Chris Sturrock and friend Joe Babity put up nest boxes for Purple Martin birds at the Oak Bay Marina.

New homes keep purple martins singing

Purple Martins are entertaining, very cheeky and very acrobatic. They are really beautiful to watch

Chris Sturrock balances precariously on a ladder.

With outstretched arms, he jimmies a home-made wooden box, partially wrapped in wire mesh, onto a wooden piling at the Oak Bay Marina. Finished, Sturrock slowly makes his way down the ladder onto the dock and looks over the new home, for what Sturrock says, is a very special bird.

“They are not your typical bird. … (Purple Martins) are entertaining, very cheeky and very acrobatic. They are really beautiful to watch, the movement and their song it is really neat,” he says. “They have certainly enriched my life and I think a lot of people are not aware that these birds are struggling to survive because of habitat destruction and loss of good nesting sites.”

The longtime sailor is doing something about it, working with the B.C. Purple Martin Recovery Program, building nesting boxes at a workshop underneath his Saanich home and installing them onto pilings at local docks where Purple Martins now make their homes. He has built nine such nesting boxes already, spread out over several sites including the Oak Bay Marina and Royal Victoria Yacht Club, both of which even agreed to fund the projects, More are planned for destinations as far as Sidney and North Saanich.

The conservation effort that started with a study in 1985 that found only five nesting pairs of Purple Martins remained in all of B.C., has grown into an initiative that has helped cultivate the population to more than 900 nesting pairs today.

“If volunteers had not started putting up nest boxes, there wouldn’t be Purple Martins in B.C. now,” said Georgia Basin Ecological Assessment and Restoration Society (GBEARS) coordinator Charlene Lee. “The old untreated pilings (former nesting sites for the birds) are all falling down and if people hadn’t noticed the birds were reducing in numbers, they wouldn’t be here.”

The Purple Martins, the largest in the swallow family in North America, are marked by their vibrant bluish-purple males, speckled greyish-brown breasted females and their unique and lively chirping song. The social birds were once commonly found in woodpecker cavities or rot pockets in Garry Oak Meadows, but were forced from their homes, to wooden dockside pilings when logging, snag removal and urban and rural development reduced the Garry Oak Meadows to the one per cent left today.

With the industrial pilings the birds moved to now rotting away and being replaced, Lee said the Purple Martins who make an annual 11,000 kilometre voyage from Vancouver Island to Brazil and back every winter, need the vigilance of volunteers more than ever. For his part, Sturrock continues to build and maintain the homes for the 65 active colonies living along the coastline from Sidney to Campbell River, awaiting their return from South America.

“I love birds, I love nature,” Sturrock said. “It is a great cause, and is one of those tangible feel good projects.”

For more information, to volunteer or to donate click here or here.

Just Posted

Oak Bay High student selected for Canada Youth Olympic Team

Barbarians rugby player Lachlan Kratz heads to Las Vegas for Qualifiers

Free public lecture timed with scientific meeting in Sidney

Oceanographer Gregory Johnson speaks on the robots that monitor ocean temperature and salinity

Man charged in suspected Greater Victoria bus assault

The Victoria Police Department has arrested a man for sexual assault aboard… Continue reading

Library’s French collection gets $15,000 boost

Provincial grant adds extra French-language materials to Greater Victoria Public Library collection

Cruise Industry Job Fair on Saturday

Nearly 900 jobs created by the industry

President praises nearly 1,800 volunteers at B.C. Games

Ashley Wadhwani sits down with the Kamloops 2018 B.C. Winter Games President Niki Remesz

B.C. VIEWS: Our not-so-New Democrats

Finance Minister Carole James takes the wheel, steers similar course

OLYMPIC ROUNDUP: Canadians all smiles after record medal haul

Team Canada is taking home a record 29 medals from Pyeongchang – 11 gold, eight silver, 10 bronze

‘All of us should be ashamed’: Calls for change after jury finds Raymond Cormier not guilty

Jury acquitted Raymond Cormier in the death of Tina Fontaine after 11-hour deliberation

B.C. girl hopes DNA drive will help her find birth parents in China

Isabelle Smit, 10, is one of 20 international adoptees from Chongqing looking for DNA samples

That’s a wrap: Day 2 of B.C. Games ends with multiple ties in gold, bronze

Vancouver-Coastal Zone 5 continues to lead, so far earning 25 gold, 32 silver and 25 bronze

Saanich skater golden at B.C. Winter Games

Desiree Grubell takes gold, Emily Walzak silver in Special Olympics figure skating.

The way government learn someone has died is getting a digital overhaul

Governments in Canada turned to private consultants 2 years ago to offer blueprint

Bobsleigh team misses Olympic medal finish

Canadian team finishes four-man event 0.84 seconds behind first place, 0.31 seconds from podium

Most Read