Nature Canada

On the Radar: Tracking Swallow Populations

We have been able to move forward with the SOS campaign by using WSR-88D weather radar to monitor Purple Martin roost populations. Using this technology has been an exciting process, and has resulted in some truly breathtaking visuals.

Nature Canada’s Save our Swallows (SOS) campaign has been a major priority over the past few months, with the organization of interactive events taking center stage as we work to spread awareness and education about the rapidly-declining aerial insectivore populations.

We have been able to move forward with the SOS campaign by using WSR-88D weather radar to monitor Purple Martin roost populations. Using this technology has been an exciting process, and has resulted in some truly breathtaking visuals (Figure 1.)

To think that just last year there were no swallows roosting at Monticello Reservoir, only to fast forward to this year and see so many in one place, it’s encouraging. Visuals like this show us what real conservation efforts can accomplish.

Figure 1. 3D Visualization of a roost forming over Monticello Reservoir, South Carolina July 29th 2014, 09:50Z-10:29Z.

The SOS campaign, a project that is generously funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF), aims to mobilize specific communities for the conservation and recovery of Ontario’s declining swallow populations.  There are not many people using radar ornithology to derive the approximate populations of roosts, and our research aims to fill this gap. 

Although resources like BirdCast exists (a source that lets us see a continental view of the rate and direction of bird migration (Figure 2.)), we still can’t historically track bird populations with this tool.

Figure 2.  Sample data from BirdCast, June 1st 2019 at 05:30 ET.

By using our new tool, Nature Canada hopes to track the relative historical changes within a roost, so that we can identify any trends in the population over time.

A historical database for the approximate population for the Bkejwanong Roost is already complete, and other major roosts in Ontario are in progress.  It is our hope that this tool will pave the way for a future in the identification and quantification of roosts so that they can be protected from future harm and we can help the aerial insectivore population recover.

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