Bird sanctuary construction works around threatened birds' burrows

·3 min read
Bank swallows burrow into the sides of the river banks starting midway through May to nest. (David M. Bell/Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology - image credit)
Bank swallows burrow into the sides of the river banks starting midway through May to nest. (David M. Bell/Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology - image credit)

An ongoing city restoration project at a bird sanctuary in Calgary is now working around the nesting schedule of a threatened bird species in Canada, and seeing more of the birds return.

The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary Reconnection Project is making improvements to the natural environment of the sanctuary for the fish, birds and plants in the area. They are also doing maintenance deemed necessary on aging infrastructure there for flood prevention.

As part of that work, the city is building a new channel that would reconnect a part of the lagoon to the Bow River, allowing the flow of water into the lagoon, helping fish, water quality, and to control flooding.

Last spring, when the city began relocating gravel from the left bank of the river to the right as part of creating this channel, they temporarily put a tarp over empty bank swallow nest on the banks of the river.

Brian Keating
Brian Keating

"This black tarp appeared just before the swallows ... expected arrival last spring," said Calgary based-naturalist Brian Keating.

The Calgary naturalist says he and others shared concerns about blocking a place for the birds to nest with the city.

Bank swallows are found across Canada and were first listed as threatened in May 2013, according to the Government of Canada's species at risk public registry. Across Canada the birds' population has dropped by 98 per cent over the last 40 years.

The bank swallows burrow into the sides of the river banks starting midway through May to nest.

"Imagine if you're [a bank swallow] and you've come all the way up from South America after a long migration, only to find your little bit of available habitat blocked off and unusable. It would be pretty disappointing," he said on The Homestretch.

From the beginning, the city has gone forward with the project with the birds, and other wildlife in mind, said Tim Walls with the Public Spaces delivery group with the City of Calgary.

After hearing public concerns of the bank swallow and considering their well-being, the city removed the tarps.

"Remarkably, within a few hours after the tarps came down, the swallows were back," said Keating.

Walls said their original permit with Environment and Climate Change Canada to work in the area allowed for the tarps, in order to prevent the birds nesting there for a year while that portion of the project was completed.

Brian Keating
Brian Keating

But he says going forward, they will adjust their schedule to avoid impacting the birds' habits.

"The community was right. This is a bird sanctuary. We should be making sure the birds are OK," said Walls.

This year, construction began again before the birds arrived. Part of that work re-shaping the river's banks opened up more potential spots for the birds to nest.

After spending a few hours bird watching with his binoculars there this summer, Keating estimates about 100 birds were on the site. Walls confirms there are more bank swallows on site this year than there were last year.

Construction at the site will resume once the birds take their leave from their cliff side burrows to winter in South America near the end of August.

The entire restoration project is expected to wrap up next spring.