Nature Canada

The Purple Martin Project

Purple Martin (Progne subis) is the largest member of swallows in North America. Purple Martins, along with other swallows, are a group of migratory birds that are commonly referred to as aerial insectivores or birds that feed exclusively on flying insects.

Canadian populations of aerial insectivores are experiencing sharp declines and the cause is not clear. In Ontario alone, the Purple Martin population has been declining by over seven percent annually since monitoring began in 1970. Like you, we care for Purple Martins and want to keep hearing the cheerful sounds of this beloved neighbourhood bird. By learning more about the source of their decline and engaging communities in conservation efforts we can help to identify solutions, improve breeding success, recover populations and ensure long-term stewardship.

Purple Martin, along with other swallows, are facing a long-term gradual decline and unfortunately, there is no way to point out exactly what is causing their devastating decline in population numbers. There are many factors that could be playing a role in their population decrease such as; environmental threats along their migratory route and at their wintering grounds, deforestation in the Amazon, decrease in food availability due to increased pesticide use globally, inability to adapt to climate change, nest site competition with invasive species (particularly Starlings and House Sparrows), pesticide exposure, and industrial development projects are just a few examples.

Click here for an interactive map of the annual migratory journey undertaken by the Purple Martin, from their breeding grounds in the North, to their wintering grounds in South America.

East of the Rockies, Purple Martins rely exclusively on human-provided housing to nest in during their breeding seasons. This relationship is often attributed to the Indigenous Peoples of North America who hung hollowed-out gourds on top of poles to attract Purple Martin to nest in.

As part of Nature Canada’s Save Our Swallows campaign, we are looking to improve breeding habitat for Purple Martin by providing 30 new housing units over the next two breeding seasons (2019 & 2020). The options for housing consist of Gourd racks or brand new T-14s, designed to encourage stewardship during Purple Martin breeding seasons.

Another project within Nature Canada’s campaign to Save Our Swallows is to provide beneficial management practices for farmers and rural residents who want to participate in the conservation of these magnificent birds. These guidelines provide a list of actions that can be taken by Purple Martin landlords to encourage successful reproduction EVERY breeding season.

A critical aspect of martin conservation is to have a database of appropriate habitat that is available for them when they return to Ontario to breed after completing their spring migration. If you are a Purple Martin landlord and would like to register your colony, click here and fill out the Purple Martin Colony Registration and Annual Survey.

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Canada’s wilderness is the world’s envy. It’s our duty to keep our true north strong and green.