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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Ontario Purple Martin Association learns about Walpole Island roost

- Video of thousands of Purple Martins shown -

by Sylene Argent

During the Ontario Purple Martin Association meeting, held on Saturday morning, special guest speakers Susan and Richard Carr talked about the large Purple Martin roost on Walpole Island. The duo also showed a video local filmmaker, Jeremy Wolting, made late last summer that showed likely thousands of Purple Martins flying together at twilight on a summer evening.

  Susan noted elders of Walpole had always spoke of having Purple Martins in that area, but she didn’t recall seeing any. In 2009, a Purple Martin house was installed on the island, and a pair began living there right away. The Island now has 14 houses spread out over a 10-mile area that helped hatched over 500 fledglings last year, she noted.   

  “I thought it was great,” Susan said of getting that first Purple Martin pair. She would learn of the difficulty other birders have had in attracting Canada’s largest swallow to their own properties.

  Purple Martin numbers are dwindling, locally. Purple Martins need a house to nest, and may of the Association’s members look after those nests to help the birds thrive.

  With an increase in population on Walpole Island, there was an increase in sightings, Susan said. This phenomenon was used as a teaching tool for colleges, universities, and schools. The idea for the public outreach was to get youth interested in birds, so the next generation will care for the feathered friends in the future.

  The Purple Martins typically arrive at Walpole Island in the beginning of April, and stick around for around six months before they head south for the winter. While they are on the Island, she said, she, and others, are checking the nests, banding and document the fledglings, and making sure they are all healthy.

  The Carrs knew videographer Jeremy Wolting’s parents. Soon, Wolting was asked to film the Purple Martins, and a handful of other song birds, when they took flight, likely by the thousands, at twilight nearing the end of August in 2018. This time of year is a peak for this type of activity. It lasts for around 20-30 minutes, Susan estimated.

  In the video, it claims this roost could be the largest for Purple Martins in North America. Wolting used a drone to capture the birds flying.

  “It is such a phenomenon, you get goosebumps watching it,” Susan said.

  Susan believes this natural flying phenomenon is likely the birds socializing and getting the younger members of the crew ready for migration.

  “Walpole Island is almost other worldly. It is a beautiful area,” Wolting said of the experience, also noting the drone didn’t seem to bother the birds.

  Paul Hamel, President of the Ontario Purple Martin Association, thanked everyone involved in filming the Purple Martins on Walpole Island. “It was quite spectacular,” he said.  

  The video is available for viewing on Youtube on Wolting’s page. Visit to watch the video.

  For more information about the association or about Purple Martins, log onto


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