By Chris Marchand
Biologists with the Ministry of Natural Resources are hoping to provide alternative housing options to a resident barn swallow population, soon to be displaced by construction on Wabigoon’s Nugget Creek Bridge.
A migratory species, the swallows are just beginning to return to the Nugget Creek area where a number have traditionally nested beneath the bridge in the summer months. The bridge has been tarped-off to prevent early arrivals from nesting on the site of a soon-to-begin $3.8 million bridge replacement project.
As barn swallows are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, MNR Management Biologist Jennifer Boyko says the Ministry of Transportation was directed by the MNR to establish a ‘nesting kiosk’.
When they return to their summer digs to find a construction site, Boyko hopes the swallows don’t wallow in their misfortune for long and find the next most suitable nesting site.
“The wood structure of the kiosk provides overhead cover under which the barn swallows can nest,” said Boyko. “Under that are four wooden nesting cups which are intended to replace the nests that were under the bridge which were removed by MTO contractors, so they (birds) don’t have to start from scratch. There are studies that show that barn swallows who return to existing nests have better reproductive success. That’s why we give them an already formed nest and then they’ll fix it up, add a little mud to enhance it.”
She says the nesting kiosks have been successfully used in Southern Ontario and other jurisdictions though are largely untested in these parts.
“We’re just beginning to use this in Northwestern Ontario, said Boyko. “We’ve established a monitoring program with the Ministry of Transportation to evaluate the kiosks to see how successful they are.”
As aerial insectivores catching their food on the wing, Boyko says Wabigoon residents should appreciate the barn swallows who are ever on patrol for some of the Creek’s peskier insect villains.
“They mostly eat larger flying insects like horseflies and deerflies, houseflies and mayflies,” she said. “Mosquitoes constitute a small portion of their diet.”