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Thousands of Purple Martins Return to Roost

Purple martins are returning this month to their roost at the west end of the old Manns Harbor bridge. Photo: Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society

DARE COUNTY — Close to 100,00 purple martins are expected to return to their roost at the west end of the William B. Umstead Bridge, also known as the Old Manns Harbor Bridge, by the end of this month.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation activates flashing lights during roosting season. A further precaution to ensure the safety of both the birds and travelers is a speed limit reduction to 20 mph at sunrise and sunset on the west end of the bridge, which is monitored by law enforcement.

To avoid the bridge during these times, the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge is an alternative route between Manns Harbor and Roanoke Island.

Every year, martins swarm the bridge in flocks so large they are seen by Doppler radar, according to the Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society. Martins who have raised their young during the spring in colonies managed by humans visit Manns Harbor from as far away as 150 miles.

The birds roost at the bridge to protect their newly fledged young as they prepare for migrating to Brazil in late summer. After roosting overnight under the bridge, the birds leave at sunrise to feed during the day and return at sunset.

The Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society will hold at sunset July 26July 28Aug. 2 and Aug. 4 bridge talks at the west end of the bridge and aboard the Crystal Dawn headboat. The sunset cruises leave from Pirates Cove Marina between Nags Head and Manteo at 7 p.m. and returns around 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 per person.

For more information, email purplemartinroost@gmail.com, call 252-473-1493 or visit the Facebook page.

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The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.