- Project Coordinator: Tiffany Brunke
- Volunteer Opportunities: Help with building and installing nest boxes, reporting Purple Martin sightings, reviewing camera footage.
The Squamish Environment Society has installed Purple Martin nest boxes in the Squamish estuary, to support the recovery of this blue-listed species. In 2021 we added custom-designed nest boxes, with infrared cameras to document nesting activity. The photos and video captured will contribute to an online resource, made available to other citizen science groups who are also undertaking Purple Martin recovery projects in BC.
We are actively seeking the assistance of the birding community and other interested community members in reporting Purple Martin sightings and use of the nest boxes. Purple Martins can begin to arrive as early as April in some areas. Nesting season takes place sometime between May and July, depending on weather and other factors.
If you would like to learn more about the project, report sightings or become involved, please contact our volunteer coordinator.
Historically, there were sporadic sightings of Purple Martins in Squamish over the years. The project was initiated in 2015, with the installation of a single nest box on a marine piling in the central channel of the Squamish Estuary within the Skwelwil’em Wildlife Management Area. In 2016, it was occupied by a breeding pair and 3 young. Additional nest boxes were installed on marine pilings in the Squamish Estuary in 2016, 2019, 2020, and 2021 for a total of 28 nest boxes. Five custom-designed nest boxes with infrared cameras were installed in 2021 to monitor nesting success. In 2023, in the interest of sustainability, we moved half the nest boxes to a new specially-designed land-based structure and began monitoring the ability of the colony to make the transition to it.
More about Western Purples Martins
The Western Purple Martin (Progne subis arboricola) is a Blue-listed species in British Columbia that is entirely dependent on artificial nest boxes.
The population reached an all-time low of 5 breeding pairs in BC in the mid 1980’s as a result of habitat loss and competition from introduced species, the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) and European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). Stewardship programs on Vancouver Island and the lower mainland began an extensive nest box program in order to save the species from extirpation in BC. Their numbers have since rebounded to approximately 585 nesting pairs in 2010 and then doubling to approximately 1200 pairs in 2018. The population is still limited by lack of suitable nesting habitat, competition from introduced species, and inclement weather conditions.
This project began as a collaboration between the Squamish Environment Society (SES), the Squamish River Watershed Society (SRWS), the Squamish Birders and the Squamish community. Since 2016, the Squamish Environment Society has managed the project, with support from the Squamish Birders and the Squamish community.
SRWS and SES recognize the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and anglers, hunters, trappers and guides who contribute to the Trust, for making a significant financial contribution to begin the Squamish Western Purple Martin Nest Box Program. Without such support, this project would not have been possible.
Seaspan Shipyards generously supported the building of a new land-based structure for half the nest boxes. We are grateful that the company allowed us to source some scrap materials from their yard and made a donation to cover the cost of the other materials needed for the structure.
We would also like to thank two special people for their dedication to our project. John Buchanan spent many hours designing and building the custom nest boxes and the land-based structure and also donated use of the Mandy-Lynn as a support boat for the project. Bruce Cousens, senior program biologist with the Georgia Basin Ecological Assessment and Restoration Society, has provided technical expertise and commentary on photo and video observations and also on plans to re-locate the nest boxes to a land-based structure.
Header photo: Purple Martin and young at a nest box in Iona Regional Park, Richmond, BC, by Ed Dubois. One hungry chick is swallowing a demoiselle.