For the birds

Sally Cole
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Island Nature Trust raises awareness about the importance of increasing habitat for nesting bobolinks and barn swallows For more information on the Bobalink/Barn Swallow program call 892-7513 or e-mail


At the Island Nature Trust office, Shannon Mader, left, program co-ordinator and Julie-Lynn Zahavich, project lead, show some of their pamphlets that are creating awareness about barn swallows and bobolinks. 

Julie-Lynn Zahavich is worried about Prince Edward Island’s nesting bobolink and barn swallow populations.

In fact, she’s so concerned she is asking Islanders to help her find ways to increase habitat for these agricultural birds.

“Bobolinks live in hayfields while barn swallows live in barns. And recently they’ve been listed as threatened species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada  (COSEWIC),” says Zahavich, project lead in Island Nature Trust’s (INT) Bobolinks and Barn Swallows program.

 The program raises awareness about the birds and the issues they’re facing on the Island.

“So we’re doing presentations and we’re distributing fact sheets to farmers and landowners and other interested groups on P.E.I. that have some sort of impact on them. We’re also gathering information on sightings across the Island. We’re trying to get a grip on where they’re nesting,” says Zahavich, adding these birds winter in South America.

Over the last century both species have adapted to life with humans and become staples on the family farm.

But, farming practices have become more industrial and have left little room for these once-common species.

In the case of bobolink, the early cutting of hay or silage impacts them. Many fields are now cut as early as June, right in the middle of nesting season. Eggs or chicks are destroyed and, in some cases, adults are killed as well, states information provided by INT.

Barn swallows, ledge nesters, are also threatened by some modern farm practices. These birds make their nests out of mud glued to walls near the ceilings in barns. A generation ago, wooden barns had open windows, open doors or cracks and gaps that birds could fly through. Today, most barns are metal and sealed tight.

As part of the program, Zahavich hopes to convince some people to make some simple changes to conserve their habitat.

“Barn swallows nest in the barn but often people don’t want them there because they make a mess. But we can install ledges for them. We can do things for bobolink as well, like delay the hay harvest or reduce pesticides,” she says.

Prince Edward Islanders can get involved by keeping their eyes open.

“If they see either of these species, they can simply report them to us,” Zahavich says.

One of the groups that INT hopes to reach is the rural landowner, says Sharon Mader, program co-ordinator.

“All those folks who have bought farmland but aren’t depending on it for their livelihood could potentially allow some of their older hayfields to remain grass instead of turning them to hay and having someone mow them every two years. That would keep them in grass which is the ideal habitat for bobolink,” says Mader.

The Guardian

Organizations: Island Nature Trust, Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Canada, South America

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