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Meet the 86-year-old ‘instrumental’ to Metro Vancouver’s Purple Martin resurgence

WATCH: Orphaned Purple Martin bird says farewell to B.C. wildlife rescuers after Rocky Point Park release

Kiyoshi Takahashi has been building nest boxes for Purple Martins — along with other bird species and bats — for more than three decades.

In fact, the soft-spoken 86-year-old has been “instrumental” in the birds’ return to the Lower Mainland, according to Wildlife Rescue.

On Thursday, Takahashi was on hand to help Wildlife Rescue staff release an orphaned Purple Martin into Port Moody’s Rocky Point Park, an area where the birds have slowly begun to thrive again.

“I love Purple Martins,” Takahashi, a former Wildlife Rescue member and volunteer with Metro Vancouver Regional Parks, told Global News.

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Because of habitat destruction, Purple Martins, who are the largest bird species in the North American swallow family, only nest in man-made boxes today.

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By the 1950s they’d been essentially wiped out in B.C., with just two breeding pairs known in Victoria.

According to the Ministry of Environment, a breeding box program began on Vancouver Island in the early 1980s. In 1985, Takahashi began building boxes in Port Moody.

“All of a sudden in in 1992 they started returning to Vancouver Island, and in 1995 they nested here for the first time after a long vacancy,” he said.

He’s since built 85 of the nesting boxes, and said the birds’ population in the area saw a notable bump by 1999. By 2010, they’d begun to spread to the Fraser River, he said.

“Kiyoshi has been an amazing asset to wildlife rescue and the Purple Martin population,” said Wildlife Rescue Hospital Manager Janelle Stephenson.

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“We call him up when we want to do a release like this because we don’t monitor the population out there, we take care of the animals in the hospital, so he works on the ground with these animals, he knows the exact number of pairs that exist and where the animal would fit in really well.”

Takahashi says he spends 80 per cent of his time in nature, and has a passion for woodworking and wildlife. Those passions have also made him instrumental in protecting local bat species, having constructed more than 500 bat boxes.

READ MORE: ‘He’s lost’: Southern U.S. bird spotted in Vancouver for 1st time, more than 2,000 km from home

Purple Martins are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, though are listed as a species of lowest concern.

There are currently an estimated 27 breeding pairs in the Rocky Point Park area.

Stephenson described the birds as a key indicator species who play an important role eating insects and pests.

In fact, the birds have a voracious appetite for bugs, consuming hundreds in a day.

Thursday’s release — an orphan found on a boat near Saltspring Island as a nestling — needed to be fed every 15 minutes from dawn until dusk before its release, Stephenson said.

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“We actually fed him in the car as we drove up here,” she said.

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The orphan was just the fifth Purple Martin to come through Wildlife Rescue’s facilities in a decade.

It now appears to have found a new home.

After a few minutes of hopping about the park and sitting on Takahashi’s finger, the rescued martin linked up with the local colony and took flight.

“What was quite amazing about the release of this Purple Martin is that he looked out for other Purple Martins, he was listening for them,” said Stephenson.

“When he flew up the other ones flew down and connected with him.”