University of Delaware
delware environmental institute

News Journal: Scientists study effect of climate on purple martins

In a suburban back­yard near Rehoboth Beach, Carlton Updyke’s colony of purple martins is thriving. The same is true of Chuck Fullmer’s colony – along a commercial strip off Del. 5 southeast of Georgetown. But for martin land­lords further north in Pennsylvania, the picture is less robust and some re­searchers believe that as we experience earlier springs – a possible im­pact from a changing cli­mate – there may be a mis­match between the time when insects hatch in huge numbers and the ar­rival of insect-eating birds like purple martins.

“There’s a disconnect and it’s getting bigger,” said Nanette Mickle, a purple martin researcher who maintains a research martin colony in northern Virginia and has been working with a team of scientists to figure out what is happening with martin populations to the north. “Our northern birds cannot keep up with climate change.”

Martins are flying in­sect eaters. They are com­pletely dependent on hu­man landlords for nesting sites east of the Rocky Mountains so folks like Updyke (who also main­tains nest sites at Reho­both Beach Yacht and Country Club and Dela­ware Seashore State Park) and Fullmer, along with dozens and dozens of other folks in Delaware, play a part in keeping the population stable and growing here.