Bank Swallows are aerial insectivores whose population has declined in Canada by between 93% and 98% in a recent 40 year period. In order to increase available breeding habitat for this at-risk species, a large substrate pile in Invermere has recently been enhanced by creating a vertical slope with the ideal friable substrate – features required by breeding Bank Swallows.
A substrate pile had been sitting in an abandoned lot for at least two decades, a leftover remnant from a development that never saw the light of day. This lot is now owned by the District of Invermere (DOI) and located in the Athalmer Neighbourhood Area, close to the main public boat launch in Invermere where Lake Windermere becomes the Columbia River again. As part of the DOI’s Athalmer Neighbourhood Park plan, the substrate pile was slated to be removed.
However in 2021, a volunteer of Wildsight Golden’s Upper Columbia Swallow Habitat Enhancement Project (UCSHEP) noticed several Bank Swallows nesting on part of the soon-to-be-removed pile. The volunteer and Invermere local Greg Scott, alerted the UCSHEP biologist (Rachel Darvill) of his keen observations. She in turn alerted the DOI about this active Bank Swallow colony, a species protected under federal law during the breeding season. In a partnership with Wildsight Golden, the DOI agreed not only to stop the demolition plans, but also to work on enhancing half of the large substrate pile to make it more suitable for nesting Bank Swallows. This meant resloping part of the bank to make it vertical, a requirement for nesting. Bank Swallows prefer vertical habitat as it makes it more difficult for predators to access.
On October 4, heavy equipment was used to reslope the substrate pile. The substrate is of the perfect consistency for bank swallow nesting, a soil mixture consisting of clay and sand. Bank Swallows make their nests by digging burrows into vertical faces of friable substrate using their feet, wing tips and bills. They create a nesting chamber and build a nest at the end of a burrow. The only part really viable to us humans is the hole dug and used by swallows to access their burrow and nest.
Now that the substrate face has been resloped, the enhancement project in Athalmere is near completion. Bank Swallows can be sensitive to disturbance, so fencing and additional interpretive signage will go up and is aimed at keeping pets and people at a safe distance for the swallows, but will also provide information to people who would like to learn more about these amazing little birds. This enhancement project will be monitored for its effectiveness by the UCSHEP over the next few years.
The UCSHEP is a multi-faceted project that collaborates with partners on various conservation initiatives to conserve, enhance and restore habitat for at-risk bank and barn swallows from Canal Flats north to Donald. The project also engages volunteers in nest monitoring. This enhancement project was made possible with funding from the Columbia Basin Trust, Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program and the District of Invermere. To learn more about the UCSHEP or to become involved in monitoring swallow nests in 2024, please visit https://wildsight.ca/branches/golden/upper-columbia-swallow-habitat-enhancement-project or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.