Volunteer’s work helps purple martin population increase

The Lower Vancouver Island purple martin, thanks to help from the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, has soared in numbers from a low of 10 pairs to more than 800 pairs in the last few years

The Lower Vancouver Island purple martin, thanks to help from the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, has soared in numbers from a low of 10 pairs to more than 800 pairs in the last few years. To carry out rescues like this, the park reserve strongly relies on volunteers to help keep its recovery programs running, volunteers like Sidney resident Bruce Furtado.

A retired woodworker, 79-year-old Furtado began volunteering with the park reserve’s purple martin program three years ago. He spent those years building birdhouses, or ‘nesting boxes’, for the at-risk species, and setting them up on Sidney Island. There, Furtado and the other volunteers would monitor the birds, and attach small bands, which tracks the birds’ annual, and impressive, journey from the Victoria area to South America.

Furtado says he got involved with the park reserve because he loves being in nature.

“It’s therapy almost … it’s so peaceful being on the island,” he said. “I wanted to do some volunteer work. I originally wanted to plant a tree … [I like] just knowing I’m contributing something in a small way.”

Furtado would take around 10 trips to Sidney Island aboard the Alpine Ferry every season, which lasts from late April to September. This amounted to about 100 volunteer hours logged for the park reserve — Furtado is very proud of a hat he received after reaching the milestone.

However, what he is most proud of, is showing the birdhouses to his two grandchildren.

“They’re my whole life … I’m setting an example for them,” he said.

Furtado has always been a nature lover. Originally from southern California, the now dual citizen says the natural beauty of the north brought him and his wife to Canada in the 1980s. Upon arrival they wanted to live “like pioneers”, which for them meant building a log house from scratch near Butchart Gardens. He now lives in Sidney with his wife and their poodle.

Janet Mercer, who leads the purple martin program, says she enjoyed working with Furtado the past few years she has known him.

“He’d always offer advice but do it in a subtle way,” she said.

Mercer explains that the program is very dependent on volunteers, specifically those that are self-sufficient.

“(The parks reserve) has limited resources in what we can do … I do rely on volunteers that can spend time over there,” she said. She explains that early morning and late evening are the times that the birds are most active, times that don’t quite match to the ferry schedule, which means volunteers are required to find their own way over to the island.

The park reserve started the purple martin recovery program in 2006, though a few nesting boxes for the large swallow-like birds had been placed by concerned bird lovers on the island since the early 1990s. Mercer said in their first year, the park reserve banded 16 chicks, but last year banded nearly 50 chicks. Meanwhile, the number of nesting boxes on the island has doubled, with old ones being restored by volunteers like Furtado.

Laura Judson, public relations and communications officer for Parks Canada affirms the importance of volunteers to many other programs beyond the purple martins. She refers to Furtado as a “kind and enthusiastic gentleman, who embodies the generous volunteer spirit that keeps so many special programs and places like Gulf Islands National Park Reserve operating at their best.”

As for his future in volunteering, Furtado is no longer with the program, but says he enjoyed his years working with Parks Canada.

To find out more about volunteering with Parks Canada go to www.pc.gc.ca.

Peninsula News Review