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A success story about purple martins

There are 200 times more purple martin pairs on Vancouver Island today than 30 years ago.

Thanks to the B.C. Purple Martin Recovery Program, the birds went from a recorded five breeding pairs in 1985 to more than 1,000 today.

Charlene Lee co-ordinates the program which seeks to recover and conserve the swallows that neared extinction not so long ago.  Lee explains purple martins live in hollow cavity-like spaces, such as old woodpecker holes in snags. She said "much of their habitat has been displaced due to logging for farmland or industrial areas" leading to low population numbers.

In 1985, the provincial government spearheaded a study which concluded the purple martin had decreased substantially due to the loss of nesting habitat. Lee said the recovery program, works to combat the loss of habitat by building nest boxes that mimic the purple martin's natural breeding conditions.

She said the boxes can be found all over Vancouver Island — including at Schooner Cove Marina, French Creek Marina, Deep Bay Marina and in the Nanoose Harbour.

According to Lee, the purple martin population has increased steadily "solely" due to the program's effort.

"It's a really good feeling to see these birds multiply and expand to other areas," said Lee, of why she takes part in the program. "My background is in biology and I was (originally) interested in this program because it looked like it would work well."

Lee said the boxes are built, installed and maintained by more than 145 volunteers including many individuals, First Nation groups, naturalist/conservation groups, corporations, federal, provincial, regional and municipal government departments, and universities.

As the martin population has grown and the number of occupied nesting colony sites has increased in recent years, increased volunteer involvement has been required. For more information on the B.C. Purple Martin Recovery Program, to volunteer or donate visit www.saveourmartins.org/index.html or contact 250-758-2922.

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