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.
Bank Swallows – a species with intrinsic value that provides immense mosquito control is facing one of the fastest population declines for a species in Canada with an estimated 93% to 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.
Through inventory and monitoring work, the multi-year (2021-2016) and multi-faceted Upper Columbia Swallow Habitat Enhancement Project (UCSHEP) discovered that the Columbia Valley provides critical habitat for Bank Swallows. It’s important for five other species of swallow too, including at-risk Barn Swallows. To aid in species recovery, we are learning more about important swallow habitats located in the region and how to conserve or enhance them.
Our swallow habitat enhancement project is benefiting the Columbia Valley by:
a) offering and providing a citizen-science opportunity to monitor swallows and working with multiple partner organizations,
b) erecting artificial nesting structures in key areas to increase long-term habitat availability for Barn Swallows,
c) enhancing and restoring slopes to become suitable nesting habitat for Bank Swallows,
d) providing artificial nest cups to private landowners to attract barn swallows to pre-existing structures, and;
e) assisting with tagging and research into the timing and locations of post-breeding bank swallow movements (including migratory route and wintering grounds) using the Motus Wildlife Tracking System.
Additional benefits come from providing information regarding the federal Species at Risk Act and Migratory Birds Convention Act including obligations under these Acts, and 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. This project retains ecological experts, naturalists and volunteers that are dedicated to pursuing long-term conservation goals related to biodiversity values in the Columbia Valley (Canal Flats to Donald).
Some of our Conservation Successes
The Upper Columbia Swallow Habitat Enhancement Project (UCSHEP) is working to halt and reverse significant population declines facing these two at-risk bird species. We have erected six large Swallow Condos for Barn Swallows to expand their available habitat; one of these produced four Barn Swallow chicks in August 2022 and some of these structures were prospected by Barn Swallows in 2023. With partners (Wildlife Conservation Society & Lake Windermere Rod & Gun Club) we also built a multi-species condo built to satisfy the habitat requirements of both endangered bats and swallows. We now have 7 artificial nesting structures in place from Invermere to Donald!
To help provide unprecedented information on post-breeding habitat and the Bank Swallow migration route, we worked with Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service and BC Parks to install seven Motus Wildlife Tracking Stations in the region and subsequently tagged 50 Bank Swallows at two colonies near Invermere in June of both 2022 and 2023 (see more on this initiative near the end of this webpage).
With BC Parks we helped restore Bank Swallow colony habitat within Windermere Lake Provincial Park. We’ve removed vegetation blocking Bank Swallow flight paths at a Blaeberry colony, assisted with a barn roof replacement that provides significant Barn Swallow habitat in Invermere, and installed 84 nest cups (provided by the Lake Windermere Rod and Gun Club) on pre-existing buildings and artificial nesting structures. Nest cups can give Barn Swallows a head start on nest building. A Bank Swallow habitat enhancement project was completed in Athalmer with the District of Invermere, and a colony was saved from being removed.
We involve about 70 volunteer citizen-scientists each year through swallow monitoring, have provided two dozen training sessions, had dozens of private landowner visits regarding co-existence and potential enhancements, and spoke with several individuals/stakeholders regarding strategies to co-exist with swallows. We provided funds to the Ktunaxa Nation and Secwepemc Nation (Shuswap Band) who researched their traditional Indigenous perspectives on swallows and provided us with this content that is used on our interpretive signage. We develop posters, videos, website/social media content, press releases, and gave presentations on the project at events and to community groups. We will monitor the effectiveness of all of our enhancement and restoration projects until 2026.
We have additional enhancement projects underway for 2024-2025, including the innovative creation of an artificial nesting structure in the Donald area for Bank Swallows!
So far we have recorded 168 swallow colonies in suitable Bank Swallow habitat (e.g., near vertical, friable soils) from Canal Flats to Donald; 117 of those have been confirmed as Bank Swallow colonies and that is a significant number! Hence, our data has helped identify the area between Canal Flats and Edgewater (think Columbia Lake and Lake Windermere) as Critical Habitat for Bank Swallows. That Critical Habitat was drafted in the federal Recovery Strategy for this species. More data on achievements and the project are found in the Final Reports linked at the bottom of this webpage.
Innovative dual species habitat structure built for swallows and bats.
More on the Motus Wildlife Tracking of Bank Swallows
Through collaborations with Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service, we installed three large Motus Wildlife Tracking Stations (and three smaller stations) in the Columbia Valley in 2022 and 2023. In 2022 and 2023 we banded 50 Bank Swallows each year and put Motus tags on each of them. Motus tracking is being used to identify areas visited during the breeding and post-breeding period (prior to fall migration) by Bank Swallows. Using Motus receiving stations located throughout the western hemisphere, tagged individuals have been 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 can help conserve and recover swallow habitats and populations throughout the year.
For more information on the UCSHEP, please contact project biologist, email@example.com. If you are interested in becoming involved with this swallow conservation project, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This project would not be possible without the generous financial contributions of the Columbia Basin Trust, Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, Regional District of East Kootenay’s Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund, Province of BC’s Gaming Grant, and BC Parks
To view our swallow conservation brochure for the Columbia Valley, click here. Updated December 2022.
Click here for the article in Canadian Wildlife Magazine (May 2022) featuring the Upper Columbia Swallow Habitat Enhancement Project: Canadian Wildlife article-May/Jun 2022 -Barn Swallows.
Press Release: PR Barn Swallows Re-use their Nests (2022)
Press Release: PR Swallow Achievements in 2022
Details on the 2022-23 project can be found in this final report and in this short video:
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 on this webpage by Rachel Darvill