Reaping the Rewards: Purple Martin Housing a Success!
Imagine concerned citizens and nature organizations teaming up to increase the population of a declining migratory bird species. This is the reality here at Nature Canada through the Save Our Swallows campaign, generously funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation. This past spring, Nature Canada provided state of the art Purple Martin housing units to nine enthusiasts who we selected from across Ontario to provide habitat for the largest member of the swallow species in the province, a species that is declining quickly. Since delivering and installing the units, we followed up with these individuals to report on their successes, as well as some of the challenges they’ve faced.
As we are well into breeding season, we are happy to report that at least one pair of Purple Martins occupies each of the housing units we provided. Two stewards reported that their units were occupied by mid-April, and the first eggs were laid in late May, with the first hatchlings arriving by mid-June.
This initiative not only provided valuable nesting habitat for Purple Martins, but also engaged entire communities in Purple Martin conservation. One steward, Rob Buchanan, distributed some of the housing units he received from Nature Canada to community members who were interested in becoming stewards themselves.
He has informed us that, “since putting up the new housing, it has created a huge interest in [his] area, and [he] could easily distribute five more houses if this program was offered again.”
One of his recipients, Arlene, reported that the housing has “brought so much joy to the people that come to [her] barn and sit to watch [the birds].” The Save Our Swallows team is delighted to hear of these successes, and we hope to continue to inspire a love for species conservation and stewardship.
Two Purple Martin stewards have reported that Tree Swallows are also nesting in their Martin homes. Meanwhile another recipient, Arik McBay, reported that an entire Tree Swallow family has fledged several young already, having posted this on his Instagram @rootradicalcsa. Tree Swallow use of Purple Martin housing is a successful outcome that we are happy to see, but fortunately Arik has also relayed that he has a pair of Martins that have taken up residence alongside them.
There have been a few challenges along the way, with some stewards saying that European Starlings and House Sparrows are nesting in their compartments. While House Sparrow occupation is occasionally an issue with Martin housing that stewards should address, we were surprised to learn about the Starlings since all of the housing is outfitted with Starling-resistant entrances. Clearly, we’ve been outsmarted by some Starlings and need to figure out a response.
It is best not to let Starlings or House Sparrows establish nests in your housing units, so if you see them, dispose of the nest to deter them from returning. Starling nests can be identified by the blue/green colour of their eggs, typically with brown dots all over. On the other hand, sparrow eggs are typically white and also covered in brown dots.
Ultimately, Nature Canada’s housing giveaway has shown great success and this project is contributing to the conservation of Purple Martins in many ways. It is increasing the availability of safe, high quality nesting habitat to increase the Purple Martin population, and is inspiring local communities to get involved in the habitat restoration of these magnificent birds.