Rare purple martin bird population doubles in Pointe-Claire with new colony

Click to play video: 'Rare bird species makes resurgence in Montreal’s West Island' Rare bird species makes resurgence in Montreal’s West Island
In Montreal's West Island, a rare bird species has made an unexpected resurgence. As Global's Brayden Jagger Haines reports, the purple martin's population has nearly doubled – Jul 15, 2020

The purple martin bird population in Pointe-Claire, Que., has nearly doubled in the last year, according to the city.

A total of eight nests and 35 chicks have hatched in the nesting boxes at Edgewater Park, says Luke Currin, who manages the birds’ nests for the city.

After failing to attract the rare species for unknown reasons, two colonies of purple martins now call the West Island suburb home.

The purple martin is the largest swallow in North America. In Quebec, the species’ population has plummeted, with a decline of 94 per cent since 1970, according to Currin.

Currin says there are only a few colonies in the Montreal area, with the biggest in the province situated in Dorval.

Pointe-Claire is home to the second-largest well-established colony on the island.

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The population’s rebound in the area is all due to the city’s nesting towers, according to Currin.

Three towers with birdhouses atop them are situated throughout Pointe-Claire.

The city says they were installed in 2016 as an environmental initiative. Purple martins only nest in artificial structures.

“Without these manmade houses, we wouldn’t have them nesting here,” Currin says.

The spike in population is seen as encouraging by Kristen Lalla, a McGill master’s student who studies the rare species.

“I think it means the numbers are at least stabilizing,” Lalla says.

“I think it’s too early to say they are increasing, but it’s a good sign.”

Lalla, who has studied this particular population, is hopeful that things are improving for the species.

A variety of factors, including pesticides and global warming, are some of the reasons for the drop in purple martin numbers, but the main cause is still unknown, Lalla sys.

Currin says competition with invasive species such as house sparrows and European starlings has also been suspected as a reason for the decline.

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The new hatchlings will be studied in partnership with the McGill Bird Observatory, which manages the tree swallows in Pointe-Claire.

The observatory is part of the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network, which studies bird ecology and migration in Canada in order to improve conservation efforts.

Several days after hatching, the nestlings are banded with a small metal ring with an identification number attached to their leg in order to study the habits of the species.

“If the bird is found again in the future, you can see where and when it was born,” Currin said.

“From this, you can extrapolate a lot of data, such as age, distribution, longevity, migration patterns, etc.”

The bird breeds across parts of southern Canada and the U.S. before migrating to South America for the winter.

The majority are believed to migrate to the Amazon basin in Brazil, according to Currin.

“Hopefully, the healthy chicks will be able to make their way and come back next year to raise chicks of their own.”


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