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Both male and female Caribbean martins have a distinct dark blue (almost purple) color on the upper/back parts of their body and a white belly. The trait that distinguishes males from females is the abrupt change in color. Males have a distinct line that separates the blue from the white, while females have brown feathers that gradually blend into the white. These brown feathers are also apparent in juvenile martins (Raffaele et al., 1998). Caribbean martins have small black beaks and long pointed wings (Downer, 1990). Progne dominicensis grow to be about 17 to 20 cm long.

Range length: 17 to 20 cm.

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes colored or patterned differently

  • Downer, A. 1990. Birds of Jamaica : a photographic field guide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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These birds live near bodies of water or along shorelines, in urban areas, open land and near cliffs. The presence of water is crucial as it ensures the existence of insects, their primary food source.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

Aquatic Biomes: coastal

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; riparian

  • Raffaele, H., J. Wiley, O. Garrido, A. Keith, J. Raffaele. 1998. Birds of the West Indes. London, England: Christopher Helm Ltd.
  • Nature Serve, 2003. "Nature Serve" (On-line). Accessed February 11, 2004 at http://www.natureserve.org/infonatura/.
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

These birds forage for flying insects while in flight. Caribbean martins will also follow cattle to catch the insects that the cows flush.  Caribbean martins eat: flies (order Diptera), dragonflies (order Odonata), butterflies (order Lepidoptera), flying ants (order Hymenoptera), June bugs and many additional species.

Animal Foods: insects

Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore )

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

It is said that if birds and other insectivores were non-existent, the world would be covered with insects! Caribbean martins help to regulate insect populations on the islands.

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Predation

The introduction of mammalian predators is a serious threat to the avifauna of the West Indies. Caribbean martins, who nest near the ground, are very susceptible to nest predation. The mongoose (Family Herpestidae) has been the most detrimental predator to the birds of Jamaica. Rats (Rattus norvegicus) and pigs (Family Suidae) are among other known predators.

Known Predators:

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Known prey organisms

Progne dominicensis preys on:
Insecta

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Known predators

Progne dominicensis is prey of:
Herpestidae
Suidae
Rattus norvegicus

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Calling is the primary way members of this species communicate with one another. Caribbean martin calls are described as a "gurgling," a "liquid ‘chileet, chur-chur, chi-chi-chiwee’," or a "high twick-twick" sound.

Communication Channels: acoustic

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Life Cycle

Development

No information has been reported about the development/life cycles of the Caribbean Martins.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

No information has been reported about the lifespan of Progne dominicensis.

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Reproduction

We do not have information on mating systems for this species, however, most species in the Hirundinidae family are monogamous.

Caribbean martins build nests out of plant material such as tree twigs and leaves. Nests are found in cliff crevices, old woodpecker holes, palms and even telephone poles. Breeding usually occurs between February and August in the West Indies. Male and female Progne dominicensis, like most birds, copulate by bringing the male and female cloacal surfaces into contact. The male passes the sperm into the female while standing on top of her (Hickman et al., 2000). Females produce 2 to 6 white eggs (Raffaele et al., 1998). Incubation lasts 14 days, on average.

Breeding season: February through August

Range eggs per season: 2 to 6.

Average time to hatching: 14 days.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization

The young are altricial; they hatch without feathers and are extremely helpless and dependent at birth. They remain in the nest for at least a week. The offspring must be fed constantly.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; altricial ; pre-fertilization; pre-hatching/birth (Protecting); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning)

  • Sibley, D. 2001. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
  • Hickman, C., L. Roberts, A. Larson. 2000. Animal Diversity. USA: McGraw-Hill.
  • Raffaele, H., J. Wiley, O. Garrido, A. Keith, J. Raffaele. 1998. Birds of the West Indes. London, England: Christopher Helm Ltd.
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size has not been quantified, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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Habitat destruction is the single most important threat to all birds in the West Indies. In Jamaica, the number of coffee plantations has dramatically increased. Illegal drug harvesting also plays a role in the high deforestation rates. Although laws have been made to protect these lands, the enforcement of these laws is practically non-existent. The illegal bird trade also has a negative affect on the bird population. Although all Jamaican birds and their eggs are protected under the Wild Life Protection Act (1974) and all types of hunting, gaming, and domestication are strictly prohibited in the West Indies, many lawbreakers go unnoticed (Downer, 1990). Caribbean martins are also protected by the US MBTA.

Another recent threat, is an introduced nest parasite, shiny cowbirds (Molothrus bonariensis), which affect many land birds in Jamaica. (Rafaelle et al., 1998)

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population
The global population size has not been quantified, but this species is described as 'fairly common but patchily distributed' (Stotz et al. 1996).

Population Trend
Increasing
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of Caribbean martins on humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Caribbean martins and all of the birds that make up the Jamaican avifauna are extremely important to the island’s habitat and are also important to Jamaica’s tourism industry. Beautiful gardens and bird watching parks are great tourist attractions. Caribbean martins also help keep the insect population in control.

Positive Impacts: ecotourism ; controls pest population

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Wikipedia

Caribbean Martin

The Caribbean martin or white-bellied martin (Progne dominicensis) is a large swallow.

It breeds on Caribbean islands from Jamaica east to Tobago. It is closely related to two species to which it formerly was considered conspecific-P. sinaloae (Sinaloa martin) and P. cryptoleuca (Cuban martin). There are sight records from mainland Central and South America, and most birds appear to migrate to the South American mainland. A single bird was recorded in Key West, Florida, on May 9, 1895 (AOU 2000).

It has at various times been considered alternatively as a race of the purple martin, Progne subis.

Description[edit]

In Tobago

Adult Caribbean martins are 18.5 cm in length, with a forked tail and relatively broad wings, and weigh 40 g. Adult males are a glossy blue-black with contrasting white lower underparts. Females and juveniles are duller than the male, with grey-brown breast and flanks and white lower underparts.

Behaviour[edit]

The Caribbean martin nests in cavities in banks and buildings, or old woodpecker holes. 3-6 eggs are laid in the lined nest, and incubated for 15 days, with another 26-27 to fledging. Just as the purple martin, this species may compete with other passerines for nesting cavities. In particular, the main foe is the house sparrow [1] in urban areas, where they mostly use man-made structures, whereas in more rural locations Picidae holes in coconut trees are favored, and there is less competition with the sparrows.

Caribbean martins are gregarious birds which hunt for insects in flight. Their call is a gurgly chew-chew.

Flying in Tobago

References[edit]

  • American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) (2000): Forty-second supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 117(3): 847–858. DOI: 10.1642/0004-8038(2000)117[0847:FSSTTA]2.0.CO;2
  • ffrench, Richard; O'Neill, John Patton & Eckelberry, Don R. (1991): A guide to the birds of Trinidad and Tobago (2nd edition). Comstock Publishing, Ithaca, N.Y.. ISBN 0-8014-9792-2
  • Turner, Angela & Rose, Chris (1989): Swallows and martins: an identification guide and handbook. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-51174-7
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