In today’s post, Caitlin Sparks, Senior Park Interpreter, shares a wonderful at-risk species success story from Rondeau Provincial Park.
The barn swallow is a bird commonly seen in southern Ontario.
Actually the most common and widespread species of swallow in the world!
So why, you might ask, are their numbers declining so much that they are considered a “threatened” species in Ontario? And what are we doing to help protect them?
Swallows are honestly given their common name; You can find them nesting almost exclusively in man-made structures. These structures can include everything from barns or churches with large beams, garages, bridges, overpasses, sewers, and even houses.
In the case of Rondeau Provincial Park, these streamlined birds use most of the park’s man-made structures, including picnic shelters, gatehouses, and, since its inception, our Marsh Observation Tower.
Unfortunately, wooden structures are no match for the fierce winds and storms of Lake Erie, and their designs need to be constantly repaired and updated.
Impairment that is difficult to “swallow”
When the park’s two-level Marsh Tower was deemed unsafe and officially closed to the public, one of the main goals behind the structure’s demolition was the protection of swallows and the habitat they had created from the tower.
In a good year, the tower could house at least 15 swallow nests within the wooden structure and roof beams.
Now that this tower has been demolished, what does that mean for the swallows and their habitat, and how did swallows thrive before barns existed?
Historically, this species nested in caves and protected rock surfaces, such as crevices carved into cliffs or banks.
But that type of habitat, especially in southwestern Ontario, can be very difficult to find! Because they have adapted so well to living among humans, it is unlikely that this species will attempt to seek out an alternative natural habitat as their ancestors did.
To protect this species and compensate for the removal of some of its former habitats, Rondeau established an artificial nesting structure at the Marsh Tower site.
This swallow house is equipped with crossbars, nest cups and protection against inclement weather and predators.
What a success it has been!
For its first season in 2018, it had a fairly high occupancy rate: 20 nests were installed in the structure and 15 of them were considered successful nesting sites.
Help us help them
This nesting victory is great news for Rondeau Provincial Park and hopefully other organizations studying swallows and trying to find effective mitigation strategies for habitat loss in Ontario.
Park staff constantly evaluate the health of our protected areas. When the living and non-living parts of an ecosystem interact successfully without human impact, the ecosystem is said to be healthy, natural, and of high integrity.
In the case of a species that appears to have evolved hand in hand with humans, it is our responsibility to protect these birds and their habitat from further human interaction that could negatively affect them.
This swallow house has proven to be a big hit in our park.
Here at Rondeau we hope that this project inspires, motivates and encourages people across the province to protect the endangered barn swallow.