The Return of the Purple Martin

Brennan '22 in 2018 cleaning out a nesting box at the site of one of the two original Purple Martin colonies. 

In 2006, Marvelwood started monitoring a colony of Purple Martins near campus.  At that time, there were just two known colonies in our area.  The Purple Martin Conservation Association was concerned about the decline of martins, especially among inland populations.  Marvelwood partnered with the Kent Land Trust to build houses in several strategic places near the original colonies, including our mountain-top campus and along Lake Waramaug.

Students have been instrumental in these efforts.  During the school year, students on the 'Bird Crew' community service group construct and repair nesting boxes for colonies throughout the area.  An interesting fact about Purple Martins is that they depend on man-made structures for nesting in certain areas of the country, including the northeast.  During nesting season in late spring and early summer, students volunteer their time to assist with monitoring nesting boxes and banding the nestlings, which is an increasingly huge undertaking: as of this year, a total of nine colonies are being monitored.  After banding just 20 nestlings in 2006–many of which returned to the new colonies to breed–over 300 nestlings were banded in 2019.  

During the spring and summer of 2020, student involvement was limited due to COVID guidelines, which left Science Department Chair Laurie Doss with a lot more to do on her own.  Brennan '22 and Sebastian '24 helped out as much as they could, with strict protocols in place for banding and data collection.  (continue reading below)

Science Department Chair Laurie Doss, Brennan '22, and Sebastian '24 took extra precautions while monitoring and collecting data during the 2020 nesting season due to the pandemic.

During the 2020-2021 school year, the Bird Crew made trays for the nesting boxes, which help insulate the nests, as well as make for an easier clean-up and nest management.  Commercially bought, the trays cost $13+ each, but the Bird Crew used recycled materials and donated wood from Northwest Lumber of Cornwall Bridge to make 150 trays.  The trays were installed in early April in preparation for nesting season.  (continue reading below)

Nesting tray construction and installation by the Community Service Bird Crew

In celebration of the annual Connecticut Trail Days on June 6, 2021, Marvelwood and the Kent Land Trust hosted Muffins & Martins.  Participants had the opportunity to learn more about Purple Martins and conservation efforts to help this extraordinary species.  Laurie Doss, a board member of both the Kent Land Trust and Purple Martin Conservation Association, led the event with assistance from Ashley ‘24, Brennan ‘22, and Maddie ‘21, all of whom are active in Marvelwood’s Ornithology program.  One of the highlights of the event was a story walk featuring ‘The Day I Met a Martin', a book written and illustrated by Maddie '21 and Lily ‘21 as part of an independent project for their Environmental Science class.  Marvelwood is proud to partner with organizations to foster an understanding of and involvement in conservation efforts.

CT Trail Days, featuring a Storywalk with the book 'The Day I Met a Martin'.

Cool Fact from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: 

  • The Purple Martin not only gets all its food in flight, it gets all its water that way too. It skims the surface of a pond and scoops up the water with its lower bill.

Learn more about these fascinating birds and how to bring them to your own backyard.