Published on August 25, 2022

Purple Martins Fledge Young Despite Challenging Cape Weather

Purple Martin fledgling-2022_JBragger_reduced

With a steady soundtrack of enchanting twitters and chirps, Purple Martin colonies always seem like cheerful places. The focused activity around the gourd racks as the birds go about the business of their breeding season is a big draw to sanctuary visitors who enjoy the chance to observe bird life at relatively close range.

But Purple Martins, like so many nesting birds, are always dealing with threats as they try to raise their broods. For martins, it’s usually weather extremes. Purple Martins, which are the largest swallow in North America, depend on flying insects for food. If it’s too cool or too wet—as is often the case on Cape Cod in spring—bugs aren’t flying and martins can starve if the bad weather lasts for more than a couple of days.

At the other extreme, this summer’s heat wave and drought could have been tough on young, flightless birds. But, happily, the martins at both colonies prevailed.

The Good News

Wellfleet Bay’s birds fledged 64 chicks, down 7 from last year. Long Pasture’s colony fledged 38 birds, a bit lower than last year and a more sizable drop compared to 2020 and 2019 when the colony produced 81 and 90 fledglings, respectively. A chilly, drizzly period in May resulted in adult losses and fewer nests.

Buoying our spirits was news from the Falmouth Country Club where the Falmouth 300 Committee Land Trust martin colony included a male Purple Martin banded at Wellfleet Bay in 2020 as a chick! It’s gratifying to know our colonies are contributing to the breeding population.


If you’d like to help us monitor bird nest boxes next year, we’re looking for some volunteers. For the Wellfleet Bay nest boxes, contact Science Coordinator Mark Faherty. To help monitor nest boxes at Long Pasture and Ashumet Holly (in East Falmouth), please contact Property Manager Chris Walz.