Slow down! Purple martins are back at the Umstead Bridge

By on July 12, 2018

Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society photo

Purple martins are literally flocking to Manns Harbor, and that means it’s time for dusk and dawn drivers to slow down on the William B. Umstead Bridge, locally known as the Old Manns Harbor Bridge.

From mid-July through August, the west end of the bridge on Croatan Sound becomes home to more than 100,000 purple martins as they prepare for their annual migration to Brazil.

The birds roost under the bridge at night, departing at dawn to feed and returning at sunset. The flock is so large during its peak that it can be seen on radar.

Since 2007, The N.C. Department of Transportation has partnered with the Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society to educate the public about the flock and protect both the birds and passing motorists.

NCDOT activates flashing lights at sunrise and sunset, instituting a 20-mile per hour speed limit on the bridge.

The lower speed limit is monitored by law enforcement and allows both motorists and birds safe passage across the sound.

Since the lights and speed limits were installed, the Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society has seen a dramatic decline in bird deaths around the bridge.

As an alternate, motorists can use the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge.

Those wishing to view the flock safely can do so at BeBop’s Memorial Pier at the west end of the bridge.

The CCPMS will host sunset talks at the pier during the height of the roosting season, weather permitting, on July 26 and 28, Aug. 2 and 4.

Or make special arrangements with at least 2 days notice by email or (252) 473-1493

Sunset cruises to see the roost up close with a CCPMS guide will take place July 26 and 28, Aug. 2 and 4 on the Crystal Dawn out of Pirates Cove Marina.

The boat leaves 7:00 p.m. and the cruise runs about 3 hours. Tickets are $30, refundable if weather cancels the trip. Contact Crystal Dawn at (252) 473-5577 or

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