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 will be close to 100,000.
From late July and into early August, the Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society will host visitors at the roosting site to explain and share with them the amazing phenomenon of thousands of the birds swooping in over the sound at dusk.
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, enforced 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.
During this annual natural phenomenon, martins swarm the bridge in flocks so large they are seen by Doppler radar. The birds roost at the bridge to protect their newly fledged young and prepare for their journey to Brazil in late summer. The birds roost under the bridge at night, leave at sunrise to fly over the coastal plan to feed during the day, then return at sunset.
Abundant insects made available by the vast agricultural fields, national wildlife refuges and wetlands of North Carolina’s coastal plain support this large population of pre-migratory martins. They roost under the bridge (only along the western end) on its many support structures, I-beam girders, and cables. Finally, martins prefer to roost over water where there are fewer predators to contend with.
The Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society will conduct educational experiences at the west end of the bridge and aboard the Crystal Dawn headboat. Bridge talks will take place at sunset on July 23, July 30, Aug. 6, and Aug. 13. For more information, send e-mail to [email protected] or call 252-473-1493.
Sunset cruises aboard the Crystal Dawn are set for Thursdays and Saturdays: July 30, Aug. 1, Aug. 6 and Aug. 8. Tickets are $30 per person. The tour leaves from Pirates Cove Marina between Nags Head and Manteo at 6 p.m. and returns at approximately 9:30 p.m. Feel free to bring your own picnic. Cruises are subject to cancellation due to weather or low reservations. For tickets and more information, contact Crystal Dawn at 252-473-5577 or www.crystaldawnheadboat.com