Nesting box

Nine nesting boxes were destroyed by vandals earlier this month at Oakfield Provincial Park. (Jaclyn Morrison/Department of Natural Resources)

Saint Mary's University biologist Colleen Barber is devastated.

Sometime overnight on June 12, vandals likely riding ATVs knocked down a series of nesting boxes that Barber had set up near the front gates of Oakfield Provincial Park.

Nine boxes were destroyed and up to 25 baby birds killed.

Barber studies the mating behaviour of starlings and is contracted by Environment Canada to do research at the provincial park.

She and her students monitor nest boxes. They retrieve some of the eggs and send them to Ottawa where they are analyzed for chemicals.

The research focuses on the biomagnification of flame retardants applied as a coating to furniture and electronics. The chemical washes off easily in the environment and ends up in the soil.

"They're finding flame retardant burdens are much higher in eggs of starlings nesting near landfill sites, over other sites," Barber says.

Starlings forage in the ground, and when they eat invertebrates in the soil the toxins accumulate in their bodies and pass through to their eggs.

If raptors and other forms of wildlife eat the starlings, it means more toxins accumulate in the food chain.

"I know a lot of people don't like starlings," Barber says. "They say they're like dandelions — an invasive species and so common. They're amazing birds. They found a niche... I have a lot of respect for them."

Barber hopes to replace the nesting boxes, perhaps in a less visible spot in the park.

The destruction of the nesting boxes is just "senseless vandalism," according to Butch Galvez, a wildlife technician with Nova Scotia's Department of Natural Resources.

"It appears someone with the ATV drove directly in the line with the nest boxes, knocked them all down, breaking the poles and running over the nest boxes," he says.

It is illegal to drive ATVs in a provincial park. Department officers are investigating, and ask the public to get in touch with any tips by calling 1-800-565-2224.