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Connecticut's Purple Martins are off the threatened species list thanks to volunteer efforts

Sabrina Garone

One of a handful of Connecticut colonies for a bird called the Purple Martin can be found at a sanctuary in Milford. Once a threatened species in the state, the birds’ population is now totally dependent on humans.

Purple Martins are North America’s largest swallow. You can see their glossy, purple coloring when they are in the sun.

In other parts of the United States, they nest in holes in trees. But in the Northeast, they have been pushed out of their homes by invasive bird species, like European starlings and house sparrows. Now, the region’s Purple Martins only live in man-made nesting boxes and gourds.

Volunteers with the Connecticut Audubon Society, like Beverly Propen, work with state wildlife officials each summer, collecting data on the new chicks. The organization's coastal center has more than 60 nesting gourds, suspended from poles over the marsh.

"They usually come down once a week. They crank down the gourds, they count the number of eggs, if a nest is started and if the eggs have hatched. They’ll clean out the gourds if there are mites," Propen said.

Once the birds are old enough, some of them are banded to track their travel.

“It’s very important, especially now with climate change and habitat loss, that scientists acquire as much data as they can even about the common species," Propen said.

All signs point to another successful summer for the colony, with 109 chicks as of July.

Sabrina is host and producer of WSHU’s daily podcast After All Things. She also produces the climate podcast Higher Ground and other long-form news and music programs at the station. Sabrina spent two years as a WSHU fellow, working as a reporter and assisting with production of The Full Story.