Purple Martins

Photo: Bloor West Villager

Purple Martins (Progne subis) are voracious eaters of flying insects. Like many other birds with similar feeding habits, their population has been declining in Ontario. Historically they nested in cavities created by woodpeckers, but now they rely mainly on human-supplied housing.

For more information: http://www.purplemartin.org

2015-2017 UPDATE - No confirmed breeding activity but some adults were seen flying over Grenadier Pond, perhaps nesting elsewhere nearby.

2014 UPDATE - PURPLE MARTIN HOUSE UP AGAIN After some minor repairs and a new paint job (thanks to Ray and Mike, and Sherwin Williams at Keele & St. Clair for the supplies), the Purple Martin house is up again. Two females were seen checking it out as soon as it was erected.

2013 UPDATE - NEW PURPLE MARTIN HOUSE Purple Martins have a new High Park home because of the talents of a few Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School students. READ BLOOR WEST VILLAGER ARTICLE

At least two nest-holes were occupied this year and several young were fledged.

2012 UPDATE During a brief storm in late June, the nest box was torn off its post by the wind and later recovered from the nearby marsh. No young were seen after this event, so likely the two broods were lost.

2011 UPDATE - A pair of purple martins have once again occupied the nest box at the south end of Grenadier Pond, same hole as last year. Another nest hole was used on the pond side of the box, so at least two pairs bred here.

2010 UPDATE After an absence of eight years, the Purple Martin , North America’s largest swallow, has returned to High Park thanks to the erection of a new nesting house, part of an ongoing restoration program designed to improve aquatic and terrestrial habitats for birds and other wildlife in the park.

While the species used to be a regular visitor to the park, breeding at the pond for many years, a sudden cold spell across much of southern Ontario in May 2002 killed off their food supply (flying insects) and left many Purple Martins dead from starvation. To make matters worse, the old nesting house on the east shore of Grenadier Pond erected by Toronto Field Naturalists in the 1960s had become hemmed in by trees and was taken over by house sparrows.

Noting these changes, the High Park Natural Environment Committee recommended to park staff that a new nesting house be erected at an unobstructed site on the south shore of the pond. In spring 2007, as part of a shoreline restoration project, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority erected a new house that could be lowered easily for regular cleaning and maintenance. While bird enthusiasts were disappointed that no Purple Martins nested there in 2008 or 2009, this May (2010) saw two pairs of the bird establish nests there.

Read 2010 articles: Toronto Star, Inside Toronto, Town Crier.

Ray cleaning the nest box
Michael White

In fall 2010, two volunteers, Ray Bielaskie and Michael White, took on the task of cleaning the purple martin house. They lowered the house, scraped out the remains of nests, and washed the whole house down with a weak solution of bleach before reassembling and re-erecting it to await next spring's migrants.

The house rebuilt in 2013 has been designed with removable sections to make cleaning easier.

Purple Martin (male)
Karen Yukich
Purple Martin (female)
Miguel de la Bastide
Purple Martin (male)
Miguel de la Bastide
Purple Martin (immature male)
Miguel de la Bastide

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Content last modified on November 22, 2017, at 05:14 PM EST