Installation of my new Purple Martin Colony in Richmond! Plus Tree Swallow Heat Shield Update

You may remember my recent post, where I talked about the new heat shields for Tree Swallows and the new Purple Martin colony I am starting. If not, you can read the back story HERE.

Thanks to the City of Richmond, Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment and Climate Change Canada, we have installed the Purple Martin nest boxes on Federal Lands off Garry Point Park in Richmond on March 26th, 2023. It took me three years to get all the necessary approvals and permits from the federal government, Richmond city council and port authority. It felt really rewarding to finally get these boxes up for the birds. With the only other colony in Richmond virtually collapsed at Iona, we really hope this one will work.

We put metal baffles on to prevent mink and other land predators from climbing up the poles to get to the birds. The pole in the water did not have a baffle of course. As we were installing them we had Tree and Violet Green Swallows chirping overhead. It will be so nice to see Blue-listed Purple Martins one day chirping and sitting on these new boxes.

Rob Lyske did a great job and built the boxes under contract with cedar - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Purple Martin Boxes with predator baffle in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Rob Lyske came up with a great way to number the boxes that will last long term - Photo: M.H.

Some of the poles were super high! Higher than our ladder!

Purple Martin nest boxes on pole in water - the trickiest one to do! - Photo: Melissa Hafting

View of one of the poles as the boat drove away - Photo: Melissa Hafting

These boxes were heavy and were a lot to load into the boat! - Photo: M.H.

We put predator guards on the top of the boxes to prevent gulls roosting and predation

When placing boxes we made sure to orientate the numbers so we could see them from land

View from boat at some of the Purple Martin nest boxes - Photo: Melissa Hafting

John waiting for us to return, the current was swift, so he stayed with the boat - Photos: Melissa Hafting

The city of Richmond will put up information signs with a PUMA logo and QR code across from the boxes to inform the public about these Blue-listed species and why they are declining and why the boxes are in place to hopefully help them. 

City of Richmond Purple Martin logo design for Garry Point Park information QR code signs 

You can see an example of such a sign that the city of Surrey added at Blackie Spit.

Purple Martin info sign in Surrey - Photo: Melissa Hafting

I really hope it will attract the birds to come here and start a new colony. Yousif Attia and I have been tracking their presence at the site for over a year prior, so we are hopeful that they could get enticed here to nest. The area is rife with food for them. Hopefully the old adage if you build it they will come will stay true! We believe most of the visiting birds were coming over from nearby Reifel Bird Sanctuary. The goal is to have an active colony such as in this lovely video by Kate Paton, just listen to their wonderful sounds!

A big thank you to my friend Rob Lyske for building these boxes so beautifully for me and to the city of Richmond for paying for the cost of labour and materials. I would also like to thank Rob for using his equipment and time to help install these boxes with me. We had a great time together doing this!

Rob Lyske on federal land near Garry Point Park (Thank you Rob!) - Photo: Melissa Hafting

I would also like to thank my friend John Reynolds for providing his boat to help me install the new boxes at the colony. We hauled in a kite that someone had lost in the water and the string went on forever. We were glad that it didn't damage John's boat propeller and also that we got all that line out of the water to prevent birds dying from entanglement. Thank you to the city of Richmond for paying for the fuel for this endeavor.

John with the boat which made all the difference for us installing - Photo: M.H.

We were sad to see John and his wife Isabelle and their friends leave after a great morning together.

I also want to thank Ilya Povalyaev for helping me monitor these boxes and for his help in monitoring the successful Tree Swallow colonies that we have in 3 parks in the city of Richmond.

Speaking of Tree Swallows, the new retrofitted boxes with heat shields and vent holes are all installed and the Swallows have returned to them. The white boxes, sandwich holes and heat shields have not deterred them luckily. Now we can only hope that at the end of the season, they work and that we do not have any young or adults die from any further heat waves. I will be doing continuous monitoring throughout the season, so should get a good idea once the heat hits. 

These photos taken by my friend Geoff McDonell at Terra Nova show the swallows are quite happy on them. Sandwich holes were placed on all the boxes to prevent Northern Flicker damage to entrance holes.

Tree Swallows at new retrofitted heat shield boxes against climate change - Photos: Geoff McDonell

Tree Swallow nest box with heat shield and sandwich hole in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

I will provide end of year reports for both species and I’m anxious to share the results. If the Purple Martin colony attracts birds earlier, I’ll update earlier but realistically these colonies can take a year or more to attract these birds because there are far less of them than Tree Swallows.

Thank you to Rich Kenny from the City of Richmond for supporting me and these swallow projects. Thanks to Councillor Carol Day for backing me with the Purple Martins.


  1. PacificnorthwestkateMarch 26, 2023 at 11:57 PM

    Wonderful work Melissa - thank you so much for all your effort to get these installed and to Rob and John for their help!! Thank you for sharing my video of their song - there is nothing more beautiful to hear than purple martins - I hope we can all hear and see them this summer!! Your hard work under difficult circumstances is so inspiring!! Please keep it up! Love - Kate

    1. Thank you Kate. I sure hope we can see them in the summer on these boxes. Tree Swallows are already checking out the boxes it's ok if they use some of course and very normal in these setups but sure hope the majority is taken over by Purple Martins.

  2. This is amazing work that you did to get these boxes installed and all the great changes with heat shields and guards it’s amazing!

    1. Thank you for your kindness. Glad you like the look of the boxes.

  3. What a great example of collaboration.

    1. Thanks Ingrid. I am grateful to everyone who helped me get this project off the ground.

  4. This is terrific! I look forward to hopefully seeing Purple Martins at Garry Point in the near future!!

    1. Thanks Raymond means a lot looking forward to our next birding day together as spring approaches

  5. Well done! Cole asked "Why don't the purple martin boxes have heat shields? How come they're not painted white?"

    1. Thanks Alaina, they don't have heat shields because these are placed on/near the water and have a constant breeze. Also they have bigger ventilation slits and are bigger birds and the boxes are made out of cedar that stay relatively cool. Tree Swallow boxes are smaller and placed in areas that aren't so cool like open fields with no shade. I hope we won't have to put heat shields on purple martin boxes in the future but I haven't seen any literature of people putting them on in the west coast. Tree Swallows like I said are another story and I think in future best practices will dictate we put them on all Tree Swallow boxes that will protect them against heat domes and rising temps due to human-induced climate change.

  6. Well done! Cole asks "Why don't the purple martin boxes have heat shields? How come they aren't painted white?"


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