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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.

Reinstalling our Purple Martin Colony   by Ken Wiersema (April 21, 2019)

Installing PUMA nest box
Photo by John Gussman

Those of you that have been to the 3 Crabs beach and tidelands since Easter will note that we’ve installed our redesigned Purple Martin (PUMA) nest boxes on the 3 steel pilings placed on the location of the nearly 200 creosote impregnated, timber pilings that were removed last October.  We’ve also installed some new boxes over the wetlands adjacent to the parking area. 

Several of our PUMA team have worked this winter to determine how to use the steel pilings and affix our new tubular boxes, so we could be ready for the PUMA to return and nesting this spring.  We knew that our old wooden boxes were too heavy and bulky to fit the new pilings and we’d have a riskier setup for our team to install, maintain, and monitor. 

Designing as we went, and spending some uncomfortable days in my unheated shop, we produced 18 new boxes and the installation equipment needed to hang them. We had help from Geoff McClain, the WSDOT regional sign foreman, who told us the equipment and supplies we’d need to put flat boards on round steel posts.  And Paul Tucker, owner of Independent Plumbing, who lent us eight feet of 8” diameter plastic drain pipe to perfect our design and practice installation.  We also thank the North Olympic Salmon Coalition for purchasing the tools and materials we used to hang our boxes.

We had a superb dedicated OPAS team: Dow Lambert and Dan Wilson did much of the box cutting and assembling of boxes and became the climbing team who strapped the boxes on the pilings from ladders 14ft above the tideflats.  Laura Davis neatly painted the markings on the tubes and along with Alan Smith, Gary Bullock, and Bob Boekelheide formed the “Sherpa” team that hauled the equipment & tools out and handed it up the ladders.  Chris Perry and John Gussman came along to do the photo documentation of the project.  

Returning tenants
Photo by Chris Perry

The most rewarding part of our installation day occurred 5 minutes after we hung the 1st six boxes and moved to the next pilings — 4 Martins showed up, sang to us a bit, and perched on the new boxes.   We can’t quite claim “mission accomplished” but we appear to be on a success path.  Many thanks to our team and those that helped us along the way…



2018 Purple Martin Report

By Ken Wiersema

3 Crabs PUMA Nest Boxes
Photo by Ken Wiersema

Evidence supports that our work to establish a sustainable Purple Martin colony in proximity to the 3 Crabs restoration site is succeeding. This year we repaired and re-marked eighteen nest boxes to install on the 3 Crabs pilings, and another six boxes for the sites on Protection Island NWR. At the end of June, we erected four new boxes next to the tidal lagoons adjacent to the pilings. These boxes were over land rather than over water, as were our boxes on the pilings. We had successful nests in every box but one of the last ones installed.   

Inland boxes Photo by Ken Wiersema

On our August 10 field trip to the pilings, we counted 46 adult birds in and around the boxes on the pilings and another seven birds on the overland boxes. This was before we noted this year’s chicks fledge from the boxes. On August 28, Bob Boekelheide counted 70 Martins around the 3 Crabs parking area and on the wires overhead. This count included both adult birds and this year’s fledglings. This is the highest count of Martins recorded in Clallam County.  

Wallace Teal, who lives at Diamond Point, reported that he had three successful nests in his yard this year, and Anita McMillan had a successful Martin nest in a box we installed on her property at the mouth of Morse Creek. Additionally, both Michael Barry and Gary Bullock reported Martin sightings over and around their yards. Purple Martins were seen for the first time on an August Wednesday morning bird walk at the Audubon Center. 

We know that these birds prefer to nest and feed in proximity to fresh water, but they also will forage for food 15 to 20 miles away from their nests. With the surge in population we had this year, we expect that birds returning next May will be searching for nest cavities. We need to be vigilant watchers for where we might usefully install new nest boxes, or increase the number of boxes we have at existing sites.  

Many thanks to the dedicated team of OPAS volunteers who have built boxes, performed nest checks, and recorded data. The current team includes: Dow Lambert, Gary Bullock, Bob Phreaner, Bob Boekelheide, Laura Davis, Alan Smith, and Carl Sever.  

Dow Lambert has a series of photos on his web site at, that document his last box check on 12 Aug.



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

Male and female Purple Martins Photo by Chris Perry

Each year since 2005, nest boxes are added and/or improved box designs replace older boxes. Monitorin 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 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