In 2005 Menunkatuck Audubon Society began a program of monitoring the two Purple Martin colonies at Hammonasset Beach State Park, one at Chase Pond (Swan Pond) and one near the Meigs Point Nature Center. We started by replacing two decrepit fixed-height martin houses with four that could be lowered to inspect the nesting compartments.
As we learned lessons from the monitoring, new techniques were employed to compensate for the condition which occurs when one or more of the chicks is significantly smaller than its nest mates. For example, if six eggs are laid over the course of six days, many times not every egg will hatch on the same day. This is known as asynchronous hatching.
As with most behaviors there are both advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that if adverse weather were to occur during the time the eggs are hatching or brooding, some of the chicks may perish while others are still protected within the egg. The disadvantage is that the last chick to hatch can be at a serious disadvantage when it comes to competing for food with nest mates that are one or more days older. In the most extreme examples of varying development within a brood of chicks, some chicks are transferred to a different nest cavity with chicks that more closely matched their weight as a temporary foster home.
Depending on their rate of growth, sometimes the adopted chicks are returned to their original nest mates or other times they would stay with their foster family. Fortunately, Purple Martins don’t seem to be bothered by one more hungry mouth to feed for newly introduced chicks.
Using this new technique, we are able to decrease the number of martins that would have certainly died during the nestling phase for no other reason than they were in the last egg that hatched and were not able to compete with their older nest mates. This results in an increase in the overall number of martins that fledge.
Each July DEEP wildlife biologists spend a morning banding the chicks with silver federal numbered bands and with state bands color-coded to the martin colony.
As the number of nesting martins increased we added a third martin house at each colony, at Chase Pond in 2013 and at the Nature Center in 2014. In 2015 a fourth house is being relocated and installed at Chase Pond.
Hammonasset Purple Martin House Locations
Hammonasset Purple Martin Nesting Results
In 2009 Menunkatuck received an Audubon Collaborative Grant to install a Purple Martin house at the Guilford Salt Meadow Sanctuary. After four seasons with no martins using the house, we decided to try a new tactic. With the help of other grants we installed a solar-powered sound system that plays Purple Martin songs. With the sound system playing we had several Purple Martins fly over and a few stopped and inspected the house, however there were still no martins nesting.
In 2015 we will try another strategy. DEEP wildlife biologists suggest that gourd-style houses are seem to be better at attracting Purple Martins to a start a new colony. We are moving the Sanctuary house to Chase Pond and replacing it with gourds. We hope that the combination of gourds and the sound system will attract some martins to finally start a colony at the Sanctuary.