Seven-year-old Sedona Wright of Ladysmith gets a chance to hold a baby Purple Martin during the 10th annual Purple Martin Open House July 20 at the Ladysmith Maritime Society Community Marina

Seven-year-old Sedona Wright of Ladysmith gets a chance to hold a baby Purple Martin during the 10th annual Purple Martin Open House July 20 at the Ladysmith Maritime Society Community Marina

Open house celebrates return of Purple Martins

The number of Purple Martins in B.C. continues to rise

The number of Purple Martins in B.C. continues to rise, and during an open house in Ladysmith over the weekend, members of the Nanaimo-based society that works to build up those numbers celebrated the best year yet.

Georgia Basin Ecological Assessment and Restoration Society (GBEARS) director Charlene Lee says the success story continues for Purple Martins.

“This year, I think, has probably been the best year we’ve had,” she said during the 10th annual Purple Martin Open House July 20 at the Ladysmith Maritime Society Community Marina, the site of more than 85 Martin nest boxes. “Certainly, we’re going to have 1,000-plus pairs, which will be the most successful year yet. All our small- and medium-sized colonies are full, and our large colonies like Ladysmith are almost full.”

For the second year, Purple Martins are nesting at freshwater sites such as Comox Lake in Cumberland and Westwood Lake in Nanaimo. Lee says getting Purple Martins into freshwater sites has been one of the BC Purple Martin Stewardship and Recovery Program’s objectives. They haven’t been increasing their nest boxes at existing colonies so the Martins will explore other areas for nesting and expand into freshwater sites.

As well, there has been a considerable range extension for Purple Martins, according to Lee.

“The historic northern limit has been Campbell River, and this year, we have them well up into the Broughton Archipelago,” she said. “Historically, they’ve been solely around the Strait of Georgia, and this year, we have two pairs nesting in Bamfield, and they were seen at the Tofino Airport.”

Ladysmith is the largest Purple Martin colony on Vancouver Island and one of the three largest in B.C. There are currently 85 pairs of Purple Martins in Ladysmith.

The Purple Martin population in B.C. was down to five breeding pairs in 1985, and through the dedication of many volunteers and donations from corporate sponsors, the population is now up over 1,000 pairs, according to Lee.

“The success each year is often weather-dependent,” she said. “They need warm, dry weather to be able to find enough large insects to feed on and to feed their babies. When we have two or three days of rain, they can’t find enough food to feed themselves and their young.”