↑ Return to Citizen Science Projects

Purple Martin Nest Box Project

Purple Martin Nest box study – Records of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) reveal documented nesting colonies of Purple Martins in Clallam County from the 1920s. There were small colonies under the eaves of the Sol Duc Hot Springs lodge and in the County Courthouse in Port Angeles as late as the 1930s. Since that time, introduction of non-native, cavity nesting birds, such as the European Starling and the House Sparrow, have taken many of the natural and human made cavities found over land sites and forced the Purple Martins to move their nests over water.

In the mid-1990s, Stuart Mac Robbie, OPAS board member, began a project to build and install Purple Martin nest boxes on the abandoned pilings in Dungeness Bay, located in front of the intersection of Sequim Dungeness Road and 3 Crabs Road. The birds had been observed nesting in cavities in the deteriorating wood pilings. Stuart and other volunteers decided to build and install better and safer boxes for the birds on the pilings. Initial boxes did not stand up to harsh weather conditions and had to be replaced. Volunteers built 4 simple boxes, and later replaced them with improved boxes designed for the Martins. Stan Kostka, who has been a leader in developing and monitoring Purple Martin nest colonies in Puget Sound, aided us on the project.

Purple Martins

Photo by Chris Perry

Each year since 2005, nest boxes are added and/or improved box designs replace older boxes. Monitoring the nest boxes usually begins in April and ends in August. Nest box replacement and monitoring must take place at extremely low, minus, tidal events to allow volunteers access across the sand flats of Dungeness Bay.

In July 2013 we had 16 nest boxes at the 3 Crabs site, and recorded nesting activity in each of them. We counted 47 eggs or chicks in mid-July, tended by at least 27 Adult birds. In August 2013, 31 adults and juveniles were later counted.

Recently, the WDFW acquired the property adjacent to the pilings and plan a major restoration of both the shoreline and adjacent wetlands. The acquisition and restoration derived from statewide programs to restore Salmon habitat and protect waters adjacent to the mouth of the Dungeness River. Included in the land acquisition is a program to remove the deteriorating pilings, which contain toxic creosote residue. OPAS is participating in the restoration project with the objective of retaining 10-12 pilings that sustain the Purple Martin colony. OPAS has also participated in discussions with WDFW and others to find ways to replace nest box support pilings with nontoxic alternatives either over water or over land.

In 2005, at the invitation of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, OPAS expanded our program to include installation of Purple Martin nest boxes on Protection Island located in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Protection Island (PI) is a National Wildlife Refuge, which has restrictions on nest box placement to a few onshore locations near the southeast marina area. In 2013 we had 5 nest boxes on the island and in July 2013, there was Martin nesting activity in 4 of them. In Aug 2013, while surveying seabird nesting colonies on the north side of PI, the Refuge biologist reported encouraging news that 2 Purple Martin nests, with young birds in them, were found in natural tree snag cavities.

The 3 Crabs and Protection Island Martin houses are single-unit wooden boxes arranged in clusters. Other areas in our region have been successful at attracting Purple Martins by providing clusters of gourds for nest building.

Each year, data from the OPAS Purple Martin nest box project is sent to, USFWS, WDFW, and to Stan Kostka who collects data for the Puget Sound/ Strait of Juan de Fuca.

For more information, please contact Ken Wiersema at wiersema@olympus.net.