MOTUS Wildlife Tracking System being used in the Columbia Valley!

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Bank swallows are arguably facing the fastest population decline for a species in Canada, with a staggering 98% population loss over a recent 40-year period. With only 2% of their population left in our country, this species requires urgent conservation action.

There is currently no data on the migratory pathway used by western Canada’s Bank swallow populations. Wildsight Golden’s Upper Columbia Swallow Habitat Enhancement Project (UCSHEP) is looking to help change that.

Wildsight Golden is collaborating with Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service (ECCC CWS) to track bank swallows. Through the partnership with ECCC CWS and UCSHEP, three long range Motus Wildlife Tracking Stations are being installed in the Columbia Valley this year. These automated radio-telemetry stations track the movement and behaviour of small flying animals that have Motus tags attached to them. These tags should fall off a swallow within six months of attachment.

So that swallows to be tracked by these Motus stations, UCSHEP and ECCC CWS will be tagging about 50 individual bank swallows in 2022 with the tagging of another 50 birds in 2023.

“Using Motus will help us understand the migratory pathways of western bank swallows.  Knowing where bank swallows spend time outside of their breeding range will help us learn what other areas are important to conserve, leading to forming international collaborations providing landscape level benefits (Columbia Valley to South America),” explains Rachel Darvill, UCSHEP lead project biologist. “We can work to conserve, enhance, and restore critical habitat for bank swallows in the Columbia Valley, but threats during migration and on wintering grounds are largely unknown and are important in understanding the species’ decline and how to reverse this decline.”

While wetlands and open water are important areas with food, nesting bank swallows mainly rely on open non-watery habitats (grasslands in some cases) for eating their prey (mainly insects). It has been seen that the ongoing decline of grassland-reliant birds is linked to a number of regional changes, such as conversion of native grasslands to agriculture, urbanization of abandoned farmland, rangeland degradation and agricultural intensification. Thus, it is conceivable that some (or all) of these changes have also led to a reduction in suitable foraging grounds for breeding bank swallows.

“We will learn more about how reliant bank swallows in the Columbia Valley are on grassland habitats. Using Motus, we will also learn more about local movements around the breeding colonies (as well as winter and post-breeding movements), which is needed to determine what other areas are critical to help protect for bank swallows as a species,” says Darvill. The tracking system will also help researchers identify where bank swallows roost after the young leaves the nest,

The UCSHEP would like to thank those that largely fund the project: CBT Ecosystem Enhancement Program, Fish and Wildlife Compensation Fund, BC Parks License Plate Program, Regional District of East Kootenay’s Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund, Columbia Shuswap Regional District. There are many additional collaborators such as members of the Akisqnuk community and Shuswap Indian Band, and the Lake Windermere District Rod and Gun Club. For a complete list of collaborators and for more information please see our webpage.