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Why are those little birdhouses attached to Squamish marine pilings? (Video)

The work is part of a Squamish Environment Society project supporting purple martins, which return to Squamish in April. 

Conservationist John Buchanan has been renovating little birdhouses on marine pilings in the Squamish Estuary's central channel.

But why? 

No, this isn't the latest in tiny home living for humans. 

The work is part of a Squamish Environment Society project supporting purple martins, which return to Squamish in April. 

The bird is considered a species of special concern in B.C. Thus, the society is working to help the species recover. 

Most recently, society volunteers put up five new nest boxes and upgraded other houses.

Cameras placed in nesting colonies are also part of the project. Most recently, six newly installed non-invasive cameras will assist with monitoring.

Local citizen scientists monitor nest box activity and document nestling development.

The photos and video captured become part of an online resource that is made available to other conservationist groups that are also working on purple martin recovery projects in the province. 

"While they once nested in cavities in old trees and snags, [purple martin] numbers have been decreasing as logging, agricultural land clearing, fire suppression and urban development has reduced their natural habitat," according to the Squamish Environment Society website. 

"Introduced bird species have also out-competed martins for natural nest sites. Now they are almost entirely dependent on artificial nest boxes."

And the efforts of all involved are paying off.

Twenty-two individuals (including fledglings) were counted using the boxes in 2020. There were eight successful nests.

The society received a Club Support grant from the BC Naturalists’ Federation/BCNature, to help fund the project.

Buchanan's upgrades make it easier for conservationists to inspect the boxes. 

The fronts drop down instead of having to be unscrewed and re-attached, explained Rachel Shephard, the project co-ordinator with the Squamish Environment Society. 

More importantly, having the front attached to the base keeps the size of the entrance hole constant, she said. For purple martins, the holes have to be large enough for martins to get in, but small enough to keep out its (non-native, nest competitor) European starlings. 

Buchanan also installed predator deterrents, which can be seen on top of each house and on top of the pilings.

Find out more about the project at the Squamish Environment Society website.