Barn swallows have new place to live along Highway 401

Habitat for barn swallows

The structure above has been built to give barn swallows a new place to nest. (Ministry of Transportation)

Construction season can be annoying for drivers.

But it can be much more annoying for barn swallows that live in the bridges and culverts that line our provincial highways.

Barn swallow

Some barn swallows have been known to nest in culverts and bridges along Highway 401. (

When construction crews are working on these structures, songbirds can be left without a place to nest.

Kristyn Richardson, a stewardship biologist with Bird Studies Canada, said the population of these birds has been on the decline in Ontario.

That decline is believed to be partially due to a loss of habitat, which means it is problematic when construction work disrupts these birds' nests.

"They are being forced to nest elsewhere and if we keep doing that and there's less and less structures for them to nest on, eventually they won't have anywhere to nest," Richardson told CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive in an interview on Wednesday.

That's why Ontario's Ministry of Transportation has been putting up some barn swallow habitats along Highway 401 lately, near the interchange with Highway 40, where work is taking place.

Highway hangouts not surprising

Basically, the habitats are roofed structures that provide a ledge for barn swallows to build nests upon.

Barn swallows kiosk set up in Ontario

Barn swallows' lives can be disrupted by construction work on culverts and bridges along provincial highways. That's why structures like these are being built to give them other places to nest. (CBC)

They also have so-called nesting cups installed, which give the birds a starting point to establish their nests.

"[The birds] just tend to line the top of the wooden cup with a rim of mud and then they fill it with what they like, which is normally feathers for that extra layer of fluffiness for their young," Richardson said.

She said the ministry is putting these structures in places where barn swallows are known to be nesting.

"If there is a structure up there, there's been a barn swallow that's used — probably — that culvert or bridge," Richardson said.

Summing up their willingness to build nests along busy thoroughfares like the 401, Richardson said "they just seem to like being around humans."

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