Monday, August 4, 2014

Bank Swallows

Well, time to try and play some more catch-up!

I've started my Masters at Trent University and this summer has been totally dedicated to the field work.  Working everyday and for long hours has pretty much put my blog posts on the back burner, which is unfortunate because there is just so much to talk about!

Bank Swallows have been practically consuming my life this summer...and I love it, no matter how tired I might be.  They are such cute, feisty, chatty, and interesting research subjects!  I'm surprised at the number of people I've met who know what they are....but as with anything you get the few people who hilariously ask "Oh...Are those the little brown things with wings?" ( happened).

For those of you not familiar with Bank Swallows, I'm going to use this post to discuss them a little bit!

In the field, Bank Swallows are primarily identified by their colouring.  They are a brownish-grey above and their belly and throat is white. Contrasting to the white on their underside is a dark breast-band.  They look most similar to Northern Rough-winged Swallows, however these do not have that distinct breast-band.

Bank Swallows breed throughout North America ranging from California to Alaska and over to the Maritime provinces and central States. During late-April and May birds begin to arrive on their breeding grounds where they make their nests and care for their young. Starting in late-July through to Mid-August birds begin to leave their breeding grounds and head south to Chile and northern Argentina.  To where we are, the best chance to see Bank Swallows would be at their colonies along the great lakes (particularly Erie and Ontario).

Bank Swallow Colony

It is absolutely adorable in late-June and early July when all the young are hanging their heads out of the burrow entrance!

Young hanging out on the edge of the burrow

Swallows in air
Bank Swallows are the smallest of the swallow species in North America and are found on almost every continent.  In the Americas they are called Bank Swallow (Riparia Riparia), but overseas are known as Sand Martins.  Combining these two names makes it really simple to figure out where they Sand Banks!  Natural habitat for them is along lakeshore and riverbank sand bluffs.  However, due to the hardening of shorelines (ex. humans trying to prevent erosion) the availability of natural habitat has been diminished.  Birds have been seeking habitat in more artificial settings such as gravel pits, quarries, and sometimes even soil piles.  Since these bird shave just been listed by Ontario as being Threatened under the ESA (Endangered Species Act, 2007), I am trying to see how important gravel pits are to these birds compared to their natural habitats.  Are these areas productive? Do they have ample food sources? Are the young as healthy and successful? 

All summer my assistants and I have been conducting video surveys, nest checking, mist netting and banding these birds to try and learn more.  Now that the field season is almost over, we have hours...and hours of videos to watch and bugs to ID!

Babies looking from inside a burrow