Purple Martin house at Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary in Corolla.

Purple Martin house at Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary in Corolla.

The Purple martin have once again taken over the old US 64 bridge on the north end of Roanoke Island. That’s the William B. Umstead Bridge.

The bridge is still open for traffic, but the in what is an annual occurrence, NCDOT has reduced the speed across the bridge to 20mph.

The lower speed limit is a necessity.

The Purple Martin is a colonial bird, meaning it gathers together in a large colony during breeding and nesting season. For some reason, the purple martin has decided the Umstead Bridge is an ideal place to raise its chicks and every year a few hundred thousand come home to roost.

The adult birds get all of their food in flight, which means they spend almost the entire day in the air eating insects—that includes mosquitos, biting flies and insect pests of every kind.

The Purple Martin in Flight

They are spectacular in flight. Remarkably quick and agile, when returning to their nests, they will often tuck their wings in and dive, bringing their wings out to break their momentum at the last moment.

They leave en masse a little after dawn and return in the same way just before sunset. In the case of the Umstead Bridge, there are so many leaving and returning at one time, that the mass of them registers on radar.

Although the bridge seems to be an ideal home for the martins, from time immemorial, humans have been providing them with homes.

It’s very common to see purple martin homes in backyards, perched on top of a long pole with multiple “windows” for the birds to enter or leave.

Before European nations came to the New World, Native Americans constructed purple marlin homes out of dried gourds.

There is a parking area and a small park just before the bridge that would be a perfect place to witness the martins leaving or returning.

There are so many surprises on the Outer Banks that one visit is never enough. The offseason is the ideal time to explore life on a sandbar, and a Brindley Beach Vacations home is the perfect place to stay. Learn more about the local attractions this beautiful city has to offer!