By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
It’s been a decades-long sad song for the bank and barn swallows of the passerine songbird family — their numbers have dropped significantly, a 98 per cent population decline over the last 40 years. Lovers of the acrobatic songbirds are nervous, and for good reason, with both the bank and barn swallows considered an at-risk species and labelled as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Barn swallows, known for their immense mosquito control, have been blue listed in the province of B.C., which simply means a light is shone on any species or ecosystem of special concern. Some contributing factors to the decline of certain swallow species are related to the decline of agriculture, regrowth of forests, suburbanization, urbanization and the common practice of closing up barns in some areas. As their name suggests, barn swallows have long found refuge in these buildings.
According to Nature Canada, these two varieties of the swallow have become listed as threatened species under Schedule 1 of the 2002 Species at Risk Act in Canada. It took many years for this to become official in 2017, following recommendations that the barn swallow be added to the list in 2011 and the bank swallow be added to it in 2013. It was then-Environment Minister Catherine McKenna who pushed those listings through in 2015. After much work and research to determine Columbia Valley nesting locations for bank and barn swallows, the Columbia Valley Swallow Project (CVSP) took flight in 2020, with its main goal that first year being locating more nesting sites. In all, 135 swallow colony sites were discovered in steep crumbly soils, with 96 of those confirmed as active bank swallow colonies.
The region between Canal Flats and Edgewater has proven to be popular with the tiny bird as the area is ideal and critical as a breeding habitat. The CVSP has brought on trained, volunteer citizen-scientists who involved with monitoring the species and documenting important information, such as breeding locations. Another aim of the CVSP is to educate and provide information to the public regarding the Migratory Birds Convention Act. Part of this includes empowering private landowners with their duties to protect nests. It is illegal to remove swallow nests on private lands and has of late become a great conservation concern.
The Upper Columbia Swallow Habitat Enhancement Project is working on enhancement, restoration, monitoring and tracking initiatives for at-risk swallows in the region. As the 2022 field season wraps up preliminary numbers show that 70 volunteers helped on this project this year, monitoring 65 barn swallow nest sites, 72 bank swallow colonies and 40 cliff swallow nest sites. A fourth artificial nesting structure was completed in the Parson area last month while a fifth structure is in the works.
“We erected the third largest Motus Wildlife Tracking Station in the Columbia Valley with the assistance of BC Parks and the data from bank swallows we tagged in July 2022 is being received at all stations we installed,” said Program Biologist Rachel Darvill. “All of these initiatives are working towards swallow conservation for these threatened species.
It is believed this data can be used to assist with biodiversity and sustainability goals, not to mention inform regional planning processes. Darvill who has been studying swallows for many years, suggests keeping outside lights off at night, as the glare can cause disorientation and can disrupt the nocturnal migratory behaviour of the small songbirds and many other birds. While the CVSP is only in its second year, there are other volunteer projects one can get involved in through Wildsight Golden, such as the Christmas Bird Count and the Swallow Citizen Science Project.
To learn more, visit Columbia Valley Swallow Project online at wildsight.ca/branches.golden.