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Rare Purple Martins Protected, One Chick At A Time, By This Sixth-Grader

By Justin Breen | May 30, 2017 5:13am | Updated on June 2, 2017 10:40am
 The Purple Martin houses on the west side of Montrose Harbor are maintained by 12 volunteers.
Purple martin houses
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UPTOWN — A highlight of Chloe Symons' springs and summers is watching adult purple martins bring their babies dragonflies to eat.

Chloe, a sixth-grader at Decatur Classical School and a Lakeview resident, for the last three years has been part of a volunteer team that protects purple martins at Montrose Point.

Chloe, who has conducted a school science project for three years on annual bird counts of the martins, is completely committed to saving the birds, which are declining in population for various reasons. That includes other birds, like European starlings and house sparrows, taking over purple martin nests and destroying the eggs, according to a WTTW report last year.

"Purple martin numbers are falling, and they require man-made structures to survive," Chloe said. "I think it is important to protect them and help them so they can thrive. I think it's cool to observe them every year and see them return each summer."

The purple martins arrive to Chicago from South America in May and stay throughout the summer. The Chicago Park District has provided purple martin housing structures at several city spots, including Jackson Harbor, Montrose and Bill Jarvis Sanctuary.

In addition to protecting the babies, Chloe said it's fascinating to watch the parents bring them food like dragonflies.

Chloe and other volunteers open the purple martin houses, remove any invasive species nests and then count eggs when purple martins stay to lay them. They also keep track of which purple martin chicks survive.

When the birds are ready to fly, they can fall out of their homes, so volunteers also assist with putting the young birds back in the bird houses if needed.

Chloe "once saved an injured martin by putting it in her bike helmet and bringing it to a bird rehab center and they were able to treat and release the bird," said her mother, Laura, also a volunteer.