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Purple Martin House
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Purple Martin House

Purple Martins have a long and rich history of relying on housing provided by humans during the breeding season. Evidence suggests that the Indigenous Peoples of North America started hanging hollowed gourds high on poles to attract these magnificent creatures. In return, the birds would provide population control for the abundant flying insects. This was obviously a successful relationship – to the point where Purple Martin have now evolved to ONLY use human provided housing for nesting. Using hollowed out gourds (plastic or natural) are still commonplace in providing housing for Purple Martin. However, there have been many advancements made in the available housing complexes for these magnificent creatures. One example of such is the T-14 housing complex. These condominium style housing have features that provide a better chance for Purple Martin to successfully face off the natural elements and other animals in their efforts to breed successfully. However, as any experienced martin property owner will tell you, a housing complex can only take you so far. A successful reproduction cycle relies tremendously on the efforts and vigilance of the colony’s steward themselves. To learn more about what practices you can implement to help Purple Martins, visit Nature Canada’s Beneficial Management Practices page, by clicking here. To learn more about the different housing available for you and your colony of Purple Martin, click the following links below:

About Purple Martins
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About Purple Martins

Nature Canada shines at the Latornell Symposium
Purple Martins pair at bird house complex
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Nature Canada shines at the Latornell Symposium

[caption id="attachment_21694" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Ted Cheskey Ted Cheskey
Senior Conservation Manager[/caption] The Latornell Conservation Symposium is one of Ontario’s premier annual events for conservation practitioners, policy makers, environmental NGOs, and academics. The Ontario government, Conservation Ontario, the University of Guelph and many other organizations sponsor the symposium. It provides a unique forum to share work, research, and ideas with others working in the same or a similar field including those who interpret and enforce the policies that protect nature. This year’s symposium in late November explored the succession of science, knowledge, policy and organizations and the nature of this change on the environment. Nature Canada’s Ted Cheskey and Megan MacIntosh participated in Wednesday’s proceedings, and presented Nature Canada’s work to protect and recover the rapidly declining Purple Martin and Threatened aerial insectivores as part of a session called “On a wing and a prayer: the plight of our birds.” The three-hour session featured a screening of the full-length documentary “The Messenger,” introduced by film Director Sue Rynard and Producer Joanne Jackson, followed by presentations from Dr. Bridget Stutchbury, author of Silence of the Songbirds and member of Nature Canada's Women for Nature, Dr. Doug Tozer from our BirdLife Canada partner Bird Studies Canada, and us. [caption id="attachment_35490" align="aligncenter" width="599"]Image of group at Latornell Conservation Symposium From left to right: Doug Tozer, Bridget Stutchbury, Sue Rynard, Megan MacIntosh and Ted Cheskey holding Maple Syrup bottle gifts from the conference that look suspiciously like bottles of contraband.[/caption] Despite the length of our session, and our position as last speakers, we were able to hold the attention of over 60 attendees, who engaged us with many questions. Our presentation described our stewardship work focused on housing management with the Ontario Purple Martin Association and our applied research with Dr. Kevin Fraser of the University of Manitoba. Both project components are supported by many local partners and volunteers. Nature Canada receives financial support from the Habitat Stewardship Program of Environment and Climate Change Canada as well as the Ontario Ministry of Nature Resources Species at Risk Stewardship Fund to do this work. We were able to present some of our findings from recovering data tags that provide insights into the incredible migration route and timing of Martins. This was our moment to share the extraordinary news from this work that members of this species that breed thousands of kilometres apart, gather on the same islands at the same time in the Amazon River basin of Brazil. [caption id="attachment_35489" align="aligncenter" width="601"]Image of Megan MacIntosh presenting Megan MacIntosh presents to a captivated audience the results of her field work.[/caption] Another key finding with significant conservation implications is with regard to post breeding, and pre-migratory roost sites. This summer, Megan and her crew located several of these giant, multi-swallow species roosts, some with over 20,000 individuals, which would qualify them, on their own, as Important Bird Areas. Roosts are poorly understood, and difficult to monitor, and even locate, though they can house tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of birds for several weeks prior to their southward departures. These roosts are largely located in wetlands along the southern Great Lakes and St. Lawrence. The concentration of birds at single roosts renders them vulnerable to different types of human activity, which may be a contributing factor to the declines. Our goal was to put up a flag for roost site protection in the conservation and resource management community. Judging from the response after our presentation, we have made our first good steps. We were thrilled to share the stage with Sue, Joanne, Dr. Stutchbury and Dr. Tozer and speak proudly about Nature Canada’s work, which we hope to continue at some level in 2018.

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Imperiled Insectivores: What We Know and How We Can Learn More
Purple Martins pair at bird house complex
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Imperiled Insectivores: What We Know and How We Can Learn More

[caption id="attachment_33785" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of sean feagan Sean Feagan, Guest Blogger[/caption] This post was written by guest blogger Sean Feagan. An aerial insectivore is a behavioural term used to describe species that feed almost exclusively on insects while on the wing. In regards to birds, they are comprised of species belonging to four bird families: swifts, swallows, flycatchers and nightjars. In addition to being beautiful, these birds help control insect populations. Despite being protected under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act, aerial insectivore bird populations are declining rapidly. This is a serious problem. For example, Tree Swallow (note the striking iridescence) as pictured below, has declined by an estimated 2.25 percent per year from 1966 to 2015. Figure 1 at the end of this blog presents the species of aerial insectivore that breed in Canada, including information on whether they are currently listed as part of  Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), as well as their estimated population trend for 1966-2015 and 2005-2015. The trend data are derived from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and are specific to Canada. [caption id="attachment_34594" align="alignright" width="421"]Image of a Tree Swallow Tree swallow, of striking iridescence, has declined by an estimated 2.25% per year from 1966 to 2015. © Sean Feagan[/caption] Why are these declines happening? It is believed these declines are likely happening through a variety of interacting mechanisms, which may vary by species. Previous research suggested that declines were highest in the northeast of North America[i], a result that correlated with geographic gradients in industrialization and urbanization, which led researchers to believe these trends are driven by the decline of insect prey. However, recent Canadian research using BBS data has indicated that the decline of some aerial insectivores’ species has not followed this trend. It also found that species appeared to respond to large-scale environmental conditions, varying regionally and by species.[ii] For example, Chimney Swift declined at a lower rate through the industrialized northeast, while  Northern Rough-Winged Swallows declined primarily in the west. These results brought into question whether the explanation for why aerial insectivores as a guild are declining is as simple as fewer insect prey. The truth may just be that it’s complicated, and more research is needed. How can you help? Various citizen science initiatives exist for you to contribute to the understanding of aerial insectivore declines. You can help provide information regarding long-term population and distribution trends by . You can also use apps like eBird or NatureHood to record your observations while you are out and about. In addition, Nature Canada’s Purple Martin Project is a project to track and monitor populations and important habitat of swallow species in Canada. It also promotes the installation and stewardship of Purple Martin artificial nesting houses. SwiftWatch is a Bird Studies Canada’s monitoring and conservation program aimed to help the Chimney Swift. This program, active in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes, involves monitoring of swift nest and roost sites to promote the understanding of the species distribution, demographics, and life history.


Figure 1: A list of aerial insectivores in Canada with their status and population trend. [custom_table style="1"]
Family Species SARA Status Trend, 1966-2015 (% change / year) Trend, 2005-2015 (% change / year)

Hirundinidae

(Swallows & Martins)

Bank Swallow not listed1 -7.56 -3.49
Barn Swallow not listed1 -3.32 -1.48
Cliff Swallow not listed -2.81 0.60
Northern Rough-winged Swallow not listed -2.35 -1.02
Purple Martin not listed -0.693 4.783
Tree Swallow not listed -2.25 -1.24
Violet-green Swallow not listed -0.76 -0.32

Apodidae

(Swifts)

Black Swift not listed 2 -6.643 -5.403
Chimney Swift Threatened -5.34 -5.73
Vaux's Swift not listed -2.493 -2.073
White-throated Swift not listed -0.073 -0.183

Caprimulgidae

(Nightjars)

Chuck-will's-widow not listed N/A N/A
Common Nighthawk Threatened -3.413 -1.013
Common Poorwill not listed N/A N/A
Eastern Whip-poor-will Threatened -0.253 -2.193
1. Species designated as Threatened by COSEWIC, but has not been added to Schedule 1 of SARA. 2. Species designated as Endangered by COSEWIC, but has not been added to Schedule 1 of SARA 3. Species BBS data set contains deficiencies (e.g. low abundance, small sample size, imprecise)
[/custom_table] It is important to note that the trends are presented as average percent change per year, rather than a cumulative trend for the entire sample period.
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Acknowledgment: [i] Declines of aerial insectivores in North America follow a geographic gradient. [ii] Differences in spatial synchrony and interspecific concordance inform guild-level population trends for aerial insectivorous birds.

Purple Martins Sporting New Backpacks
Purple Martins pair at bird house complex
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Purple Martins Sporting New Backpacks

[caption id="attachment_16451" align="alignleft" width="150"]Megan McIntosh Megan McIntosh, Purple Martin Project Coordinator[/caption] In early July, Nature Canada went out in the field to study a beloved species, the Purple Martin! The Purple Martin is the largest species of swallow in North America and is an aerial insectivore; simply meaning they feed on flying insects. You will find Purple Martins nesting together as they are a colonial species and they are often spotted in open areas, usually near water. In Canada, the Purple Martin population is in serious trouble. Purple Martins, as well as other aerial insectivores, are declining more rapidly than any other group of birds in Canada. Purple Martins could experience any number of threats between their breeding grounds in North America and over-wintering habitat in South America, which is why it is important that we study their movements and behavior through migration tracking. Local threats might include use of pesticides, adverse weather impacts of climate change, loss of foraging habitat, competition from other non-native bird species, or increased predation. [caption id="attachment_34143" align="alignright" width="342"]Image of Purple Martins by Marine Morel Purple Martins by Marine Morel[/caption]

In order to help this species, we have developed the Purple Martin Project. The Purple Martin Project began in 2014 as part of an international initiative to help research and recover populations of declining songbird species. Nature Canada has been working with Dr. Kevin Fraser at Manitoba University to study the migration of Purple Martin’s using small tracking devices.

This July marked our fourth year conducting fieldwork to track Purple Martins. In the past, we have used GPS and geolocator technologies as part of a continental initiative to study their migratory journeys.  This year, we are using the Motus Wildlife Tracking System (motus.org), a program of our partners at Birds Studies Canada. The Motus system is make up of a network of more than 300 radio telemetry towers in the Americas used to track the movements of small organisms throughout terrestrial environments.

Staff of Nature Canada and Dr. Kevin Fraser went to three sites along the Great Lakes shorelines to deploy 56 Motus nanotags on Purple Martin Families in Ontario. Similar to GPS and geolocator devices, the birds wear the nanotags (radio-tracking device) like a small backpack. Each nanotag is programed to emit a unique radio signal every 10 seconds which can be detected up to 15km away from Motus towers or receiving stations. Each time a tagged bird comes within contact of a receiver, it records the signal to document their comings and goings. [caption id="attachment_34233" align="aligncenter" width="673"]Image of Purple Martin field work images Map of Motus coverage and field site locations for 2017.[/caption] The nanotags weight just 0.67g and they do not need to be recovered in order to accesses the data. This will be the first time that Purple Martins are tracked using Motus technology. We hope to gain a lot of new information about their daily local movements through important habitats they use to forage and roosts, as well as associated threats and the timing of those movements. [caption id="attachment_34230" align="alignleft" width="360"]Image of Purple Martins on the MOTUS Tower Purple Martins (some of which are tagged with nanotag tracking devices) perch on Motus tower at field site near Port Bruce. Photo by Marine Morel[/caption] What Can You Do If you want to help the Purple Martins, there are a few things you can do! Consider volunteering at Nature Canada and assisting us with various tasks within the Purple Martin Project. Want to do more? You can donate to help us protect not only the Purple Martin but other aerial insectivores! Or you can have Purple Martins make their home on your lot! Become a Purple Martin Landlord and contact mmacintosh@naturecanada.ca on information on how to become one today. Stay tuned! Next month we are writing a blog on the work we are currently doing to help other aerial insectivores like the Bank Swallow!
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Thank you to our partners, volunteers, and site collaborators who made this work possible. Special thank you to Ron Kingswood, the Kingston Field Naturalists, Holiday Beach Migration Observatory, Bird Studies Canada, Ontario Purple Martin Association, the Walpole Island Purple Martin Project, Avian Behaviour and Conservation Lab at the University of Manitoba, the Innis Point Bird Observatory, York University, and Mitchell’s Bay Area Association. Funding is provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Purple Martin houses on Amherst Island was funded by the TD Friends for the Environment Foundation.

The True Meaning of Dedication and Devotion: One Man’s Nature Service
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The True Meaning of Dedication and Devotion: One Man’s Nature Service

[caption id="attachment_21828" align="alignleft" width="150"]Jodi and Noah Jodi Joy
Director of Development and Communications[/caption] What’s the true definition of dedication and devotion?  I’m truly inspired and constantly reminded of what it is by Nature Canada members who volunteer their time for nature. One such member shared his story with me a few weeks ago and it sparked me to write about it. Kiyoshi Takahashi grew up in a small village in the countryside of central Japan (about 100 kms north of Tokyo).  He remembers vividly that as a young five-year-old boy he always enjoyed playing with bats, observing dragonflies up close and watching the barn swallows that nested in his father’s home. [caption id="attachment_13804" align="alignright" width="316"]image of a Purple Martin Photo of a Purple Martin[/caption] This past year, he and family celebrated a proud moment – their 50th anniversary of living in Canada.  He notes it was a real joy for him “to retire to serve nature” at age 58 and has devoted his time and efforts over the past twenty-five years to helping swallows, Purple Martins and bats by installing nest boxes, and monitoring species populations across the lower BC mainland. He is credited as the main person responsible for the return of nesting Purple Martins in Port Moody and has received accolades and awards for this amazing work –donating hours and hours of his time installing, monitoring, cleaning nest boxes and doing counts to help protect our precious nature. Stewardship efforts like these have brought the Purple Martin population in BC back from the brink of extinction (6 pairs in the 1980s) to a viable breeding population with over 800 pairs now. In his spare time, Kiyoshi has lead numerous walks, written articles and shared his nature photography with Japanese-Canadians to help raise awareness and inspire others to care about nature nearby. [caption id="attachment_30454" align="alignleft" width="300"]Image by J.Saremba of Kiyoshi installing a new bird box Kiyoshi installing a new bird box. Photo by J. Saremba.[/caption] Talk about dedication…he and a fellow volunteer received over 400 bird flea bites while recently cleaning Purple Martin houses – it is exactly this type of selfless and deep commitment that sometimes goes unnoticed by others but is truly amazing and should be highlighted because stewardship or what Kiyoshi calls “nature service” is equally important as other types of community service. Being modest and humble, Kiyoshi says it just makes sense that if you want to maintain healthy nature on the earth, than you must give back to nature… and nature always give us some labour to do!"  We hope you might consider giving back to nature which sustains us too.  Consider installing a bird or bat box. Take a child on a Bat exploration walk. Become a Purple Martin landlord/steward or become involved in bird counts. Get involved with other types of citizen science projects in your community. You can read more about Nature Canada’s research project monitoring Eastern Ontario’s Purple Martin populations and geo-tagging results here. And please consider gifting today to conserve Canada’s nature.

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The Purple Martin Project
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The Purple Martin Project

Purple Martin (Progne subis) is the largest member of swallows in North America. Purple Martin, along with other swallows are a group of migratory birds which are commonly referred as aerial insectivores, birds which feed exclusively on flying insects. Canadian populations of aerial insectivores are experiencing sharp declines and the cause is not clear. In Ontario alone, 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 neighborhood 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 this loss of species. There are many factors that could be playing a role in this decline; environmental threats along their migratory route and at their wintering grounds (deforestation in the Amazon), decrease in food availability, inability to adapt to climate change, nest site competition with invasive species (particularly Starlings and House Sparrows), exposure to pesticides, and industrial development projects are just a few examples. [caption id="attachment_40971" align="aligncenter" width="648"] 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.[/caption] East of the Rockies, Purple Martin rely exclusively on human-provided housing to nest in during the 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 the 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.

Roost Sites: One of Nature’s Most Amazing Spectacles
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Roost Sites: One of Nature’s Most Amazing Spectacles

[caption id="attachment_16451" align="alignleft" width="150"]Megan McIntosh Megan McIntosh, Purple Martin Project Coordinator[/caption] Nature Canada is looking for enthusiastic birders to help search for and monitor important swallow roosting sites as part of the Purple Martin Project . If you’ve yet to witness a roost, it is really something to see - the birding equivalent of watching fireworks! A roost is a place where hundreds or thousands of birds regularly settle or congregate to rest at night before they undergo fall migration.  In Ontario, roosts typically begin to form in late July and can last until mid-September. They can be found in the wetland shorelines or marsh islets along the Great Lakes. At dusk, birds can be seen circling over the area and settling down in a seemingly choreographed display. The entire spectacle may take up to 30 minutes. At dawn, they can be seen flying out of the roost in massive groups so large that they often appear on the weather radar. Roost sites are important habitat for many declining species of songbirds, yet often roost locations are unknown or unconfirmed due to the inaccessibility of the marshland habitat where they typically form. The information you contribute will help to identify important swallow roosting habitat and monitor the population status of these species. Before planning an excursion, always make sure you have permission to access the site. Speak with Nature Canada or one of our partners about where roosts might be located in your area. You can download and print our data record sheet  to take into the field with you. Station yourself at a strategic location with a good view of the surrounding habitat and scan the sky for birds. Please submit your completed form to us along with any photos or videos of the birds and their habitat.

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Protecting Canada’s birds  – wherever they are!
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Protecting Canada’s birds  – wherever they are!

[caption id="attachment_16443" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Eleanor Fast Eleanor Fast
Executive Director[/caption] Nature Canada is proud to be a Canadian co-partner of BirdLife International – the global partnership of organizations working for birds and nature.  Last week I took part in a meeting of partners across the Americas - from Chile to Canada and everywhere in between. We had an intensive week of meetings and got down into details of how we can work most effectively together across the Americas to ensure that species are protected throughout their ranges.  Working with organizations in other countries is essential for Nature Canada’s work as many of the species we work so hard to conserve in Canada spend much of their time out of the country, for example:

  • Nature Canada has worked hard to learn more about why Purple Martin populations are declining. Thanks to the work of Nature Canada and our partners we now know more about their migration and can work with partner organizations throughout their range to protect them.
  • Nature Canada is a lead organization in the Canada Warbler International Conservation Initiative which involves partners across the Americas.  The Canada Warbler’s breeding grounds are primarily in Canada, but it’s wintering range is in South America, from Peru to Venezuela – we all need to work together to protect the Canada Warbler.
  • And it’s not just species that BirdLife partners work together to protect. Nature Canada is working closely with North American Birdlife partners, ranchers, governments, and other environmental groups to develop a North American grasslands initiative to protect this crucial habitat in Mexico, the United States, and Canada.
True to our name, Nature Canada focusses on being a voice for nature in Canada.  But our wildlife doesn’t stay in Canada year round.  That’s why it is essential that we work with other organizations throughout the Americas to protect birds throughout their lives. Apart from the serious discussions, the meeting had a lighthearted highlight – the closing ceremony where a school group from Panama performed a dance dressed as birds, it was wonderful to see the children’s smiles and excitement.  I thought of Nature Canada’s own work with schoolchildren, making masks and going on a migration parade.  Enthusiasm for learning about and protecting nature truly knows no boundaries – just like so many birds!
[caption id="attachment_27491" align="alignnone" width="450"]Image of Panama School Children A photo of the Panama school group performance.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_27492" align="alignnone" width="450"]Image of Panama school children A second photo of the Panama school group performance.[/caption]
 
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Purple Martins Reach Ontario!
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Purple Martins Reach Ontario!

[caption id="attachment_16451" align="alignleft" width="150"]Megan McIntosh Megan McIntosh, Purple Martin Project Coordinator[/caption] The first Purple Martins have reached Ontario. The return of these cheerful neighborhood birds from their wintering grounds in Brazil is always a wonderful sign of spring.  But with a winter storm warning in the works for much of Southern Ontario we wish they would wait just a little while longer.  This is because Purple Martins and other song birds are quite vulnerable to poor weather conditions, especially rain and cold. Nonetheless, we welcome their return! Did you know that it is the older Purple Martins that tend to return first? Most of the adult birds arrive in Ontario between mid-to-late-April, whereas younger first-time breeders return during May. You can follow the amazing spring migration of the Purple Martin through the Purple Martin Conservation Association’s Scout-Arrival Study. [caption id="attachment_26945" align="aligncenter" width="351"]Purple Martin Adult male Purple Martin in flight. Photo by Harold Silver[/caption] With the Purple Martins on their way, many Purple Martin ‘landlords’ (private landowners who provide apartment-like bird houses for the birds to nest in) are working hard to prepare for their arrival. Since Purple Martin populations are rapidly declining in Ontario and other northeastern provinces and states, Purple Martin landlords in these regions are taking extra precautions to improve their habitat and help recover the species. Here are some interesting examples of what Nature Canada and our partners are doing to prepare: Nature Canada will be putting up three new Purple Martin houses in the Kingston Area in partnership with the Kingston Field Naturalists. These new houses are locally sourced and provide the highest standards of breeding habitat for Purple Martin included starling resistant entrances and a winch system so that the house can be lowered for easy maintenance. [caption id="attachment_26944" align="aligncenter" width="351"]Purple Martin House Example of a locally constructed T-14 Purple Martin house. Three houses like this will be put up by Nature Canada in the Kingston area this spring.[/caption] Ed and Lyne Brake are dedicated Purple Martin landlords who live east of Ottawa. This year they are taking steps to make an important update to the habitat at their Purple Martin colony. Over the past several years, they have noticed a big increase in aerial predators such as hawks and owls preying on their Purple Martins. This was very upsetting for Ed and Lyne. At first they were unsure what to do because there are no commercially available predator guards for their style of Purple Martin house. Since they care so much about their birds, they have custom-made a cage to go around the birdhouse and protect the colony. We want to congratulate Ed and Lyne for their good work and thank the Ontario Purple Martin Association for providing this excellent advice! [caption id="attachment_26943" align="aligncenter" width="351"]Image of a Purple Martin house with landlords Ed Brake and a friend pose at Ottawa River with a newly installed predator guard for a Purple Martin house.[/caption] Finally, our Friends at The Friends of the Sanctuary in Cornwall have engaged a local secondary school to construct 10 new Purple Martin condos. Grade 11 students will construct T-14 style houses that will be installed in the meadows at the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary near Ingleside, Ontario, next spring. We are looking forward to seeing the results!   [caption id="attachment_26942" align="aligncenter" width="350"]Image of members of Friends of the Sanctuary in front of a Purple Martin Members of Friends of the Sanctuary pose with T-14 Purple Martin house[/caption]

To learn more about Nature Canada's Purple Martin Project, check out our page here.
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