21/09/2005
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Purple Martin Admitted to Category A of the British List

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A Press Release from the British Ornithologists' Union Records Committee and British Birds Rarities Committee.

Purple Martin Progne subis: Juvenile, Butt of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, 5th-6th September 2004

Admitted to Category A of the British List.

The British Ornithologists' Union Records Committee (BOURC) has admitted Purple Martin Progne subis to Category A of the British List following the occurrence of a juvenile at Butt of Lewis, Outer Hebrides on 5th-6t September 2004 (sight record, photographed).

Purple Martin: Butt of Lewis, Outer Hebrides. (Photo: Martin Scott) Purple Martin: Butt of Lewis, Outer Hebrides. (Photo: Martin Scott)

This individual was followed by a record of a single bird from Flores, Azores on 6 September. These records were associated with a vigorous weather system resulting in a strong westerly airstream across the Atlantic.

This North American species is a long distance migrant, breeding throughout most of the United States and southern Canada. It winters in eastern South America as far south as Argentina. They are early autumn migrants, moving south by late August and are unknown in captivity.

Although these records probably relate to the nominate race which breeds widely throughout eastern North America, racial identification is not possible from the descriptions and photographs available.

These are the only Western Palearctic records. The only extralimital records prior to these had been from the Pribolof Islands, Alaska, and north of the breeding range in Canada.

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There are at least four rejected Western Palearctic claims from the 19th Century:

  • 1839/1840 Dublin, Kingstown, obtained, no date, now at Museum of Science and Art, Dublin.
  • 1842 Greater London, Brent Reservoir, Middlesex, killed, September, now at Booth Museum, Brighton.
  • 1854 Yorkshire, West Colne Bridge, near Huddersfield, no date.
  • 1878 Essex, Colchester, 26th September.

Two other species of North American hirundine have occurred in the Western Palearctic - Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor and Cliff Swallow Hirundo pyrrhonota.

Eric Meek, Chairman of BOURC commented "'Long-hailed as a potential addition to the British List, the finding of the Purple Martin at the Butt of Lewis must rank as one of the outstanding birding moments of recent years. The Butt of Lewis is not exactly the easiest place in Britain to access but, nevertheless, a respectable number of birders did make a successful journey before the bird moved on.

The quality of the descriptions and photographs left no doubt as to the bird's identity and Neotropical congeners such as Southern Martin P. elegans (which has been recorded once in Florida), Caribbean Martin P. dominicensis, Cuban Martin P. (d.) cryptoleuca and Grey-breasted Martin P. chalybea could all be ruled out.

With no evidence of the species ever being kept in captivity, BOURC were unanimous in accepting Purple Martin onto Category A of the British List."

The British List now stands at 571 species - (Category A = 549; Category B = 12; Category C = 10).

Written by: BOURC/BBRC