I had the pleasure of being invited by Jim Ray, wildlife biologist at Pantex, to volunteer for a Purple Martin conservation research project. The project would consist of trapping 22 Purple Martins which would be identified, measured, weighed and samples of feather and blood would be collected. Then the birds would be outfitted with tiny geolocation devices which will record their daily movements for up to a year.
The project is part of overall research being done by York University researcher Dr. Kevin Fraser from Toronto to study the movements and behavior of Purple Martins. The geolocation trackers were funded by the Department of Energy and Pantex in connection with a Presidential directive to help study and preserve migratory birds.
I thought you might be interested in some of the methods used to capture and work with the birds. Ray and Fraser were assisted by volunteers consisting of biology students from WTAMU, Jim's family, and myself.
I know at least two local TV stations and the Globe News sent reporters out to get the story. I give my kudos to KFDA NewsChannel10 for the best coverage. You can watch the video they produced here in a new tab - Pantex gets hands on with purple martin conservation.
I hope to get invited for the project to retrieve the geolocators from the birds next year in the spring and discover where they have traveled. Purple Martins are the largest member of the swallow family in North America, and affixing small geolocator tracking devices will help expand scientific knowledge about the birds.
“Purple Martins are declining in some areas of the United States, and it is critical we continue to learn about their year-round needs and protect them,” said Ray, who studies a variety of wildlife species in his work at Pantex.
Ray said Purple Martins have been popular among bird watchers since early settlers found Native Americans providing the birds with living quarters in hollowed-out gourds. Providing birdhouses has been a popular pastime for birders ever since.
“I’ve been fascinated by Purple Martins since I was exposed to them when I went to graduate school in South Dakota,” Ray said. “Although I have been studying and promoting them for 25 years, it took me 16 years to attract my first nesting pair.”
Martin aficionados like Ray place specially constructed bird houses in their yards. Ray, who along with Fraser holds a permit to capture the birds, has banded more than 10,000 Purple Martins. Since 2007, geolocators – which weigh 1.5 grams and estimate the location of the birds by recording sunrise and sunset times – have expanded the scientific knowledge of the birds’ movements. Researchers discovered the small birds spend up to a month and a half flying south to Brazil in the fall, but return north to their U.S. breeding colonies in only two weeks during spring.