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16 Jul 2021
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The purple martins are back. All 100,000 or so them roosting under the William Umstead Bridge on the north end of Roanoke Island. 

The William Umstead Bridge is the old US 64 bridge to Mann’s Harbor on the mainland.

The purple martins return every year in the summer, migrating from Brazil. A colonial bird, meaning they gather in colonies, the bridge is the ideal habitat for them.

The bridge has become their nesting area, a place to raise their chicks and return to roost and rest at night. 

Early morning, when they leave, it in a spectacular sight as upwards to 100,000 disperse over a very short period of time. 

At night the process is reversed, although the arrival of the birds is spread out over half an hour to 45 minutes. 

One very important adjustment that is made to accommodate the Martins is the speed limit on the bridge is lowered to 20mph. It’s important to observe that speed limit. As soon as NCDOT put the speed restriction into place a number of years ago, the number of birds killed by collisions with cars plummeted. 

Purple martins are are extraordinarily fast, acrobatic flyers. They typically fly between 100-150’ above the surface, but when they want a drink, they swoop down to the water surface, barely skimming the water, grab a quick drink, then hurdle themselves into the air again. 

Well known for their prowess at hunting and consuming insects, the native Americans were the first to create homes for them by hollowing out gourds. That tradition continues,although now the gourds have become mini houses..

The hope is the martins will eat so many insects that mosquitoes will not invade the backyard. A nice thought, but unfortunately martins flyer higher than mosquitos commonly go. They do eat some mosquitos, but it’s doubtful if they eat enough to make a difference. 

There is so much to learn, see and do on the Outer Banks that one week is never enough. Start planning your next visit with Brindley Beach Vacations.