Saskatchewan

Parks Canada asks for patience with 'aerial acrobats' barn swallows

Creating their nests takes about 1,000 trips to the ground for the tiny birds.

Birds are on species at risk list and use their nests for more than one year

Barn swallows weigh about the same as eight pennies. (Parks Canada)

Tiny barn swallows weigh about the same as around eight pennies or 17 to 20 grams. While building their nests, these small birds make about 1,000 trips to the ground to add layer after layer.

The birds try to use their nests for more than just one year, and this is why Parks Canada wants people to help them out by leaving the nests where they are.

"They are a species at risk," resource conservation manager Norm Stolle told CBC's Saskatchewan Weekend.

"We need to protect these birds for the long term," he said. "The population has dropped about 46 per cent since 1966. We've seen this constant decline within Canada."

Parks Canada conservation manager Norm Stolle explains why the small but mighty barn swallow is on a species at risk list. He'll discuss why destroying their nests is something you simply shouldn't do. In fact, it's illegal to remove an active nest. 6:47

The Migratory Birds Convention Act makes removing active nests illegal, Stolle said.

"So we're trying to prevent the birds building their nests in locations where they become in conflict with people," he said. "And let them build in places where they can continue to live and utilize those nests year after year so the population could rebound."

Varying factors led to barn swallows landing on the species at risk list, he said.

"Change in habitat, loss of habitat. You know we're developing areas," Stolle said. "And they do make a mess, of course, because they do have their eggs and their young in the nest so you get the droppings."

Barn swallows are on the species at risk list after their population has declined over decades. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

When people do remove the nests, the barn swallows prefer to come back, he said. The best thing to do is to deter them from building in the first place. This could be done by netting, bird deterrent spikes, or something as simple as streamers, Stolle said.

The small birds are drawn to man-made structures for reasons he doesn't fully know, Stolle said.

"I think it provides protection. You got the overhang, you've got the ledge, it's easy to build," he said. "And also with people around you get fewer other predators there."

Parks Canada's Norm Stolle thinks a couple of reasons the Barn Swallow likes to nest on man-made structures are because of the ease of building and the protection from predators. (Getty Images/Minden Pictures RM)

Barn swallows can have benefits if kept around, he said, including eating up to 600 bugs a day.

"The birds play a key role within the ecosystem," he said. "They like to eat insects whether it's mosquitoes, flies, other flying insects and it's really also interesting just to watch them."

"They're aerial acrobats," Stolle said. "You see them go darting in the air. They move quite fast, about 70 kilometres an hour."

Barn Swallows weigh around 17 to 20 grams on average. (Submitted by Dwaine Oakley)

Stolle enjoys watching the birds on his own acreage, he said. They can be identified by a deep fork in their tail and by their bright colours.

"It's just an enjoyment to see them feeding."

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend

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