Connecticut Audbon Society
Deer Pond Farm

Deer Pond Farm

Nest Boxes at Deer Pond Farm

Nest boxes provide cavity nesting birds, including Purple Martins, Eastern Bluebirds, Wood Ducks, and American Kestrel, a place to have their young. These species are experiencing declining populations, partially attributed to the loss of nesting habitat. The introduction of nest boxes has allowed for the positive growth of population numbers by helping to combat that habitat loss in our local area. Nest boxes at Deer Pond Farm include twenty-four Purple Martin gourds, thirteen Eastern Bluebird boxes, six Wood Duck boxes, and one American Kestrel box. Deer Pond Farm is certified as a NestWatch nest monitor through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Purple Martins

Banded Purple Martin by Deirdra Wallin

Purple Martins are designated as a Species of Special Concern in Connecticut. Our newly established colony is an important addition to support other PUMA breeding areas.

The Deer Pond Farm Purple Martin (PUMA) colony is located behind the office near the pond. The white plastic nest gourds have three different styles of openings, each intended to discourage competing bird species from nesting in the gourds.

Purple Martins are the largest swallow species in North America. These graceful and acrobatic fliers chase and catch insects on the wing in open areas, usually near water.

They are very sociable and nest in large colonies! In the eastern U.S., these large swallows are completely dependent on man-made houses, like nest gourds. Since Purple Martins don’t nest in the same place where they were hatched, the young adults need to find a new place to start the next generation.

Every year in late summer or early fall, they migrate up to 5,000 miles to overwinter in South America. Our towers and gourds are removed and cleaned each winter and set up again in mid-March, in advance of the Purple Martin’s northern migration each spring.

A dedicated team of volunteers at Deer Pond Farm monitor and maintain the nest gourds each season. Data is contributed to NestWatch. Thank you for sharing your observations of Purple Martins here and other places, at and

Purple Martin Towers by Cathy Hagadorn

About our gourds

At Deer Pond Farm, there are two towers with 12 gourds each. On top of each tower, we also place a plastic Purple Martin decoy to attract the live birds. There is also a decoy gourd about 10 yards from the towers. The decoy is set up for birds, like Tree Swallows, who also like to nest near water. Since they often nest earlier than Purple Martins, by offering them their own solitary gourd, they will not utilize a designated PUMA nest gourd. Activity at the decoy gourd is also monitored and reported to Nest Watch.  

We consulted with Laurie Doss, Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA) Board Member, Marvelwood School Science Department Chair, and licensed bander under the CT DEEP Wildlife Division, for placement and operations of our gourds.

PUMAs are aerial insectivores. The location of the nest gourds near the pond allows the birds to access the flying insects that they rely on for food. PUMAs can be seen soaring and gliding over lakes, tidal marshes, and grassy and shrubby fields, searching for flying insects, often at such heights that they’re impossible to see with the naked eye.

Native Americans provided dried vegetable gourds for Purple Martins to nest in. Our gourds are purchased from and manufactured in the likeness of a vegetable gourd. Individual gourds keep birds healthier than dollhouse style birdhouses by helping to diminish the spread of mites and diseases.

The white color of the gourds reflects the sun’s heat during the summer to help keep the birds from overheating. These gourds also help protect the nestlings from predators like hawks and owls and other birds, such as House Sparrows. The baffles on the towers are also added to deter climbing predators, including snakes and raccoons.

To attract more new adult Purple Martins, two life-sized decoy gourds are attached to each tower and a calling device is also utilized. The calling device broadcasts Purple Martin’s characteristic dawn call for a few hours each morning from April through late summer.

While visiting Deer Pond Farm or other Purple Martin colonies during the nesting season, please respect the busy parents and do not linger near the gourds.

A Brief Timeline of Purple Martins at Deer Pond Farm

A Brief Timeline of Purple Martins at Deer Pond Farm

2023: No nesting this year. Possible reasons for no breeding here this year include a very wet cold spring with a week of rain. Many other colonies in the area had late and fewer PUMA arrivals.

On a positive note, one of Deer Pond Farm’s previously banded chicks was observed here. This is unique because adult PUMA with nesting site fidelity usually do not let their young come back to same areas as they were hatched.

Another PUMA that was hatched and banded at Deer Pond Farm in 2022 was recaptured in Sharon, CT. This recapture was part of a research project funded by the Jeniam Foundation at Marvelwood School. This bird was outfitted with a GPS tracking device.

Several other PUMA from colonies in Kent and Sharon were also outfitted with GPS and Motus tags. The PUMAs tagged with Motus devices pinged the Motus receiver station here at Deer Pond Farm on their southern migration in the fall.

Below are photos of our volunteers, Tricia, Mary Ann and Lily assisting with the release of Purple Martin on banding day with Joe Siegrist and Laurie Doss in July of 2023.

All banding, marking, and sampling is being conducted under a federally authorized Bird Banding Permit issued by the U.S. Geological Survey and a State Permit authorized by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.

Purple Martin Nestlings by Deirdra Wallin

2022: Another generation of Purple Martins successfully fledged. 14 young were raised by four pairs of PUMAs.

2021: First breeding season. Successful nesting season with nine chicks hatched and banded.

The PUMA leg bands were placed under the direction of Laurie Doss, Purple Martin Conservation Association Board Member, Marvelwood School Science Department Chair, and licensed bander under the CT DEEP Wildlife Division.

Banding is a technique used by ornithologists to identify characteristics of birds, such as their individual identity or the location where they were born, when they are sighted later at another location.  One or two small, color-coded, or numbered bands are secured around the lower leg. The Deer Pond Farm colony band colors are purple and green. A silver numbered band is also placed on the other leg to uniquely identify each individual.

2018 through 2020: male and female Purple Martins scouts were observed flying over, singing, perching on towers, and entering gourds in increasing numbers. It was not until 2021 that nesting occurred.

2018: The PUMA nest gourds and towers were first put up in 2018 after consulting with Laurie Doss, PMCA Board Member and Science chair of Marvelwood School. Gourds are set up annually during the first week of April and taken down and cleaned in mid-October. Dry Eastern White Pine needles are placed in the gourds for nesting material. Female Purple Martins add leaves to line the nest before they deposit eggs.

To learn more, visit the website of the Purple Martin Association and read the CT Audubon Society’s 2013 State of the Birds report, The Seventh Habitat and the Decline of Our Aerial Insectivores.


Eastern Bluebirds

In 2023, 30 Eastern Bluebirds and 13 Tree Swallows fledged from the 12 nest boxes throughout Deer Pond Farm property. During the 2022 nesting season, 52 Eastern Bluebirds fledged and in 2021, there were 30 Eastern Bluebirds fledglings.

Our dedicated group of volunteers monitored the boxes weekly, collecting data to enter into to keep track of success rate and patterns over the years. After a challenging 2021 season during which multiple nest boxes were destroyed by Black Bears, we decided to try something new to counter these losses for the 2022 season. Much stronger recycled PVC boxes were installed in replacement of the lost traditional cedar boxes, which were better able to withstand or deter an encounter with a Black Bear. For the 2022 season, only one Bluebird box was vandalized by bears, compared to the seven lost in 2021.

Eastern Bluebirds are a brightly colored, medium sized migratory songbird in the Thrush family and call Deer Pond Farm home for much of the year. In addition to using the nest boxes for breeding, they also utilize them during the winter months as communal roost sites, offering an important role in their year-round survival. Research shows that the Eastern Bluebird populations have been in decline over the past few decades, making the conservation efforts happening here even more rewarding.

The Bluebird boxes are located in open meadow habitats and stay up year-round. They are monitored weekly during the breeding season and are cleaned in late summer when breeding season is over. Nesting material used by Eastern Bluebirds consists of fine grasses and pine needles. In 2019, 35 Eastern Bluebirds fledged from our nest boxes and in 2020, there were 44 fledglings. To learn more, visit the website of the North American Bluebird Society.


Wood Duck

Wood Duck by Roy McBrid

The Wood Duck boxes also stay up year-round and are located on posts in ponds and near the shorelines of wetlands. The boxes are cleaned in winter when the water is frozen. Dry wood shavings are placed by staff in the boxes for nesting material. Female Wood Ducks line the nest with their own feathers. Wood Ducks have been observed at many locations in the sanctuary, but they are very skittish and tend to take cover when people are nearby. Confirmation of Wood Duck breeding was made in 2020 with observation of a fledgling, plus 17 broken eggs were cleaned out of the nearby box the following winter. After a quiet breeding season in 2021, there were 23 broken eggs noted across three nest boxes for the 2022 season. For more information, visit the CT DEEP Wildlife Division’s Wood Duck factsheet.


American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

In the winter of 2021, Deer Pond Farm added an American Kestrel box to our nest box program. The Kestrel box was installed on a tree adjacent to a meadow, where it stays up year-round. Dry wood shavings are placed by staff in the box for nesting material, and it is cleaned yearly. During the spring of 2022 a courting male and female Kestrel were observed, and evidence of successful nesting was seen later that fall. Additional information on American Kestrel can be found on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website.




Click here for the CT Audubon Deer Pond Farm Nest Box Information sheet.





















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