The Western Purple Martin was almost extinct in 1985 when the population was down to only five breeding pairs. According to The Purple Martin Project, Purple Martins are part of a class of aerial insectivores, which, “feed exclusively on flying insects and are important indicators of overall ecosystem health. Canadian populations of aerial insectivores are experiencing sharp declines and the cause is not clear.” We are however aware that European Starlings and House Sparrows often push Purple Martins out of local areas by taking over all of the nest sites, including houses that people put up specifically for the martins.

Thanks to the hard work of the BC Purple Marin Stewardship & Recovery Program and the Georgia Basin Ecological Assessment and Restoration Society (GBEARS), the population is now estimated to be greater than 1000 pairs. Over 1500 nest boxes have been installed, monitored, and maintained by these two organizations; however, the long-term goal is to return Purple Martins to nesting in the wild.

On September 2nd, TimberWest paired up with the BC Purple Martin Stewardship & Recovery Program to install nest poles on the Chemanius River estuary. The property is owned by Ducks Unlimited and is within the Halalt First Nations traditional territory.

Traditional Western Purple Martin habitat is found within the cavities of old trees and woodpecker holes snags, located on coastal lowlands. These areas should be open, with little undergrowth and bordering water, however very few of these types of nesting opportunities exist for Western Purple Martins today. Today they mainly use nest boxes that are provided by people. These nest boxes can usually be found clustered together on groups of marine pilings near or on the water.

GBEARS Director, Charlene Lee, and their Senior Biologist, Bruce Cousens, visited the Chemanius River Estuary along with TimberWest’s Senior Biologist, Dave Lindsay, to confirm a location for the nest poles to be installed. TimberWest donated four cedar poles, and with the help of Ducks Unlimited and TimberWest staff, two cavities were cut into each pole. A covering was put on top of the cavities to imitate natural cavities found in an old tree or snag. Flashing was also installed on the tops to prevent deterioration of the poles, and then installed on the mud banks of the estuary. Everyone is looking forward to the spring, when we get to return to the river bank and greet the new inhabitants!

TimberWest is a proud contributor towards group stewardship projects and is happy to support the efforts of the BC Purple Martin Stewardship & Recovery Program. We support the mandate and vision of organizations that seek sustainable land management and protection of the forest ecosystem. If you want to know more about the BC Purple Martin Stewardship & Recovery Program, or would like to get involved, visit their website saveourmartins.org.

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