If You Build It, They Will Come – Or Not!

Not far from Operation Migration headquarters, 11 miles to the south, used to be a 1,500 acre thoroughbred horse breeding farm called Windfields Farm.

It’s most famously known as the birthplace of Norther Dancer – winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

I have driven past this beautiful parcel of land countless time as I drove my kids into the ‘big city of Oshawa’; approximate population of 160,000. I always took a quick glance off the road to see the fields of horses and imagined what it would be like to grow up there. 

The passing of E.P. Taylor in 1989 and then his son, Charles, in 1997 led to a downsizing and the eventual closure of the farm. Large parcels of land were sold to University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and Durham College with much of the remaining land sold for residential development. Just to the north, the 407 toll highway was expanded further east. 

As I drive past this area now, I still look hoping to see the majestic horses in those fields but instead what I do see, besides the development, is nesting structures, referred to as kiosks.

Four large Barn swallow kiosks, back-dropped by new, large human homes. Photo: H. Ray

Due to a large drop, 66% from 1970 – 2012, in barn swallow populations the Ontario government mandated in 2013 that anyone who modifies or destroys a barn must provide a replacement within a kilometer and near foraging habitat.  Ontario Ministry of Transportation alone, installed 148 barn swallow kiosks at a cost of $3,500 ea. 

The problem is – the barn swallows aren’t really flocking to them.  Bird Studies Canada has found that only ½ of the 20 erected structures are being occupied.  Many farmers are saying though, that there are far fewer barn swallows nesting in their barns as well.  So what exactly is the problem?  It seems, it may very well be a combination of factors.

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  1. Madeline April 14, 2018 4:29 pm

    Chris, Thank you for connecting us to Ontario Nature! What an interesting publication, well-laid out and thoughtful.

  2. Vanessa Dargain April 12, 2018 9:05 pm

    Losing large numbers of barn swallows . Bummer . Maybe the problem will take care of itself in time as more and more hirundo
    rustica learn that the kiosks are a safe place to nest . Half full occupancy is not a complete failure .