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Local birders believe 2020 has been a good year for Purple Martins

- Purple Martins are the second fastest declining swallow species -



by Sylene Argent

Despite enduring a rough spring, due to cold and rain, Purple Martin numbers locally have remained strong, local birders from the Ontario Purple Martin Association noted.

  Purple Martins have experienced declining numbers, over the years, and depend on housing to nest and survive.

  Earlier this spring, with the rough weather posing a threat to North America’s largest swallow species, birders were worried about the Purple Martin’s numbers. But, all of a sudden, things turned around and the birds seemed to have done quite well at the Colchester Beach site, along with other sites in the area, John Balga, a member of the Ontario Purple Martin Association, said. 

  Another issue, earlier this year, was that birders did have some trouble getting to some of their birdhouses to check on, or even feed, the Purple Martins, due to COVID-19.

  At the Colchester site, there are 20 compartments, available for the nesting Purple Martins. 17 of the compartments ending up filling with nesting pairs.

  “They did very well,” Balga said.

  Paul Hamil, Chairperson of the Ontario Purple Martin Society, monitors the Colchester housing site. He estimated around 85 eggs were laid there, and was sure more than 70 of those eggs fledged, which is the most noticed at this site.

  Colchester Beach, he said, is a really good location for the Purple Martins, being next to the lake.  “It seems like they are attracted to that area because it’s open to the lake,” he said.

  At the Holiday Beach site, 72 compartments are available to nesting pairs of Purple Martins. They were 100 percent occupied this spring. Balga said there were some losses there, initially. But, a second wave of young birds came, and managed to fill all the compartments.

  Birder, Ron Delcourt, monitors the Holiday Beach Purple Martin houses. This spring, he said, there was quite a bit of water at the local conservation site. He noted his helper is American, and could not get across the bridge, due to COVID-19, so he carried out tasks to assist the Purple Martins there on his own.

  He did not band young birds this year, due to COVID. Last year, he banded 264 Purple Martins before they fledged. 2019 was a record year for banding. A total of 277 babies hatched this year at Holiday Beach, which could have beaten last year’s record.

  Overall, Delcourt said, it has been a good year for the Purple Martin. He recalled visiting the site around Mother’s Day, and there was snow, and there were 12 adults trapped in one housing gourd. He was able to help them. Once the weather warmed up, however, it ended up being a pretty good year.

  In addition, Balga noted the birdhouses put up at Co-An Park and the Essex Centre Sports Complex each had three out of the six compartments available filled.

  Even though the numbers of Purple Martins seem to have kept strong locally, Balga did hear mixed reviews from the rest of Ontario.

  Balga noted people who have Purple Martins are feeding them when needed, which is helping them along during stressful times.

  The Ontario Purple Martin Association has cancelled most of its meetings this year, due to COVID-19. And, members are looking to see about future meetings. Martinfest was also cancelled. This public information event – that offers bird banding demonstrations and a vendor area – would have taken place July 11 at Colchester Beach.

  Hamil said members were planning the event, and had a number of vendors committed. They decided back in April, however, to cancel.

  “It was a good call. We’ll try again next year. We try to hold the event in the first part of July, because we have a lot of young and we can band them,” Hamil added.

  In mid-August, it is believed the Purple Martins will leave their nesting area and head to roost to fatten up before they take off for Brazil and its rainforest, Hamil said. Some of the birds are on their way to those roosts now, which include Point Pelee and Walpole Island.

  Hamil believes the declining Purple Martin numbers could be linked to loss of habitat. Though their numbers are strong locally, a decrease has been noticed in other areas. Purple Martins, Hamil added, depend on humans providing housing to survive, they don’t live in cavities in trees like they used to, because trees are disappearing the suspects.

  During its February meeting, the Ontario Purple Martin Association welcomed special guest, Ted Cheskey, a Naturalist Director who leads domestic and international bird conservation initiatives with Nature Canada. The Purple Martin, he said then, is the second fastest declining swallow species.

  During this meeting, he spoke of the “Save our Swallows” project. More information can be found at: naturecanada.ca/tag/save-our-swallows/ 

  For more information about the Ontario Purple Martin Association, log onto:ontariopurplemartins.ca.

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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