Dow's Bird Photos

July 12, 2018

Today, with assistance from my brother, Steve, I inspected the 18 Purple Martin nest boxes that the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society (OPAS) maintains on the pilings at 3 Crabs Beach in Dungeness, WA. I began helping with this project in 2009. This is starting out as a very successful nesting season for our Purple Martin colony. All 18 boxes had eggs, eggs and chicks, or just chicks. The age range appears to be several hours to 6-7 days. Each nest box has a number on it, but they were not installed in any particular order. I've arranged the following images in order starting with the first box as you walk out from the beach. So the first image is named puma-01_OPAS-113_20180712, which means this is the first box out from the beach, but it is OPAS Box 113, followed by today's date. (Note: PUMA, in this case, is a 4-letter acronym for Purple Martin, not a cougar or mountain lion.)

The nest boxes are mounted at the top of the pilings, about 15' above the sand. To inspect a box, I lean a ladder against the piling, climb up about 10', pull a couple nails out that hold the door on, set the nails and door on top of the piling, and look inside. Martins build their nest at the back of the box with a berm between the nest and the door opening, forming a cup. It is very hard to see the bottom of the cup when looking in through the door, because the berm blocks the view. Often I have to use a small mirror on the end of a flexible wire to see the eggs or chicks, and try to take a picture of the image in the mirror. This is extremely difficult with only one hand available (the other hand is holding on to the post to keep me from falling off the ladder).


OPAS 113

Purple Martin nest box at 3 Crabs Beach


This year I discovered I could reach in with my cell phone and take a picture to document the status of each box. It is a real challenge to hang on to the post with one hand, lean back, and reach into the nest box with my cell phone, tap the screen to get focus, then force my finger back to touch the shutter release. Since it is hard to get a clear view of the screen on my phone, I got a lot of blurry pictures. There has to be a better way to do this, but the pictures are good enough for documentation. Today, my photograher friend, Sally Harris, was on the beach and she sent me this picture she took that pretty much shows the process. Sally gave me permission to include the picture here. Thanks, Sally!


OPAS 113

Checking a Purple Martin nest box at 3 Crabs Beach, 7/12/2018


Purple Martins typically lay 4-6 eggs, one per day, generally in the morning. Incubation starts with the second to last egg, so the chicks all hatch within a day or two of each other. This nest may get another egg or two. Eggs range from 0.8 to 1.1 inches long and 0.6 to 0.8 inches wide. Incubation takes between 15-18 days, and chicks fledge after 27-36 days. We should see a lot of feeding over the next 3-4 weeks, with the oldest chicks leaving the nest the first week of August, and most of the others the following week.


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 113 at 3 Crabs (puma-01_OPAS-113_20180712.jpg)


Early in the nesting season we watch the Martins carrying in dried grasses, bits of seaweed and even mud, to build their nests. When we see them start to carry in green leaves, we know that the female will soon lay her eggs. The purpose of the leaves is not understood. Perhaps they generate heat or moisture, or just help make a tidy cushion for the chicks. You can see the green leaves in nearly all of these images.


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 111 at 3 Crabs (puma-02_OPAS-111_20180712.jpg)


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 109 at 3 Crabs (puma-03_OPAS-109_20180712.jpg)


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 118 at 3 Crabs (puma-04_OPAS-118_20180712.jpg)


When a chick hatches, the adults carry the egg shell away from the nest to dispose of it. This behavior helps keep the nest clean. These three chicks probably all hatched this morning, and the parents have removed two of the shells. The third chick is still working its way out of its shell.


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 103 at 3 Crabs (puma-05_OPAS-103_20180712.jpg)


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 108 at 3 Crabs (puma-06_OPAS-108_20180712.jpg)


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 105 at 3 Crabs (puma-07_OPAS-105_20180712.jpg)


These chicks are about 6-7 days old.


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 117 at 3 Crabs (puma-08_OPAS-117_20180712.jpg)


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 107 at 3 Crabs (puma-09_OPAS-107_20180712.jpg)


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 112 at 3 Crabs (puma-10_OPAS-112_20180712.jpg)


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 114 at 3 Crabs (puma-11_OPAS-114_20180712.jpg)


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 110 at 3 Crabs (puma-12_OPAS-110_20180712.jpg)


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 116 at 3 Crabs (puma-13_OPAS-116_20180712.jpg)


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 106 at 3 Crabs (puma-14_OPAS-106_20180712.jpg)


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 101 at 3 Crabs (puma-15_OPAS-101_20180712.jpg)


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 102 at 3 Crabs (puma-16_OPAS-102_20180712.jpg)


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 115 at 3 Crabs (puma-17_OPAS-115_20180712.jpg)


OPAS 113

Purple Martin Box 104 at 3 Crabs (puma-18_OPAS-104_20180712.jpg)


If you have Internet Explorer 10 or current versions of Chrome, Firefox, or a new iPad, you should be able to play a short video covering one season of Purple Martin nesting at 3 Crabs.

Click Here to play the video in your web browser (requires an HTML5-compliant web browser). When you finish, click the HOME button at the bottom left edge of the page, or click the picture of me in the upper left corner of the page, to return to this page.

If the video won't play click here to try it with your system software.

Bird of the Day


Purple Martins

July 7, 2018

In 2005 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service invited the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society to expand our Purple Martin colony at 3 Crabs by adding nest boxes on Protection Island. The island is a National Wildlife Refuge and there are stringent restrictions on access to the island, so OPAS was delighted to accept this rare invitation. (Please do not attempt to go to Protection Island to look for Purple Martins. You can see them much more easily at the 3 Crabs location.) We now have six nest boxes on the island. I became a Refuge volunteer in 2009 so that I could assist in maintaining the Protection Island colony. The Refuge staff provide transportation for 2-3 volunteers several times a year to put up the boxes in late April, check them 2-3 times durig the nesting season, and take them down to store after the birds have started their return migration to South America.

For more information, see : Purple Martin Nest Box Study,

This year Laura, Alan and I put up the six nest boxes on Protection Island on April 25th, a couple weeks later than normal. Within minutes, we had Purple Martins landing on the boxes. Today Ken and I hitched a ride to the island with Refuge staff to check the boxes. Five of the six boxes had five eggs each. Only Box 3 had no eggs, but it had a dozen fresh green leaves lining the nest, and after we checked that box a female entered and spent at least ten minutes inside. We rather suspect she layed her first egg during that time. So this promises to be an excellent nesting season for the Protection Island colony.


Purple Martin nest/eggs

Purple Martin Box 1 at Protection Island, WA, 7/6/2018


Purple Martin nest/eggs

Purple Martin Box 2 at Protection Island, WA, 7/6/2018


Purple Martin nest/eggs

Purple Martin Box 3 at Protection Island, WA, 7/6/2018


Purple Martin nest/eggs

Purple Martin Box 4 at Protection Island, WA, 7/6/2018


Purple Martin nest/eggs

Purple Martin Box 5 at Protection Island, WA, 7/6/2018


Purple Martin nest/eggs

Purple Martin Box 6 at Protection Island, WA, 7/6/2018