Image: Nanette Mickle. Nature Canada

As part of Nature Canada’s Purple Martin Project, nearly 80 GPS tracking devices were equipped on adult purple martins at several colonies across Eastern Ontario.  The project was launched in an effort to learn more about the birds decline and to identify solutions, improve breeding success, recover populations and encourage long-term stewardship.

The geolocators and GPS were affixed to individual birds by ways of small backpacks, no larger than the size of a human thumbnail.

“Basically, there’s a little harness, a little tether that goes around their body and we just clip it off with scissors. It comes off and we measure the bird and a few things like that then let them go,” Chesky told CBC News.

In conjunction with university researchers, Nature Canada plans to utilize the data of migration and wintering activities to gain a better understanding of some of the risks the birds face.

Returning from as far abroad as the tropics of Brazil, the backpacking purple martins recently returned to the Ottawa area.  Nature Canada’s conservation manager Ted Chesky was part of the team that retrieved the backpacks from the birds in May at the Nepean Sailing Club.  This site is equipped with a number of man-made roosts that attract the birds this time of year, allowing for safe extraction and release.

“We put specialized traps just on the holes where we were pretty sure we had backpack birds,” Chesky told Alan Neal on CBC Radio’s All In A Day last week.

The fact that the birds have returned with their data in tow is a good sign, but Chesky warns it could be some time until all of the data is downloaded and analyzed by their researchers and the Avian Behaviour and Conservation Laboratory in Manitoba.

“It doesn’t take long — maybe a month or two — to download the data. But before any publication, that’s about a year,” he said. “We’ll have a story to tell when we do that, which will be a very exciting story, believe me.”

Purple martin populations are in a massive decline and it the species is now 100% dependent on humans to supply them with nesting sites each and every year.  In addition to the risks associated with limited nesting sites, the purple martin faces stiff competition from other species and has some difficulty dealing with extreme weather conditions.

If you would like to do your part, stop in and talk to us about installing a purple martin house in your backyard.  Citizen science does and will continue to play a vital role in the revitalization of these birds.




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