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Roosting at Manns Harbor

  • When the young are strong enough, the adults accompany them to the roost at the Manns Harbor Bridge.

  • People in this area have seen Purple Martins roosting at this bridge for more than 50 years. The bridge opened in 1955 and probably attracted the birds soon after it was built. The I-beam construction underneath the bridge makes a comfortable ledge where the parents and their young can sit at night, well removed from snakes, owls, vehicles and other predators.

  • Historically, the roost is active from late June through mid-September, but peak time is mid-July through mid-August. Families of martins from as far away as 150 miles come to this roost. There are similar, though smaller roosts at the Neuse River Bridge near New Bern and the bridge to Chincoteague Island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

  • Since 2020, the martin population at the roost has been sharply diminished. We are studying why this has happened. Before then, we counted about 100,000 birds at the height of the roosting period. We counted them by paddling underneath the bridge and looking up to see the birds sitting shoulder to shoulder. Early arrivals begin at the west end and later ones continue settling in, going east up the bridge. We counted the number of birds between each span and multiplied by the number of active spans.

  • Martins leave the roost in huge numbers at daybreak, and during the day, they enjoy flying and feeding in the abundant open land nearby – the wildlife refuges, wetlands and fields. They return at sunset to provide the spectacular Purple Martin Majesty that we see here.

  • A family will occupy the roost for a few weeks. During that time, they build up energy stores and strength.

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