Conservation News

Good News for Purple Martins

By Pam Hunt

Volunteers raising the martin gourds at Prescott Farm. Photo by Pam Hunt.

Volunteers raising the martin gourds at Prescott Farm. Photo by Pam Hunt.

2016 is proving to be an excellent year for Purple Martins in New Hampshire. Long-term followers of recovery efforts for this species may recall that the state population had dropped to fewer than a dozen pairs across three colonies by 2013. The following year we installed new and improved housing at the Seabrook site, and by 2015 that colony had grown to 13 pairs. Segue to 2016, when several things seemed to happen all at once.

It started with the installation of a second gourd rack in Hampton, about a mile north of the Seabrook colony. The idea here was that the new site would serve as overflow and prevent us from having all our eggs in one basket, as it were. At roughly the same time, a volunteer took it upon himself to improve the martin housing at the Portsmouth Country Club in Greenland, where martins last nested in 2003. He fixed up the four old boxes and installed new poles to allow for active management. Finally, a private landowner in Rye was inspired to set up a gourd rack at Awcomin Marsh in late April.

And the results? As of late June, we had 12 nests with eggs in Seabrook, one in Hampton, 1-2 pairs in Rye, and birds have shown initial interest in Greenland. By the end of June we should have a pretty good idea of what’s happening along the coast, but there’s a reasonable chance we’ll have grown from one to four colonies in a single year. With that sort of success the sky’s the limit, and who knows where the next set of plastic gourds will sprout in 2017! (We have ideas…)

Meanwhile, the two remaining colonies in the Lakes Region were barely holding their own. Most distressing was the decline at the Funspot in Weirs Beach, which dropped from 15-20 pairs in the late 1990s to 3-4 pairs since 2015. Hoping to replicate the success along the Seacoast, we applied for and received a grant from the Samuel P. Pardoe Foundation to support martin recovery in Laconia. This project has two components, the most important of which is to increase the size of the Funspot colony.

Purple Martin nest at Hampton. Photo by Warren Trested.

Purple Martin nest at Hampton. Photo by Warren Trested.

Discussions are beginning with the Funspot, to install a gourd rack at the site which would allow us to better monitor the martins as well as control their main competitors: starlings and House Sparrows. Hopefully we’ll have something in place later this summer so the local birds become familiar with it and perhaps use it next spring. At the same time, NH Audubon is partnering with the Prescott Farm Environmental Education Center – two miles south of the Funspot – in an attempt to start a second local colony. In early June we erected a gourd rack at the farm, and are now sitting back to see what happens. It may take a couple of years for this new site to be used, since the Funspot colony needs to grow a little larger first, but we have high hopes that with a little patience and perseverance the Lakes Region population will turn the corner and start increasing as well.