Passionate about Purple Martins

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North America’s largest swallow holds a special place in the hearts of Camrose residents who help with conservation efforts and hold an annual festival in the bird’s honour.

Purple Martins are a favourite of backyard birders, who build house for them.
Photo by Ron Pilger


CAMROSE - When Ron Pilger purchased a house in Camrose, he had no idea he was also getting a new hobby. Tweet This!

“There was a Purple Martin birdhouse in the backyard,” says Pilger. “I became so fascinated with these birds. I inherited one house and I now have three. It’s like having a miniature neighbourhood in your backyard.”

The Purple Martin is North America’s largest swallow and Alberta is at the northern edge of its range. Birds migrate thousands of kilometres each spring to breed and nurture their young and for some time now, North American populations of this tiny bird have been declining. Known for their speed and agility in flight, these birds tuck their wings and dive at high speeds while hunting insects.

Purple Martins are a favourite of backyard birders and many people enjoy installing specially-designed bird houses in their backyards to assist in recovering the species. In Camrose, there are more than 100 purple martin houses – some on city land and many more on private property.

Purple Martin's in their home.
Photo by Ron Pilger

“In Alberta, Purple Martins are almost fully reliant on manmade housing,” said Dr. Glen Hvenegaard, professor of environmental science at the University of Alberta, Augustana Campus.

“In 2003, there were eight nesting pairs in Camrose and by 2009 that number topped out at 173 nesting pairs thanks to conservation efforts. Ongoing research is helping us understand the species even better.”

It’s not enough just to erect a Purple Martin birdhouse. Hvenegaard says that a well-maintained house will yield twice as many fledglings as a poorly maintained house.

"A good landlord will inspect the birdhouse every five days throughout the season,” Pilger said. “Aggressive non-native species like starlings and sparrows will take over a house and push the Purple Martins out if you don’t do anything. You also have to keep the nest clean and clear of insects and parasites – the other great threat to nestlings.”

A typical Purple Martin birdhouse can accommodate 8 to 12 nests and backyard birders find it very satisfying to see a high occupancy rate.

RonPilger is an avid Purple Martin hobbyist.
Photo by Glen Hvenegaard

“This might sound over-the-top, but I have a CD with Purple Martin bird calls on it and I play it to attract birds when I am putting up a house in a new location,” says Pilger. “This hobby has become something that I’m really passionate about. It feels good to be helping with nature conservation right in my backyard.”

Purple Martin Festival

Pilger and Hvenegaard are both members of the Camrose Wildlife Stewardship Society (CWSS), an organization that has been hosting an annual Purple Martin festival since 2010. The seventh annual Camrose Purple Martin Festival will take place on June 18, 2016.

Kids can join in on the fun during the Purple Martin Festival.
Photo by Ron Pilger

The festival is a chance for Purple Martin enthusiasts to come together, listen to fascinating speakers and learn how to be better landlords. The focus will be on Purple Martins, but the event will integrate other birds, wildlife, and environmental concerns into the program.

Learn to identify Purple Martins.
Photo by Ron Pilger

Festival attendees enjoy bird watching, hear about the latest research, learn Purple Martin management tips and more. Activities include a tour of nest boxes around Camrose, a talk by the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, workshops for beginning and advanced martin landlords, and activities for kids.

Roses and Swans

The City of Camrose is known locally as “Rose City” and you’ll find a large number of wild roses in the parkland as well as an elegant tea rose called the Camrose Rose which was patented by a local rose grower and named in honour of the city. 

Camrose has been involved in swan education and conservation initiatives since 1962, when the first swans - a pair of graceful Polish Mutes fondly known as “Hal” and “Fax”, were donated by the City of Halifax.  For more than 50 years, Trumpeter and Polish Mutes have called Mirror Lake home and the city provides winter shelter for the clipped birds.

If you go:

Did you know Camrose is home to a vibrant and bustling downtown core? Get some shopping in with local boutiques while you are checking out the gorgeous Purple Martins. See a list of downtown boutiques here.

Read our Festival Overview of the Purple Martin Festival.

Share this page with your friends and enjoy the festival together.