If you have visited A Rocha’s Brooksdale Centre, you might be familiar with the swirl of acrobatic activity that takes place by the barn in spring and summer (evidence of that activity is generously scattered by the barn entrance!).  We look forward to annually hosting three different species of swallow at this time of year: barn swallows, tree swallows and cliff swallows are all nesting on the property.

Photo credits: Roy Thomson

Sadly, as you may know, aerial insects have been facing global declines, along with the birds that feed on them – this includes swallows. A Rocha’s Conservation Science team’s study of barn swallow nest success across the watershed over the past 6 years  also indicates declining numbers.  Landowners who have lived in the area for many years confirm our observations – they used to have many active barn swallow nests on their properties, and now they have only 1 or none.

This spring and summer, A Rocha is partnering with researchers across North America to take a closer look at aerial insects, particularly as they relate with our feathery friends. Funded through Environment and Climate Change Canada, A Rocha has purchased two malaise traps (see photo below), collection bottles, and a sensitive weight scale.

 Photo credits: Christy Juteau

We are setting up the traps for three 72hr-long sets, along with numerous other North American researchers, timed with tree swallow egg laying, egg hatching and juvenile fledgling.  Counting and sorting the insects will help us determine abundance and diversity. These data will contribute to the larger study, to help answer the questions about aerial insects and their precocious predators – including our gorgeous swallows.

As we learn more about swallows and their food sources, we can use our research to inform land use decisions and hopefully shift the swallow trajectory of decline to stabilization and abundance.  One thing we do know is that wetlands provide excellent habitat for insects — so if you have space to build a wetland on your property or can help us fund wetland creation through our habitat restoration, you are helping to sustain swallows by hosting their breakfast!

Photo credits: Christy Juteau