The largest swallow species in North America, the western purple martin (Progne subis arboricola), numbered fewer than six pairs in British Columbia in the mid-1980’s. Because of habitat loss and competition from invasive birds such as the European starling, they were nearly extirpated from the province.
Through a volunteer nest box program, the local population has since grown to around 600 breeding pairs. Each summer, biologists along with volunteers check each nest box. They record the number of nestlings in each nest and apply leg bands to the birds to track their migration and dispersal. It is part of the BC Purple Martin Stewardship Recovery Program, initiated in 1985. Many of these resilient birds will end up in South America, where they’ll spend their winter, before making their way back to BC the following spring.
Photographer Chris Kimmel spent some time with the biologists and volunteers, documenting their research and giving us an intimate look into a species that’s on the upswing! You can see the rest of Chris’ images here.