Can Purple Martin Birds Build Their Own Nest? How YOU Can Help!

They travel over 5,000 miles a year, but can purple martin birds build their own nest?

Purple martins are the largest swallows in North America and we are preparing for their arrival here at the Orlando Science Center. Martins spend the winter and fall in Brazil but, like many of our tourists, they make their way to Orlando every spring! The martin families spend their time in the states raising their young and gobbling up their favorite foods – dragonflies, wasps and bees!

You could almost call them people martins because they depend entirely on human-made nests to raise their chicks. Can purple martin birds build their own nest? For several hundred years, humans have provided hollow gourds and other birdhouses for purple martins. The martins have adapted to this practice, so they can not build their own nests or steal nests from other birds. Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment department has built a specialized martin house for us at the Science Center. Our high-rise, waterfront condo features 22 different nests for new martin parents to raise their young (and it’s already furnished!) Our house is located in Loch Haven Park, just outside the 4Roots Cafe.

After just a few short weeks, we have already noticed purple martins using the house and hope to see them nest next season which will encourage them to return each year.

Several days a week, members of our NatureWorks team lower our purple martin house to make sure it is in tip-top shape for potential martin parents. They observe every nest compartment, record what they see, and send the information to scientists who are working to preserve purple martin populations.

The purple martin population in Florida declined about 50% from 1995 to 2015 due to loss of habitat and decreased insect populations.

a group of kids looking a a purple martin nest at orlando science center

Purple martin birds can not build their own nests, but the good news is that we can all help these beneficial birds in our very own yards! By adding native plants to your yard, patio, school, or business, you can provide a much-needed rest stop for martins on their 5,000 mile journey. The martins will also appreciate the buffet of native insects living in your garden!

Enter your ZIP code HERE  to find local nurseries and websites where you can get native plants for your home or community garden. To learn more about our house and help us create the perfect home for baby birds, visit the NatureWorks exhibit and join us for a Purple Martin Tour or read more about purple martins!

This project was made possible with support from Disney Conservation.


Zoo Awareness Month: How Modern Zoos Contribute to Conservation and Research

Bringing Zoo Awareness from the Past to the Present

June is Zoo and Aquariums Awareness month! Let’s take a look at the history of the first animal collections, where the modern zoo or aquarium is today, and why animals are kept in human care.

The earliest record of an animal collection was Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s collection in Egypt. It was common in ancient times for rulers across the world to give exotic animals, as gifts. For the most part, little effort went into the well-being of the animals. Slowly, information about how to care for these animals spread, and eventually exotic animal trainers and the first zookeepers began to emerge.

In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, zoological gardens became more and more popular. Zoological gardens are any collection of animals that are kept for public viewing. Zoology developed into a field of science, and private collections slowly began to fade from popularity. The donations and ticket sales at zoological gardens partially funded the scientific research on the animal’s behavior, anatomy, breeding, and nutrition. In the United States, national parks were formed and laws were passed to preserve these natural areas.

A Look into the Modern Zoo

Not all Zoos and Aquariums are equal. Even though many scientific and technological advancements have helped the zoology field grow as a whole. There are millions of zoos worldwide, but there are many differences between them.

In fact, not even all animal collections are the same. Let’s look at some of the most common kinds of animal collections and zoological gardens there are.

  • Private Zoo – owned by an individual or organization, is open to the public usually by reservation only
  • Private Zoo (breeding facility) – owned by an organization or individual, the animals in this collection are bred for Species Survival Plans or for animals to go to other zoological facilities. May or may not be open to the public
  • For-profit Zoo – large or small, a zoo that is open to the public and profit comes from tickets sales, events, or outreach programs
  • Non-for-profit Zoo – has programs in place to benefit the animals, the community, and education, does not earn profit from ticket sales or outreach programs, receives local and federal funding
  • Exotic Animal Sanctuary – owned by an individual or organization, does not buy or breed animals, only receives animals that cannot go to zoos or be released out in nature for medical or behavioral reasons
  • Private animal collection – an animal collection that is not open to the public, is up to the individual whether animals breed or what animals are bought, is for personal fulfillment not educating the public or contributing to conservation efforts

There are many advisory boards and accreditation associations in the United States, and globally that oversee how zoos and aquariums are maintained, and help ensure that animals in these facilities are treated humanely. 

OSC is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to science learning for life, and we’re lucky to be a science learning center with live animals. Our animal ambassadors help people learn about nature and wildlife and hopefully inspire people to make small changes in their life that will have huge positive impacts on natural habitats. The variety of animals at the science center helps people see the issues some animals encounter in the wild like deforestation, poaching, and pollution.


The next time you visit the Orlando Science Center, or any animal facility, ask the staff members and volunteers questions. Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • How is the animal exhibit similar to the natural habitat of this species?
  • Does this animal have a favorite food?
  • What conservation efforts is the zoo involved in?
  • What is animal enrichment?
  • What are some threats facing this animal in the wild?
Zoo Awareness- an old zoo

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10 Ribbiting Facts About Frogs

March 20th is World Frog Day!

Did you know our NatureWorks exhibit is home to several different species of frogs? For instance, Frogzilla (pictured above), an invasive Cuban Tree Frog is just one of many frogs you can meet and learn about in NatureWorks. 


In celebration of these hoppy creatures, here are 10 ribbiting facts about frogs! 


  1. American Bullfrogs can leap up to six feet!
  2. In the wild, a Poison dart frog’s toxin is created from their diet.
  3. Smokey jungle frogs can make a variety of different calls depending on their mood. They make a melodic sound when courting, but when threatened they will make a loud scream to distract predators.
  4. Unlike many species of frogs, Lemur frogs can bask in the sun for extended periods without drying out.
  5. Amazon milk frogs are named for the poisonous, milky-white fluid that they secret when threatened.
  6. Though the Golden poison dart frog is deadly if eaten, its natural predator, the Fire-bellied snake, has developed a resistance to the frog’s poison.
  7. Despite their name, Canyon tree frogs prefer to perch on boulders and rocks close to water rather than trees.
  8. American bullfrogs are the largest of all North American frogs. They can grow to be eight inches long and can weigh up to one and a half pounds.
  9. Lemur frogs can change color! When they are active, mostly at night, their upper parts turn brown. When they are resting, they turn green to blend in with the leaves that they sleep on.
  10. Milk frogs are some of the best climbers in the Amazon. They use their specially adapted toe pads to cling to branches.


Be sure to stop by and say hello to Frogzilla and all the other wonderful creatures that live in NatureWorks on your next visit to Orlando Science Center!