Barn Swallows, The Shelf That Works

by Linda Marie Glass Ward (Barn Swallow Carpenter).

All six species of Ontario Swallows are in decline by 80% or more.  They are the Cliff, Tree, Rough Winged, Bank, Barn Swallows, and the Purple Martin.

Although I have loved Barn Swallows for many years it was in 2016 that I made a concentrated effort to attract them to our riding arena and other buildings.  Upon reading that birds do not reuse their nests I mistakenly took down the few old barn swallow nests when the Swallows finished nesting that fall. 

Later, I read that Barn and Cliff Swallows do reuse old nests, but 2017 was a boon year here (Three pairs in our Bottom Barn, instead of the usual one).  Since I had removed the nests the one aggressive male who chased away all other Swallows had to build a new nest and lost his advantage.

After several failed designs, in 2020 I made some very small shelves, 4×4 inches square.  I visited a friend and put some of them in her horse shelter.  A few farms down from there, I gave another family some shelves, which they promptly installed in their horse shelter.  Success, the birds used them!

A well-inhabited barn swallow shelf

That May, I put some in our neighbours’ barn which had been vacant for at least a decade.  There, Barn Swallows discovered them and used them right away.  More success, I found a shelf that works!  My husband, John and I installed over 100 in our riding arena.

Barn Swallows often make use of an electrical wire attached along an entire joist.  They fastened their nest to a wire in my barn.

After 5 years of study, I concluded the shelves must be 10 cm  (4”) square or smaller, and must be tucked up under a ceiling, porch roof, or eaves, 14 cm (5 1/2”) down.  They should be four feet apart with a floor joist or rafter as a physical barrier between them.  If the structure has a strapped metal roof, placement should be directly under the strap to insulate the young in the nest from the summer heat.

Barn Swallows are losing habitat as old barns are torn down.  Ideal alternate structures are open livestock shelters.  They will also nest in picnic pavilions, garden sheds and under eaves and veranda roofs, even under deck floors.  How can you help increase Swallow populations? 

Please contact me on Facebook or by telephone;

Linda Marie Glass Ward (Barn Swallow Carpenter) 519 327-4541.

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