Populations of birds that catch insects while flying have been declining for decades. Conservation actions must be put into place to help halt and reverse this trend. Through inventory work we found that the Columbia Valley provides critical habitat for Bank Swallows and it’s important for 5 other swallow species as well, including at-risk Barn Swallows. There is a benefit and conservation need to learn more about these important habitats and to complete Bank and Barn Swallow restoration and enhancement work in the Upper Columbia Valley to aid in species recovery.
Bank Swallows – a species with intrinsic value that provides immense mosquito control is facing one of the fastest population decline for a species in Canada with an estimated 93%-98% population loss in Canada over a recent 40 year period. With fewer than 10% of their population remaining in Canada, this species requires urgent conservation action.
Similarly, Barn Swallows (one individual eats up to 850 insects each day) have had an overall population decline of 76% in Canada in a 40-year period.
The Upper Columbia Swallow Habitat Enhancement Project (UCSHEP) is working to halt and reverse significant population declines facing these two at-risk bird species.
The 2020 Columbia Valley Swallow Project (CVSP) engaged 69 volunteers and located 96 active Bank Swallow colonies (92 in the region between Canal Flats and Edgewater), indicating that this area provides critical breeding habitat for this species. Breeding habitat is a limiting factor for Bank Swallows because they require very specific breeding conditions such as low-elevation (<900m), large near-vertical banks and with specific substrates that are easy to dig into but also maintain a hole/cavity. The 2020 CVSP also identified nesting sites for Barn Swallows including three large Barn Swallow colonies as well as several Cliff Swallow colonies. Several of those nest sites are under threat due to nest removal and/or future decommissioning of buildings. Habitat conditions in the lower Columbia are important for the recovery of at-risk swallow species and need to be protected, restored in some cases, and enhanced in others – the UCSHEP aims to do this.
In 2021, the UCSHEP engaged with Indigenous groups and had a Shuswap Band (SB) (Secwépemc) member monitor Bank Swallow colonies on their land. The UCSHEP continues to engage meaningfully with the SIB and the Akisqnuk First Nation (Ktunaxa). We will have Indigenous perspectives regarding swallows on interpretive signage in the Columbia Valley in the fall of 2022, traditional knowledge provided by the Secwépemc and Ktunaxa Nations.
We helped identify the area between Canal Flats and Edgewater as proposed Critical Habitat for Bank Swallows; this Critical habitat was drafted in the 2021 federal Recovery Strategy proposed for Bank Swallows.
The Bank Swallow colony at Windermere Lake Provincial Park was observed to withstand negative impacts such as sticks in burrows, enlarged entrances, and unauthorized trail through the colony. In 2021, we worked closely with BC Parks to restore this habitat located at that provincial park. We installed ropes around the colony (intended to help restore colony habitat), reshaped the habitat to make it more suitable for breeding Bank Swallows and installed interpretive signage about Bank Swallows at the park. We also worked with The Nature Trust of BC on enhancing habitat for Barn Swallows on their property in Edgewater.
We do extensive education and volunteer coordination to monitor a large number of both Bank and Barn Swallow nest sites and colonies; data management is also a large component. We developed a training video for volunteers, a website, press releases, etc.
In 2021, we enhanced some previously erected structures by installing 45 Barn Swallow nest cups on buildings (nest cups were provided by the Lake Windermere Rod and Gun Club) to make them more attractive to nesting Barn Swallows. In 2021 and 2022 we have built five large (12×18 feet) artificial nesting structures for barn swallows in the Columbia Valley and we are installing more nest cups in 2022 and 2023.
We are collaborating with Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service and installed three large Motus Wildlife Tracking Stations (and one smaller station) in the Columbia Valley in 2022. In 2022 we banded 50 bank swallows and put Motus tags on each of them, 50 more will be tagged in 2023. Motus tracking is being used to identify areas visited during the breeding and post-breeding period (i.e., prior to fall migration) by Bank Swallows. This information is key for helping to protect Bank Swallows within the North Columbia/Upper Columbia by learning what areas are important to conserve, enhance, or restore for Bank Swallows and at other breeding locations across Canada. In addition, using Motus receiving stations located throughout the western hemisphere, tagged individuals will be tracked during fall migration, providing unprecedented information on migratory timing, routes, stopover locations, and winter areas. This information is key for forming international collaborations that will conserve and recover swallow habitats and populations throughout the year.
We have further plans for enhancement and restoration efforts in 2023-2026, including the restoration of Bank Swallow habitat and building more structures for Barn Swallows.
The Upper Columbia Swallow Habitat Enhancement Project (UCSHEP) is benefiting the Columbia Valley by:
a) offering and providing a citizen-science opportunity to monitor swallows,
b) erecting artificial nesting structures at places where current nests are being (or slated to be) removed and creating additional breeding habitat,
c) restoring suitable breeding habitat sites,
d) providing artificial nest cups to private landowners to attract Barn Swallows by enhancing breeding opportunities at structures already in place, and;
e) providing unprecedented information on the timing and locations of Bank Swallow movements using the Motus Wildlife Tracking System.
Additional benefits come from providing information regarding the Species at Risk Act and Migratory Birds Convention Act including obligations under this Act by educating private landowners regarding their duties to protect nests (the illegal removal of swallow nests on private lands is of great conservation concern).
Volunteers are gaining considerable appreciation and knowledge of swallows through citizen-science participation and this project retains ecological experts, naturalists and volunteers that are dedicated to pursuing long-term conservation goals related to biodiversity values.
Details on the outcomes of the 2022 field season are forthcoming and will be provided in a final report early 2023.
If you are interested in becoming involved with this swallow conservation project or you simply want to know more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here for the article in Canadian Wildlife Magazine (May 2022) featuring the Upper Columbia Swallow Habitat Enhancement Project: Canadian Wildlife article-May/Jun 202 -Barn Swallows.
Press Release: PR Barn Swallows Re-use their Nests
Press Release: PR Swallow Achievements in 2022
November 24, 2022
UCSHEP Volunteer training video:
Wildsight Golden’s UCSHEP would like to acknowledge financial and in-kind contributions from the following organizations:
All photos by Rachel Darvill