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Barn swallows in peril in Harrison-Agassiz area

Barn swallows seem to be on the decline in the local area, and a biologist is conducting a survey on the threatened species.   - Janne Perrin photo
Barn swallows seem to be on the decline in the local area, and a biologist is conducting a survey on the threatened species.
— image credit: Janne Perrin photo

In 2012, Harrison’s Ken Burningham hosted a family of barn swallows. He wrote “I have a beautiful bird’s nest on my back deck balancing on a clothes line pulley.“  The Ramada Inn’s parkade entrance hosted several pairs and some even nested in the parkade itself. Chantilly’s Gelato Parlor allowed a pair to nest under their awning for many years.

Barn swallows return to the same site year after year and will reuse an old nest. Ramada’s site hosted many nests in 2013 but sadly Ken’s swallows never returned. Chantilly’s did, began refurbishing the nest and then disappeared.

What’s happening? Barn swallow numbers have declined by 70% in the last 40 years. Decline is attributed to loss of nesting and foraging habitat, decline in insect populations and mortality due to climate change. From my observations, there has been a shocking decline in Harrison Hot Springs in the last five years. Former nesting sites have disappeared as business owners change.

Unfortunately a breeding pair of swallows cause us humans concern. We view the nests as dirty and messy. A little ingenuity (newspaper, a shelf) takes care of the mess. And consider these birds can consume over 5 million insects per nesting season. Inviting a family of them into the backyard provides free insect pest control.

Biologist Greg Ferguson is conducting a barn swallow survey and stewardship project in the Fraser Valley this year. He is asking citizens to report active swallow nests and roosting sites. I, Janne Perrin, will tally sightings for Greg in the Agassiz-Harrison Area.

Barn swallows are one of the seven species of neotropical migrant swallows that nest in Canada.  All are of conservation concern.

Under the Migratory Birds Convention (1995 Protocol), all swallows and their eggs and nest are protected from disturbance or destruction.  It is illegal under the BC Wildlife Act to destroy these birds or their eggs.

After spending the winter 7,000 miles away in Central and South America, barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) fly about 600 miles per day to return to North America to breed. They arrive in early April but delay nesting to June and July. Some late second nests fledge young as late as September.

Barn swallows are a six-inch long dark blue-backed and orange-breasted insectivore with a deeply fork-tailed. They were listed in 2011 as threatened by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada). This is alarming.

Swallows eat only insects usually foraging within 30 feet of the ground near water. Mayflies, mosquitoes, beetles, moths and other flying insects make up a large part of its diet. A single barn wwallow can consume 60 insects per hour or a whopping 850 per day.

A breeding pair makes about 29 visits to the nest each hour of daylight with about 20 insects in a pellet in the throat. That would be over 400 trips a day. It takes 18 to 23 days for a hatchling to leave the nest. A second brood is often reared with the first brood’s juveniles assisting in feeding the nestlings. The insect catch is more than 5 million for one nest and 10 million for two. Impressive!

Nests are made of mud and lined with grass and feathers and are built from late April through to June. A barn swallow pair gathers mud and rolls it into a pellet and then carries it back to the nesting site in their bills. The cup-shaped nest is built in the rafters or eaves of buildings, on bridges, in mine shafts or on other man-made structures.

Barn swallows play important ecological and biological roles in our environment. They make a significant contribution to Canada’s economy.

Look for them swooping over the Harrison lagoon hunting, bathing, drinking or gathering mud for their nests from muddy shore. Enjoy as by late September most have headed back to South America.

To report nesting contact: jjanneperrin@shaw.ca or 604-796-9182, or Greg Ferguson at suncity28@gmail.com or 604-349-4760.

Learn more at www.learner.org/jnorth/swallow/index.html

- Contributed by Janne Perrin

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