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Ottawa's purple martins

Ottawa's Purple Martin Conservation Association

100% Love For These  Purple Bundles of Joy 

- EST. 11/1/21-

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Ottawa's Purple Martins

Purple martins?

Purple martins, also known as Progne Subis, are the largest bird amongst the 90 species in the family of Swallows. In this past summer of 2021, there were an estimated 15,000 purple martins in Ottawa. Despite their names, purple martins are not truly purple birds but instead have an iridescent sheen (when a surface’s colour changes according to its perceived angle (Thesaurus, 1998)). This phenomenon is caused by the refractions of the incident light; it may make their feathers appear green or blue, depending on the lighting conditions (Britannica, 1998). Furthermore, they live between 1 and 5 years, with an average lifespan of around 4-5 years. In fact, the oldest recorded purple martin passed away at an astonishing 8 years old! (H.W.W, 2015)  



Invasive species

European Starlings are undefeated purple martin killing machines when it comes to taking over nests

Since most subspecies of the purple martin are entirely dependent on humans from their nesting to food supplies, their nests have to be protected from other, more aggressive species such as the European starlings. They are the purple martin’s main competitor since they are both cavity nesters and will fight to the death over a nesting site. The fact purple martins will usually lose these fights is their main downfall since unmonitored purple martin houses are often overtaken by more aggressive, non-native species. (Cornell Lab, 2021)





On top of that, the summer's random and heavy rainfalls have also caused many deaths of younger purple martins either getting blown out of the sky by heavy winds, getting lost due to limited visibility, or simply because their parents can not find food to feed them. (O.P.M.A, 2001)


Summer heatwaves are deadly for purple martins, but mainly for the younger generations since an enclosed nest can heat up to extreme temperatures very quickly. 


During spring, continued cold weather in Ottawa creates a lack of food for the purple martins since insects don’t come out until it warms up outside (unpredictable weather).


Purple martins have adapted to climate change by shrinking, with smaller bodies and shorter legs offset by longer wings. This adaptation favours survival in warmer temperatures but ultimately makes them more vulnerable to predators and a physically weaker bird. (Delvert, 2019)

Conservation Status

     An Ottawan purple martin landlord at the Nepean Sail Club told CTV News from his years of experience that: "From 2009, we noticed a decline," says Huszcz, "Our highest number of babies we banded was 385 and the numbers declined and this year we're going to have barely 120, maybe 130 so it's more than half. So there's a reason for it and I don't know what it is because we didn't change anything here so there reason is somewhere else." (Schnurr, 2014) In other words, the population is drastically declining for reasons outside of his control.
     How well are purple martins doing in Ontario, you may ask? "[In] 2005, there were an estimated 25-thousand in Ontario," says Ted Cheskey, the bird conservation program manager with Nature Canada, "now there's about 15-thousand, and at the rate they're going, they will probably end up on the species at risk." (Schnurr, 2014) Hence, the threat is real, and we need to do something about it before it is too late. 

Baby purple martin



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Infrastructure Savers

Purple martins help control destructive insects' populations worldwide. Some of these insects have caused humans many problems, such as termites, who drive a combined 5 billion dollars worth of structural damage in the United States alone PER year. (Orkin, 2014). With that said, having purple martins further control the destructive insect population, there would be significantly less damage done to structures. With fewer repairs to do for buildings, not only would the population save more money, but it would also help reduce the amount of material humans need to sustain nature's damage. By doing so, the air will be less polluted by avoiding the extra manufacturing of those products (and the emissions that come with it). Consequently, the demand for these products will most likely be lower, making them more affordable to the population.

     If we can keep purple martins inside Ottawa, they may serve as an important tourist attraction. For example, many people this past year were keen on visiting the Nepean Sailing Club's purple martin 'condos' to see the birds (Ottawa Citizen, 2021). 
     All things considered, Ottawa is known not only for the parliament but also for its nature. By keeping this species alive and thriving, we would make wildlife more diverse in our already beautiful city. By effectively increasing tourist activities, we could then make more money off of an increasing number of people better enjoying their stay, which would generate more money for the city. It's a pretty simple win-win situation.

Crop Savers

Purple martins are also essential to protect crops from moths, caterpillar beetles, etc. In fact, last year alone, Canada managed to lose north of 1.4 billion dollars worth of produce; most of that loss came from insects destroying plants (Canada, 2000). Similar to the consequences of damaged infrastructure mentioned above, if farmers can lose fewer crops, they would then be able to sell them at a lower price and make more profit at the same time. Additionally, farmers will consequently use fewer pesticides to protect their crops from a lower number of bugs. Moreover, there will be less pollution due to insecticides and their manufacturing. On top of that, the effects of bioaccumulation are directly proportional to the number of pesticides used. Thus there will be fewer toxins floating around the environment. Hence, the economy, the cleaner environment and the consumers will all greatly benefit from lower pesticide use, lower prices and less pollution in the agricultural industry.

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