This year, the western purple martins arrived in Washington a little later than usual because of our cool, wet spring, but luckily it was just in time for high school students to start their monitoring projects. Scientists believe that the late arrival of these little purple birds was due to the lack of insects. Once it started warming up, insects started flying and purple martins arrived.
For three years in a row, Capitol High School students in Olympia have monitored declining numbers of the western purple martin. Most of the students’ work happens independently in the late spring and early summer of their junior year. The students meet with a biologist in the field and learn how to observe purple martins and record data. The data they collect helps us understand purple martin nesting behaviors and assists in keeping the birds a common sight in the Puget Sound region.
One student, Chris Privette, stated, “After the first meeting and not seeing a single bird, I began to feel a little disappointed, but as my team met later in the spring, we started seeing more and more martins and it actually became fun.”
DNR considers the purple martins at Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA) to be an important species for protection. The students’ data on the colony of martins at the NRCA has already helped DNR make important management decisions in 2009 about restoration projects at the site. As restoration begins, the NRCA will retain some of the purple martin boxes in order to have continued overwater nesting habitat.
The students’ data provides a baseline of information for numbers of birds using the site for nesting and it provides information on the colony over time so that DNR and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife can begin to compare and see changes.
Thanks to Ruth Pagel with Birds Unlimited in Olympia for lending a spotting scope each year to the students. The Woodard Bay NRCA martin boxes are quite a distance from shore, and we couldn’t monitor without the scope.
This project has had a positive impact on the high school students. One student, Erika Longino, says, “The Purple Martin Project opened my eyes to the birder’s world.” So here’s hoping the purple martins show up in time for next year’s students!
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