Tree swallows bounce back in Cocagne area with strong breeding season

Tree swallows appear to have bounced back from a devastating nesting season in 2021 in the Cocagne area. (Submitted by Alain Clavette - image credit)
Tree swallows appear to have bounced back from a devastating nesting season in 2021 in the Cocagne area. (Submitted by Alain Clavette - image credit)

Louis-Émile Cormier got quite a shock in the late summer of 2021 when he volunteered to help the Pays de Cocagne Sustainable Development Group clean out tree swallow nesting boxes in the Dieppe-Shediac area.

The retired arena worker is pretty fond of the aerial acrobats and has built hundreds of these boxes to give the birds a place to nest.

He tends to more than 200 nesting boxes in the Cocagne watershed.

While inland boxes near Dieppe showed lots of signs of successful nesting, a number of the boxes closer to the coast contained dead young birds.

Pays de Cocagne Sustainable Development Group
Pays de Cocagne Sustainable Development Group

When Cormier checked his own boxes, he found dead young in 67 of them.

He told CBC News at the time that it was like losing a friend.

"I was kind of destroyed last year," Cormier recalled in a phone interview this week.

"I said to myself, "Is it worth building more birdhouses?"

But when Cormier saw the latest results from this past summer checking on 230 boxes, his disappointment turned to elation.

"We only had one now that there was four young dead in it," he said.

Cormier said there were nests in 130 of his boxes, which he calls a very good percentage.

Submitted by Louis-Émile Cormier
Submitted by Louis-Émile Cormier

Unlike their cousin species of barn swallows and bank swallows, which are listed as endangered in this part of the country, tree swallow populations have been pretty healthy.

So Cormier was quite surprised by what had occurred in 2021. He only saw evidence of a 30 per cent success rate in the boxes last year.

Cormier said it looked as if most of the birds were almost ready to begin flying at the time of their death.

And what happened is still a bit of a mystery.

But it appears Cormier's theory about bad weather in the spring of 2021 may be proving likely.

"You know, I made sure that I kept a journal. And this spring [the weather] was really fantastic, and really the success was way, way, way better."

Cormier believes a stretch of poor weather along the coast in 2021 kept flying insect populations on the ground, and the swallows were unable to find enough food for their hungry babies.

While he's happy to see the population in the Cocagne area rebound, the man who has been building nesting boxes for the past 19 years is still worried about the future.

"I like the swallows so much that it's gonna be hard when we won't see any more swallows," Cormier said.

"That's going to be tough, you know? But, you know, with climate change, it's a great possibility it's gonna happen.

"But if we keep on adding birdhouses and keep on having them checked, you know, every year, that's giving us an important way to see how everything is going."