Progne dominicensisCaribbean martin

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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. (Flieg and Sander, 2000)

Habitat

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. (Nature Serve, 2003; Raffaele, et al., 1998)

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. (Downer, 1990; Raffaele, et al., 1998)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range length
    17 to 20 cm
    6.69 to 7.87 in

Development

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

Reproduction

We do not have information on mating systems for this species, however, most species in the Hirundinidae family are monogamous. (Sibley, 2001)

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. (Hickman, et al., 2000; Raffaele, et al., 1998)

  • Breeding season
    February through August
  • Range eggs per season
    2 to 6
  • Average time to hatching
    14 days

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. (Hickman, et al., 2000)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning

Lifespan/Longevity

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

Behavior

Progne dominicensis are said to migrate longitudinally. After spending the winter months in South America they migrate to the West Indies in the spring. This pattern seems to be directly related to the breeding season (Downer, 1990). They are very social birds, and are often seen flying in groups or perched on telephone wires (Raffaele et al., 1998). (Downer, 1990; Raffaele, et al., 1998)

Home Range

We do not have information on home range for this species at this time.

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. (Downer, 1990; Raffaele, et al., 1998)

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. (Flieg and Sander, 2000)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects

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. (Raffaele, et al., 1998)

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. (Jamaica Sustainable Development Networking Programme, 2001)

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. (Downer, 1990)

  • Positive Impacts
  • ecotourism
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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

Conservation Status

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) (Downer, 1990; Raffaele, et al., 1998)

Contributors

Alaine Camfield (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Sheema Rabbaig (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Kerry Yurewicz (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

coastal

the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

ecotourism

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

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

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

Hickman, C., L. Roberts, A. Larson. 2000. Animal Diversity. USA: McGraw-Hill.

Jamaica Sustainable Development Networking Programme, 2001. "Jamaican Birds" (On-line). Accessed 02/06/04 at http://www.jsdnp.org.jm/jabirds2.htm.

Marler, P., C. Evans. 1996. Bird Calls: Just Emotional displays or something more?. Ibis, 138 (1): 26-33.

Nature Serve, 2003. "Nature Serve" (On-line). Accessed February 11, 2004 at http://www.natureserve.org/infonatura/.

Raffaele, H., J. Wiley, O. Garrido, A. Keith, J. Raffaele. 1998. Birds of the West Indes. London, England: Christopher Helm Ltd.

Sibley, D. 2001. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.