Purple Martin Update

Posted on May 1, 2016
Volunteer Dennis Skillman at the newly installed Purple Martin gourd rack in Hampton. Photo by Warren Trested

Volunteer Dennis Skillman at the newly installed Purple Martin gourd rack in Hampton. Photo by Warren Trested

By Pam Hunt

This year could turn out to be a good year for Purple Martins in New Hampshire. Along the seacoast, the colony in Seabrook reached its maximum capacity in 2015, and we realized it was time to attempt to start a second colony nearby. Martin volunteers identified a handful of potential sites in Seabrook and Hampton, all of which were presumably close enough to the existing colony to attract overflow. We settled on a parcel of town-owned land along Island Path in Hampton, gave a presentation to the conservation commission, and eventually got permission from the Board of Selectmen to move forward with the project.

The new nest pole and gourds was installed in late April, and time will tell whether it attracts any birds. Martins have already shown up in Seabrook, so all our fingers are crossed!

Simultaneously with the early stages in Hampton, we learned of two additional projects in the Seacoast region that were initiated independently of NH Audubon. In Rye, homeowners at the north edge of Awcomin Marsh installed a gourd rack in late March. Although there is no recent history of martins in this area, the location looks good, and only time will tell if any take up residence there.

Meanwhile, on the shores of Great Bay, a volunteer took it upon himself to take down and repair four dilapidated martin houses at the Portsmouth Country Club in Greenland. He bought some new poles and in mid-April installed the houses back out on the course. I have high hopes for this location, since there was a small colony here in the early 2000s. Better yet, a single young male was present at one of the boxes in the summer of 2015, clearly indicating that birds can find the area. I won’t be surprised if the Portsmouth Country Club gets off to a good start in 2016.

Although most of the legwork for Purple Martin recovery on the Seacoast is performed by an extremely dedicated corps of volunteers, the gourds and poles still cost money. To this end, I started an “adopt a gourd” program for the seacoast effort this spring. For $25 dollars you can help us out by purchasing a gourd, with the money raised going towards the ongoing and future expansion of the Seabrook and (hopefully!) Hampton colonies. If we’re successful there, new sites may get added in 2017, and the seacoast Purple Martin population can continue to thrive. If interested in contributing, make checks payable to “NH Audubon” and put “Purple Martin Restoration” in the memo field.

Of the two inland colonies in the state, the largest and oldest is at the Funspot in Weirs Beach. That colony has declined significantly over the last decade, and only supported four pairs in 2015. In an attempt to help out martins in the Lakes Region, NH Audubon applied for and received a grant from the Pardoe Foundation, and these funds will be used for two parallel projects. For starters, we will work with the Funspot to erect a gourd rack to supplement the existing housing, and endeavor to keep it from being usurped by House Sparrows. At the same time, we will partner with the Prescott Farm Environmental Education Center to install a gourd rack there. Prescott Farm is only two miles from the Funspot, and our hope is that as the latter colony recovers there will be extra birds that could find the new site, and not have all our martins in one basket. Although it’s not likely martins will nest at Prescott Farm in the current season, the project will also allow for increased programming about birds at the center, and even grow natural gourds in its garden.

New volunteers for work on Purple Martins are always welcome, and interested parties can email me or call 224-9909 x328.