Skyscraper national park: creating barn swallow habitat in the Rouge
Similar to skyscraper condos that dot the Greater Toronto Area landscape, Parks Canada has built a number of towering birdhouses in the Rouge unlike any birdhouse you’ve seen before.
Recently, an older park barn was found in a state of disrepair and had to be decommissioned for safety reasons. Before the barn was removed, park ecologists observed that barn swallows – a species listed as threatened in Canada, whose population has declined across the country by over 80 percent since the 1970s – were nesting in it.
To avoid any disruptions to the nesting swallows, who escape Canada’s harsh winters by migrating to Central and South America each year, the barn was taken down over the winter months. And to compensate for any potential habitat loss, Parks Canada commissioned a local carpenter to construct and install three large structures to take the barn’s place.
The three birdhouses were made with wood from the failing barn and each has a slightly different design. Unlike a common backyard birdhouse, these structures range from 40 to 120 square feet in size – that’s over 100 times larger than a typical birdhouse!
Over the summer months, park ecologists will monitor the structures to measure how the swallows respond to them. Our hope is that barn swallows quickly adapt to their new homes and use them to successfully lay, rear, raise and fledge their young. Parks Canada staff will note what birdhouse designs work best for the swallows and will also watch for and fix any design flaws that could, for example, give barn swallow predators like hawks and owls an unfair hunting advantage.
If use of the structures proves successful, there’s a good chance more “bird condos” will pop up throughout the Rouge, which could take the term ‘national urban park’ to a whole new level.