- August 8, 2013

Purple Martin Roost at Highland Mall

Editor’s note: This post is from 2013. For details on the 2014 roost, head over here. This year, the best spot for watching the purple martins is the Jack in the Box parking lot, across from Highland Mall.

I am going to be perfectly honest with you. I am not much of a bird lady. I mean, yes, I appreciate the fancy peacocks with their gorgeous plumage, and I am tickled by talking parrots who entertain me with their words. But my day to day interactions with grackles and pigeons have left me fairly lazy about exploring the world of birds.

However, my oldest son, age 7, has always loved birds, and is surely a future member of the Audubon Society. He has been an avid feather collector since his toddler years. He can identify different types of birds on our walks. And his enthusiasm has made me more aware of the curiosities and beauty of these winged creatures.

So, I have heard several times over the summer that I should really take my son to see the purple martins over at Highland Mall. And when we finally made it this week, we were so very impressed! The purple martins were fascinating and had me wanting to learn more.

According to the Central Texas Birding website, purple martins have been roosting at Highland Mall since the early 1970s as part of their migration south. Tens of thousands of purple martins can be seen nightly at dusk in July through mid-August at this location.

After putting my three-year-old to bed in the care of my husband, I quietly sneaked out of the house with my five and seven year-old sons promising them an exciting adventure. We arrived in the north parking lot of Highland Mall (facing the Wells Fargo building) around 8:00 p.m. with sunset scheduled for 8:20 p.m. There were about 40 cars in the lot. Families, couples, and groups of birding enthusiasts were all waiting outside of their cars for the big “show”. Some folks had brought chairs, some blankets, some snacks, but almost all had on hats. (Yes, the fear of being hit with bird poop made this all the more exciting to my boys.)


The birds began to swirl and swarm slowly above us, and then more and more (and more!) birds arrived and dived and dipped, and they did such an amazing dance in the sky. My oldest described it as a “tornado” of birds as they began to roost and settle into the oak trees in the parking lot. My youngest was astonished by the buzzing frenzy of the birds and the noise that they were making. He compared it to a car race. They both kept shouting out excited phrases, noting how cool the experience was to watch.

Of course here in Austin, we love our bats. But the purple martins have won me over, and they were, quite frankly, so much more convenient to see. (Plenty of parking, less crowds, closer to my home, etc.)

For more info about purple martins, you can visit the Purple Martin Conservation Association

At dusk nightly (approximately 8 p.m.) until migration in mid-August

Highland Mall (north parking lot)
6001 Airport Blvd
Austin, TX 78752

If you cannot see the above video clip of the purple martins, please visit the original post

Freelance web producer and childcare provider, Heidi Okla is mom to three boys (ages 3, 5, and 7), and can’t pass up any opportunity for fun family adventures. Browse her literacy-focused kids activities on her blog, Read ‘Em and Leap.