Wind farms additional threat to declining purple martins: Nature Canada

Purple Martin being banded in Ottawa for research

Don Butler, Ottawa Citizen, July 8, 2014

Putting a “backpack” on an unwilling purple martin is just about as tricky as it sounds. Yet Nature Canada hopes doing so might shed light on the calamitous decline in the birds’ numbers in Ontario in recent years.

“The population is just plummeting,” Nature Canada spokesman Paul Jorgenson said Tuesday at the Nepean Sailing Club, where one of the largest colonies of purple martins in the region nests in two highrise “bird condos.”

Since 2005, the number of purple martins in Ontario has dropped from about 25,000 to an estimated 15,000 today. Similar declines have been recorded across Eastern Canada and the American northeast.

Purple martins — which nest only in man-made houses throughout much of North America — are the largest of nine swallow species that breed in Canada and the United States.

“We have no idea whether the problem lies here, in their wintering grounds (in Brazil) or somewhere in between in transit,” says Jorgenson. “This is really one of these big mysteries that we’re trying to solve.”

To that end, Nature Canada, in partnership with York University and the University of Manitoba, has launched an initiative to track 65 purple martins from Ottawa and the Kingston area. …

Some of their roosting spots are along eastern Lake Ontario, including Wolfe Island, home to a large array of industrial wind turbines.

According to some studies, those turbines kill 50 to 100 purple martins annually, Cheskey said. “That’s a pretty high proportion.”

With more wind farms proposed on nearby Amherst Island and Prince Edward County, which are also on the migration flyway, the threat could increase.

Winds farms, says Cheskey, “just can’t go everywhere. There should be certain no-go zones.” If turbines start killing birds and damaging biodiversity, “to me it’s no longer green energy,” he says.

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