A new house for Barn Swallows at Rondeau

In today’s post, Caitlin Sparks, a Senior Park Interpreter, shares a wonderful species-at-risk success story from Rondeau Provincial Park.

The Barn Swallow is a commonly seen bird around southern Ontario.

Actually, the most common and widespread of swallow species in the world!

So why — might you ask — are their numbers declining so much that they’re deemed a “threatened” species in Ontario? And what are we doing to help protect them?

Unusual tenants

Barn Swallows get their common name honestly; you can find them nesting almost exclusively on man-made structures. These structures can include everything from barns or churches with large beams, garages, bridges, overpasses, culverts, and even houses.

swallow flying close to the ground

In the case of Rondeau Provincial Park, these aerodynamic birds use most of the man-made structures in the park, including the picnic shelters, gatehouses, and –since its creation — our Marsh Viewing Tower.

two tier viewing platform

Unfortunately, wooden structures aren’t a match for the fierce winds and storms of Lake Erie, and their designs constantly need to be repaired and updated.

Deterioration that’s hard to “swallow”

When the park’s two-tiered Marsh Tower was considered unsafe and officially closed to the public, one of the main objectives behind the demolition of the structure was the protection of the Barn Swallows and the habitat they had made out of the tower.

In a good year, the tower could host at least 15 Barn Swallow nests within the wooden frame and ceiling beams.

Now that this tower has been demolished, what does that mean for the Barn Swallows and their habitat, and how did Barn Swallows thrive before there were barns?

Historically, this species nested in caves and protected rocky surfaces, like hollowed-out crevices on cliffs or banks.

But that type of habitat, especially in southwestern Ontario, can be very tricky to find! Because they’ve adapted so well to living amongst humans, it’s unlikely that this species will try to search for an alternate natural habitat like their ancestors once did.

man working on cross beams

To protect this species and compensate for the removal of some of their previous habitats, Rondeau established an artificial nesting structure in the place of the Marsh Tower.

This swallow house is equipped with crossbars, nesting cups, and protection from weather and predators.

What a success it has been!

ceiling with cups and crossed beams

For its first season in 2018, it had quite a high occupancy rate – 20 nest cups were installed in the structure and 15 of these were deemed successful nesting sites!

Help us help them

barn swallow with worm in beak

This nesting victory is great news for Rondeau Provincial Park, and hopefully for other organizations studying Barn Swallows and trying to find effective mitigation strategies for the loss of habitat across Ontario.

Park staff are constantly evaluating the health of our protected areas. When an ecosystem’s living and non-living parts interact successfully together without human impact, the ecosystem is said to be healthy, natural, and of high integrity.

In the case of a species that seems to have evolved hand-in-hand with humans, it becomes our responsibility to protect these birds and their habitat from further human interaction that might impact them in a negative way.

This swallow house has proved be a tremendous success in our park.

Here at Rondeau, we hope this projects inspires, motivates and encourages people around the province in the protection of the threatened Barn Swallow.