I have heard about the Purple Martins that roost under the Manns Harbor bridge every year but I had never been to experience them first hand. A local boat called the Crystal Dawn does 4 sunset tours each year during the prime nesting season where they cruise the sound outside Manteo heading towards the old Mann’s Harbor bridge around sunset to see over 100,000 purple martins sweeping in to nest for the night.
The Crystal Dawn holds about 60 passengers so there is plenty of room, bathrooms and a concession stand. Don’t worry if you tend to get seasick the boat is large enough and the sound flat enough, that you barely realize you’re on a boat.
As we cruised towards the bridge, a member of the Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society took over the microphone and told us the history and migration patterns of these beautiful birds. The mission of the Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society is to protect the annual roost of purple martins and to promote, through public education, the conservation of these migratory birds throughout the coastal plain region of North Carolina. Find more at www.purplemartinroost.com
From mid- July til mid-August, after nesting, the birds travel up to 150 miles from their breeding colonies to reach the bridge. At sunset, you will see tens of thousands of them sweeping in to nestle into the bridge and sleep for the night. Once the sun rises, they will journey out to feed for the day to build up their strength for about a month until they leave for their winter migration to Brazil.
I must say that the experience did not disappoint! As the sun was setting and the chirps filled the air, the birds were swooping in and the sky turns almost black with feathers as the symphony grows in sound. Once they all land on the bridge and the sun is set- the boat captain will shine a spotlight so you can see them lined shoulder to shoulder for the night.