U of R researcher rescues barn swallows with nests made of coconuts

Stephen King saw the idea a few years ago in an article. When he found an abandoned baby barn swallow, he immediately knew what to do.

It sounds a little weird, but they work, says University of Regina researcher

Stephen King's coconut nets are now being used by swallows outside of the University of Regina library. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

Regina's Stephen King shares at least one quality with the famous author he shares a name with: a big imagination.

When a nest of barn swallows fell to the ground at the University of Regina campus, the researcher — who is also a bird enthusiast — immediately remembered a piece of information he had read years ago.

"There was a story on the CBC website about two years ago about two people who were making these coconut shell nests," said King

"I had sort of filed that away."

He had previously seen three little babies had been in the nest before a large storm in July knocked it from its perch.

There was just one bird remaining when King went to investigate. He promptly named it Bernard the barn swallow. 

Barn swallows eventually nest in the coconuts. It saves them hundreds of trips to construct their own nest the old fashioned way. (Submitted/ Stephen King)

He scooped little Bernard up on his lunch hour, took the bird home and crushed some ants to feed him.

King headed to the hospital with the bird and dropped him off at Salthaven animal rescue in Regina.

They released Bernard near a family of swallows near Edenwold.

Barn swallows are on the decline, partly due to loss of habitat in the province's barns.

That's why King started to make nests of coconut shells.

Now some of King's creations are in use at the University of Regina's library.

Regina researcher Stephen King makes nesting spots for barn swallows out of coconuts. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

Supermarket to super nest

King offered some tips for anyone looking to make their own coco-nests.

  • Prepare the coconut.

    • After purchasing a coconut, drill three holes on the end and pour out the coconut milk before you cut into it.

    • The coconut needs to be cut lengthwise, into two cups. Cut those in half so you have four parts to work with.

    • Get rid of the meat. King used a drywall spreader.

King recommends a trial-and-error approach to find the best spot for the nest. (Matthew Howard/CBC)
  • Begin coconut trial and error

    • Hold the cup against the wall to get an idea of how it should sit.

    • Drill two small holes into the cup.

    • Use your discretion as to where the coconut should connect to the wall.

    • Use pipe strapping - a thin metal chord found in most hardware stores - and cut it into small chunks.

    • Bend each chunk into an L-shaped bracket.

    • Insert a bracket into each little hole you drilled through the coconut. Use a screw to secure.

  • Secure the coconut

    • You should be left with a cup you can sit against the wall with a bracket that can be screwed to the wall surface.

    • "You could then take one of those quarter coconuts and cut it at a right angle to take a little bit of it off the side," said King.

    • Swallows prefer to nest in corners or existing alcoves.

    • Once the nest is secured against a wall or in a corner (where swallows like to nest)  back away from the nest and wait for the barn swallows to make it their new home.


Bridget Yard is a journalist and content creator based in the Greater Toronto Area. Originally from Schumacher, a small mining community in northern Ontario, she spent a decade pursuing a career in journalism close to home, then in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan with CBC.


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