Tree swallow conservation program in P.E.I. expanding

A joint venture to monitor and study tree swallows is underway in P.E.I. as spring approaches.

Trout River Environmental Committee (TREC) has partnered with the Wheatley River Improvement Group, Hunter-Clyde Watershed Group, South Shore Watershed Association and Kensington North Watersheds Association to expand a tree swallow conservation and monitoring program funded by the Wildlife Conservation Fund.

Shayla Steinhoff, executive director of TREC, told SaltWire on Feb. 27 that this was the first of several bird box building events the watershed groups will be holding in 2024 ahead of their installation at the end of March.

“We’re going to be installing them in locations where we’ve seen nesting success in the past,” Steinhoff said.

The groups gathered on Feb 20 to construct 40 wooden tree swallow nesting boxes, purposely designed with conservation and observation in mind.

“These boxes actually open from the top, (have) a hinge on the back and a hook to keep them closed. This gives us easy access for banding and monitoring when the tree swallows are actually in the box,” Steinhoff said.

Typically, the bird boxes are left alone during their months of usage and only monitored sparingly and cleaned out once between seasonal usage.

Steinhoff explained these modifications to the typical bird box design allow for more hands-on observation of both adult and baby tree swallows.

While not listed as an endangered species, tree swallows in P.E.I. are increasingly faced with habitat loss and an estimated seven per cent annual population decline.

TREC presently has 27 bird boxes installed, ranging from tree swallow boxes to duck and bat boxes.

The boxes built ahead of March will be distributed evenly between the watershed groups to be installed throughout Queens County, monitored regularly for the arrival of adults and chicks.

The project was originally piloted by Kensington North Watersheds Association in 2023, and the watershed group has more than 20 boxes already installed and showing success.

The ongoing venture is intended to expand the number of available bird boxes and track the bird population’s activity in the province.

Steinhoff explained the watershed groups intend to develop and expand a standardized monitoring plan across the province for tree swallows over the next several years.

“The boxes we’ve built will actually allow us to band tree swallows, and provide safe habitat,” Steinhoff said.

Once chicks begin to hatch within the nesting boxes, Fiep de Bie, a wildlife technician and professional in bird banding will band the birds to better distinguish them upon their hopeful return to P.E.I. in years to come.

Banding tree swallows will allow the watershed groups to track repeat avian traffic to the region and gather better information on the animals’ activities.

The construction of the bird boxes and the upcoming tree swallow banding is funded by the Wildlife Conservation Fund, who provided compensation for labour and materials costs for the project.

Wayne Gairns, a project co-ordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Fund, spoke with SaltWire on Feb. 28 about the project.

“They’ve put some cameras in the nest boxes so they can monitor (the tree swallows), so they can see if some of these birds are coming back and how successful the swallow boxes are,” Gairns said.

The conservation fund allocates funding to watershed and environmental groups across the province through proceeds raised from the sale of conservation license plates and a percentage taken from hunting licence fees.

“It’s the start of a project for future years, to see how many come back, if they do come back and how many use the same areas and territories,” Gairns said.

The watershed groups will be running another bird box building session, this time open to the public on March 14. The event will be held at Carr’s Wildlife Centre in Stanley Bridge, and signups for the event will open the week of March 4. Watch TREC’s Facebook page for more details.

Caitlin Coombes is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government. She can be reached by email at and followed on X @caitlin_coombes

Caitlin Coombes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian