Purple martins return to roost

Published 6:19 am Saturday, July 13, 2019

Purple martins are beginning to return to their roost at the west end of the old Manns Harbor bridge. By the end of July, the number of birds at the site is expected to be close to 100,000.

During the roosting season, N.C. Department of Transportation activates flashing lights and a 20-mph speed limit on the west end of the bridge at sunrise and sunset. The reduced speed limit, monitored by law enforcement, allows safe travel for both motorists and birds.

The newer Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge is an alternative route between Manns Harbor and Roanoke Island during the hours the birds are active.

purple martins

Courtesy Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society

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During this annual natural phenomenon, martins swarm the bridge in flocks so large they are seen by Doppler radar. Martins who have raised their young during the spring in colonies managed by humans come here from as far away as 150 miles. The birds roost at the bridge to protect their newly fledged young as they prepare for migrating to Brazil in late summer.

After roosting overnight under the bridge, the birds leave at sunrise to fly over the coastal plain to feed during the day, then they return at sunset. The flying insects that comprise their diet roam in abundance among the farmland and nature preserves of northeastern North Carolina, supplying energy that the birds store to help propel them to wintering grounds in Brazil beginning in early August.

The Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society will conduct educational experiences at the west end of the Umstead bridge and aboard the Crystal Dawn headboat. Bridge talks will take place at sunset Thursdays and Saturdays on August 1, 3, 8 and 10. For more information, visit purplemartinroost.com, send email to purplemartinroost@gmail.com, or visit Manns Harbor Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society on Facebook.

Sunset cruises aboard the Crystal Dawn are set for Thursdays and Saturdays on August 1, 3, 8 and 10. Tickets are $30 per person. The tour leaves from Pirate’s Cove Marina between Nags Head and Manteo at 7 p.m. and returns at about 9:30 p.m. Feel free to bring binoculars and your own picnic. If cancelled for weather or low reservations, tickets are refunded. For tickets and more information, contact Crystal Dawn at 252-473-5577 or crystaldawnheadboat.com.



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