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Through gracious funding from Ontario Trillium Foundation, our Save Our Swallows campaign aims to mobilize communities and constituencies to act in favor of protecting rapidly declining and threatened populations of swallows in Ontario.

Swallows, like other birds that are commonplace in our rural landscapes, require committed support from responsible stewards to create conditions that encourage successful reproduction during their breeding seasons.

We have developed multiple resources to help stewards like yourself with their own personal stewardship projects. Please take a second to go over the resources listed below to find the one most suitable for your own individual needs.


Grasslands and Rural Living

Download your Guide for Ontario’s grassland bird stewards today! 

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Get your own Swallow and Rural Living Poster here!

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Beneficial Management Practices of Ontario’s Swallows

There are six species of swallows that are native to Ontario. These migratory aerial insectivores spend the winter months in foraging in South America and return back to Ontario starting in the spring months. Once they are here, they provide many bird enthusiasts in the rural landscape of Ontario an opportunity to observe them while they feed and breed over the next few months, until eventually they return back south in the fall.

While it is well-known amongst naturalists and bird enthusiasts that the populations of swallows, along with majority of the other aerial insectivores, have been declining at an alarming rate since the 1970’s. The next step is to identify and implement beneficial practices to help Ontario’s populations of swallow species to be able to rebound, especially in the rural regions of southern Great Lakes region of Ontario. For that purpose, Nature Canada and Bird Studies Canada has created a list of Beneficial Management Practices (BMP) for each of the six swallow species that are found in the province.


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Barn and Bank Swallows Legally Listed as Threatened
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Barn and Bank Swallows Legally Listed as Threatened

[caption id="attachment_31795" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Megan MacIntosh Megan MacIntosh, Purple Martin Project Coordinator[/caption] Not long after fall songbird migration wrapped up for another year, two familiar summer residents, the Barn Swallow and Bank Swallow, were officially listed as threatened species under Schedule 1 of the 2002 Species at Risk Act (SARA) in Canada. This moment came many years after COSEWIC, the scientific advisory committee, made the recommendation (2011 for Barn Swallow and 2013 for Bank Swallow). Nature Canada congratulates the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Catherine McKenna, for pushing these listings through. With natural habitat significantly altered over the past century, swallows, in an incredible demonstration of resilience, have adapted to rely on human structures for breeding habitat. As migratory birds, they are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act (1994), and have been included in various multi-species action plans at historic sites and conservation areas across Canada. Provincially, Barn Swallow and Bank Swallow are listed as threatened in Ontario and endangered in Nova Scotia, and the Purple Martin, North America’s largest swallow, is listed as special concern in British Columbia. What does this mean? How can it be that the Barn Swallow, the most abundant and widely distributed species of swallow in the world, came to be threatened? Image of Barn Swallow Let’s start with the glaringly obvious bad news: Their populations’ are in trouble, and their disappearance is part of larger trend impacting songbirds – a distress signal from ecosystems widely out of balance. Over the past 40 years, swallows and other birds that rely on a diet of flying insects have undergone steeper declines than any other birds in Canada - some by more than 90%. While scientists are still working to understand more about the cause, threats such as climate change, use of pesticides, decreased insect prey availability, loss of wetland and foraging habitat, industrial activities, competition from invasive species, and increased predation pressure all play a role. If nothing is done, it is possible that we could lose these wonderful species, and with them, their beautiful songs as a symbol of spring. The good news is that SARA was enacted precisely for this purpose – to prevent the disappearance of species at risk. Through SARA, definitive actions and resources can be set in place to get these birds some of the special attention they need. For example, the government is now required to produce a federal recovery strategy for the Bank Swallow and Barn Swallow within 2 years of the date they were listed. A recovery strategy serves as a detailed management plan that includes an assessment of the species and its needs, identifies threats and critical habitat, and sets priorities and approaches towards stopping and reversing their decline. In the meantime, we cannot rely on this as our only plan.  For species so closely connected with humans, a strong stewardship effort is needed to help provide a safe place for swallows while they raise their young in our backyards. Anybody can help. Learn more about Nature Canada’s Purple Martin program, or discover resources by our partners at Bird Studies Canada. To see the full list of scheduled species to SARA, visit https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=en&n=24F7211B-1

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Our voices were heard! Barn and Bank Swallows are going to be protected by government
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Our voices were heard! Barn and Bank Swallows are going to be protected by government

This blog was written by Pierre Sadik, our Senior Advisor, Species at Risk. After many years of silence and delay the federal government appears to have heard our voice and the voicesImage of Barn Swallow of others in the conservation community who have been calling for the listing of Barn and Bank Swallows under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Hundreds of you sent letters or signed our petition to the Environment Minister and she has listened and finally, after considerable delay, moved to protect Barn and Bank Swallows. The government has given formal notice that these majestic little birds are going to be listed as 'threatened’ under SARA. This will begin to offer them some protection as the government must, under the Act, start the process of preparing a plan for the recovery of these species across the country. Nature Canada will be keeping a watchful eye on government to ensure that it acts as quickly as possible and takes the steps that scientists and naturalists have identified as necessary to stop the precipitous four decade decline of these once ubiquitous birds. We will also continue to press governments on other species of swallow, including the Purple Martin, which is likewise showing worrying signs of population decline in eastern Ontario and southern Quebec. Together, we can make continue to sure our voices are heard just as we did for the Barn and Bank Swallow!

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More than we ‘banked’ on…
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More than we ‘banked’ on…

[caption id="attachment_28938" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Alex MacDonald Alex MacDonald, Conservation Manager[/caption] Since the summer of 2015, Nature Canada has been working on an exciting and many-faceted project called Safeguarding At-risk Birds, Bats & Butterflies in the NatureHood, focused on the Ottawa region. The project, which is funded by the Ontario Government through the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, includes field surveys, public education and stewardship efforts for 7 local species at risk (with their legal status listed in the parentheses): Bank Swallow (threatened), Barn Swallow (threatened), Chimney Swift (threatened), little brown bat (endangered), northern long-eared bat (endangered), eastern small-footed bat (endangered), and the monarch butterfly (special concern). Through the project we’ve been able to protect (some of) the species we love right in our backyard, while developing initiatives that can be scaled-up and replicated elsewhere through our national NatureHood program, such as the bat detector lending library or our signature NatureBlitz events. But that’s not all! [caption id="attachment_28932" align="alignright" width="239"]Image of a map Relative Abundance map for Bank Swallow (from: ON Breeding Bird Atlas 2001-2005, Cadman et al 2007)[/caption] As the result of extensive surveys by our field biologist, Nathalie Paquette, this summer we collected valuable data on the local distribution of Bank Swallows. Unlike its cousins this swallow species nests in colonies consisting of large groups of burrows clustered along vertical river banks or, more recently, the walls of sand pits and quarries or deep road-cuts. The birds excavate the burrows themselves on the exposed vertical sandy walls, preferring walls that are actively eroding to those that are sloped. Our surveys this summer and last summer helped to fill in a data gap for Bank Swallow distribution in the Ottawa area and around the globally significant Lac Deschênes-Ottawa River Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA), where the last targeted surveys for the species were unsuccessful and were limited to just a couple of sites. Prior to that, the last Breeding Bird Atlas for Ontario (2001-2005) showed low abundance and only a few confirmed breeding locations for the species in the Ottawa area. By all accounts Ontario’s hot-spots for Bank Swallow are the northern shorelines of Lakes Erie and Ontario, as well as a few large rivers in the southern portion of the province. Bank Swallows are experiencing annual declines of 8.9% across Canada, resulting from threats including loss of nesting habitat, loss of foraging habitats, environmental contaminants and pollution, decreased nest productivity and climate change. In short, there’s no smoking gun and we still have a relatively limited understanding of this species and the threats it faces throughout its life cycle – from its North American breeding grounds in Canada to its wintering range throughout Central and South America, and all points in between. Locally in the Ottawa area, Bank Swallows have almost certainly suffered from habitat loss due to the development of and human encroachment on shoreline areas along local river systems such as the Rideau, Mississippi, Carp and Ottawa rivers. [caption id="attachment_28934" align="alignleft" width="300"]Image of a bird Bank Swallow foraging over an Ottawa wetland (A. MacDonald)[/caption] Since 2015 our Bank Swallow surveys have uncovered almost 2000 burrows in the Ottawa region, which assuming that about 50% of the burrows at any given site are used for nesting, corresponds to about 2000 individual birds. That’s about 10% of the 20,000 individual Bank Swallows estimated to nest on the north shore of Lake Ontario and is about 0.5% of the provincial population estimated at about 410,000 individuals (from the 2016 Bank Swallow Recovery Strategy for Ontario). We’re still crunching the numbers, but these results are really encouraging! Especially when you consider that so little was currently known about actual numbers of birds in the Ottawa region. We’re excited to share these results with our colleagues at Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Bird Studies Canada. Stay tuned for more results of our work on species at risk in the Ottawa region and elsewhere! And if you want to help species like the Bank Swallow get the funding and attention they need, don’t forget to sign our petition here.

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The Barn Swallow
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The Barn Swallow

[caption id="attachment_23299" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Valerie Assinewe Valerie Assinewe,
Guest Blogger[/caption] In this month’s Nature Canada calendar photo, an exhausted swallow rests after its long migration from the wintering grounds in South America. Its journey may not be over; while the swallows have returned to southern Canada, the migration continues for those returning to areas further north. As you await your first sighting of these agile fliers, the following information may add to your anticipation. Where do they live? The Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) live in open habitats across Canada south of the treeline—in fields, parks, roadway edges, marshes, meadows, ponds, and coastal waters. It has become our neighbour, nesting under the eaves or inside sheds, barns, bridges and other structures. What do they look like? The Barn Swallow is a medium-sized songbird—15–19 cm in length and 17–20 g in weight—with steely blue back, wings (29–32 cm wingspan) and tail, and rufous to tawny underparts. The blue crown and face contrast with the cinnamon-colored forehead and throat.  Males are more boldly colored than females. [caption id="attachment_23046" align="alignright" width="275"]Image of a Barn Swallow Photo of a Barn Swallow[/caption] What do they eat? Barn Swallows forage and feed on the fly—literally! They eat a variety of flying insects, especially flies (including houseflies and horse flies), beetles, wasps, wild bees, winged ants, and true bugs. They also feed on moths, damselflies, grasshoppers, and other insects, and a few spiders and snails, and occasionally eat a few berries or seeds. How do they reproduce? They are usually monogamous during the breeding season, but extra-pair copulations are common, and new pairs form each spring. Polygyny sometimes occurs. Both members of the pair build the nest, incubate the 3–7 eggs for 12–17 days, and feed the young. The young leave the nest 17–24 days after hatching.  There may be one or two broods per year. Barn vs Cliff Swallow? These two species are very similar in appearance. Here are some tips to help in identification:

  • The Barn Swallow has a slimmer body and a deeply forked tail; the Cliff Swallow is stockier and has a squared tail.
  • When foraging together, the Barn Swallow skims closer to the ground or water; the Cliff Swallow flies much higher.
  • While several Barn Swallows may nest near each other, they do not form dense colonies like the Cliff Swallows.
  • Barn Swallows create a long, heavy, vertical nest, built of mud pellets. By contrast, the Cliff Swallow mud nest is shaped like a hollow gourd, with a hole for the parents to enter and the young to look out.
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  • Although the Barn Swallow is the most abundant and widely distributed swallow species in the world, its population has declined in Canada since 1970. In 2011, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada listed the Barn Swallow as threatened. In 2012, Ontario added the Barn Swallow to their threatened list. Since these assessments, several initiatives have sought to reverse the decline in Barn Swallow population through habitat improvement and access to nesting sites.
  • Older siblings help build the nest, incubate the eggs, and guard the young, although they generally do not feed the young.
  • Barn Swallows can survive up to 11 years, but rarely live more than 4 years.
The spectacle of the Barn Swallow as it turns and twists in pursuit of flying insects is one of NatureWatchers favourite sights of the season. It is a bird however that has a declining population. You can help get the Barn Swallow officially listed as threatened by signing our petition today!
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Six Ways to Welcome Swallows Back to Canada this Spring
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Six Ways to Welcome Swallows Back to Canada this Spring

[caption id="attachment_26139" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of David Caughey David Caughey
Conservation Intern[/caption] Swallows are beginning to start their spring migration, and they travel hundreds of kilometres a day at a speed of over 30km/h! These small birds are vulnerable to starvation, exhaustion and storms, so when they arrive in Canada they will be grateful for all the help they can get to recover.

Before we get started, here’s how to identify swallows.

Swallows used to breed in caves, but now almost always nest in the eaves of buildings such as barns. However, they also inhabit much busier places, and can be seen flitting in and around bustling restaurants and markets. For this reason, swallows are one of the most familiar bird species in the world.  Even if you didn’t know what it was called, you’ve probably seen them before! Here’s what they look like:

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[caption id="attachment_26749" align="alignnone" width="300"]Image of a Bank Swallow Bank Swallow perched on a branch - visual comparison[/caption]

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[caption id="attachment_26737" align="alignnone" width="300"]Image of a Barn Swallow Barn Swallow flying[/caption]

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Image of Barn Swallow

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One common species seen around the world is the Barn Swallow. The Barn Swallows are small birds with dark, glossy-blue backs, red throats, pale under parts and long tail streamers – the so-called “swallow tail”. They are extremely agile in flight and spend most of their time flittering around catching insects.

 How can you help swallows this spring?

[caption id="attachment_26736" align="alignright" width="300"]Image of Barn Swallow with chicks A Barn Swallow with her nest of chicks[/caption]

1. Monitor your neighbourhood for swallows and their nests

The more information we have on their populations the better! Here is a photo of what their nest could look like:

2. Adopt a nest

If there’s a nest nearby you, try to pay extra special attention to it – without disturbing the swallows of course! Also, try to note the dates of arrival, egg-laying, hatching and fledging so we can compare them to next year.

3. Protect local nests

If you see or hear people complaining about swallow nests – rather than destroying them – help them put up a board to catch the droppings!

4. Plant insect-friendly flowers

Swallows are insectivores, so the more insects attracted to your garden, the more food the swallows will have to eat!

5. Fill out the Nature Canada survey!

Nature Canada has a quick, five minute survey on Barn Swallows, which asks a few simple questions about populations in your area. This allows us to compile valuable insights and information from our fellow-citizen scientists!

6. Sign our petition and become a voice for nature

Another way to help swallows this spring is to sign Nature Canada’s petition asking the government to list both the Barn and Bank Swallows as threatened. As well, more birds a part of the swallow family need to be assessed for better protection. Sign the petition today for your voice to be heard to help these species! [caption id="attachment_26735" align="alignleft" width="300"]Barn Swallow A Barn Swallow gazes while perched[/caption] Fun Fact! Barn Swallows from Europe spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa, Arabia and India. Their wide-ranging flight course makes them great ambassadors for linking countries, and building initiatives, such as Spring Twins, which pairs schools in Africa and Eurasia who share swallow families.
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Saved by Popular Demand?
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Saved by Popular Demand?

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and Legal Counsel[/caption] A new day may have dawned for Canada’s species at risk. Nature Canada is very pleased that Prime Minister Trudeau  has directed Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, to “enhance protection of Canada’s endangered species” as a top priority. Implementing the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) is critical to this work. Last week, Nature Canada and seven other nature groups wrote a joint letter to Minister McKenna outlining some of the pressing shortcomings in implementing SARA including:

  • Clearing up the backlog of  scientifically assessed species at risk  not yet declared to be legally at risk
  • Getting caught up in preparing Recovery Strategies for threatened and endangered species
  • Better supporting the work of  COSEWIC, the scientific advisory committee on species at riskImage of Barn Swallow
The previous federal government fell behind badly in legally listing species recommended for at risk status by COSEWIC. The backlog goes back four years, and includes more than 100 species, including Barn and Bank Swallows and the western Grizzly Bear population. Preparing recovery strategies for endangered, threatened and extirpated species at risk—including identification of critical habitat--is another priority. The preparation of recovery strategies needs to be an objective, scientific exercise to identify broad strategies to ensure species’ survival and recovery. You can save endangered and threatened species by encouraging the Minister and the new government to act by Popular Demand!

Here's how you can help today:

Please consider signing Nature Canada’s petition requesting that the Minister immediately list the Barn and Bank Swallows as threatened.

Learn More Here:

To learn more about protecting endangered species, check out these news articles from the Ottawa Citizen: Triage in the wild: Is it time to choose which species live and which die out? Canada, once a global leader in conservation, is among the world’s biggest cheapskates when it comes to spending to save disappearing wildlife. To learn more about biodiversity targets, click here. Email Signup

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Protecting Birds at Risk Right Where You Live

[separator headline="h3" title="Spring brings the return of migratory birds!"]Have you heard them chirping in your backyard? What birds have you seen already moving through as spring rolls in? Many species are now making their way back to Canada for the summer. Nature Canada and young artists worked together to produce a short video on the Bobolink, Chimney Swift and Barn Swallow. Check it out to learn bird-friendly tips and how you can help protect at-risk Canadian birds right where you live! [embed]http://youtu.be/0iw55ekH0Hw[/embed]

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