Built Habitat: Bird Structures around the City

So I kind of like the idea of calling this post - "what the #$%## is that?"  You know what it's like, right?

You are out in an urban nature environment or perhaps even in a completely urban environment and you stumble across these human-made structures that seem out of place.  Does wildlife even use these structures, you ask yourself?  What are they for?

Most structures built for wildlife in urban areas are for raising young.  Some structures are built for dangerous road crossings (to protect species from mortality) and a few are built for hibernating and/or surviving winter.  This is the first in a possible series (I'll see what I can find and share with you) of human-made structures to create needed habitat for wildlife whether it's for safety, survival or nesting.

Built Structures for Birds

Wood Duck Box

I'm not sure all Wood Duck boxes are so well signed (with a lovely bright yellow silhouette of the bird) so just in case this one has had you wondering, I've added it here!  Ottawa has a series of Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) boxes built and installed by the Ottawa Duck Club (which recently had its 50th anniversary!). Due to loss of habitat, ideal nest locations (large dead trees) for cavity-nesting waterfowl can be scarce. Other cavity-nesting birds such as the Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) also benefit, along with various opportunistic and adaptable animals.  *Some (such as European Starlings and once a Northern Flicker brood) also use the boxes to raise their young and others have been observed using the boxes in winter such as Screech Owls and Flying Squirrels.

*Observations through the Ottawa Duck Club program - in others cities I'm sure this will vary!

Barn Swallow Nesting Habitat

In Ontario, the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) is protected as a "threatened" species in the Ontario Species at Risk Act.  COSSARO added the Barn Swallow in 2012, due to a decrease in Barn Swallow populations of 65 percent (between 1966 and 2009). The Barn Swallow is well-adapted to urban areas and human-made structures for its habitat.  These birds will return to the same nesting site and even re-use the same nest, which are typically located in open barns, under bridges and other structural ledges. (Information from the MNR website.)  In Ottawa, when the construction work on McIlwraith Bridge and overpass (connecting Main Street to Smythe Road) started two years ago, nesting habitat structures were built close to the bridge to provide an alternative nesting location. You can see these structures on the south side of the bridge as you drive along Riverside Drive.

We found some of the "cup-shaped mud nests" of Barn Swallows in Oakville close to the lake just this summer:

Photo Credit: Viliam Glazduri (InstagramFlickr500 pxContributing Creative to Wild. Here.

Photo credit: Jessica Hite from website Indiana U - Swifts in the City
Chimney Swift Tower 

Chimney Swift towers can be found in a handful of Canadian and American cities.  These towers have been installed to replace the loss of habitat for Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica) in urban centres.  This has happened due to new housing construction that does not include chimneys and older housing where many chimneys are capped thus restricting access for these birds.  The Chimney Swift is also protected as a "threatened" species in the Ontario Species at Risk Act and it's been thought that their decline was partly due to this loss of habitat but now it's believed that it is more to do with the decline of their prey (flying insects).

In Canada, the cities I know that have built these structures include Lindsay, Rouge Park - Toronto, Fort Erie (Ontario); Starbuck, St. Adolphe, Portage la Prairie, Winnipeg (Manitoba).  Are there any out west or out east - does anyone know?  I've blogged more about Chimney Swifts on my other website: Dandelions and Concrete.

Eastern Bluebird Nesting Box 

The Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) population was declared "rare" both federally and provincially in the late seventies but there has been a rebound in the population of this species since then and it was taken off the endangered lists in Canada in 1996.  But you will still see nesting boxes for these birds along farmer's fences and along nature trails in open areas and meadows.  These boxes are usually provided by either local bird clubs or farmers in rural areas to help the Eastern Bluebird find suitable nesting locations close to their preferred habitat.  The Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society recommends that new nesting boxes be mounted on a free standing pole and include predator protection.  They also suggest that the boxes be twinned so that there is not any forced competition for one box.  Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), which are abundant, have also been observed using the nesting boxes and if boxes are twinned both species can nest in close proximity.

Photo credit: Innis Point Bird Observatory volunteer
Purple Martin Housing 

Purple Martins (Progne subis) are another bird that are very comfortable living in close proximity to humans.  This species is almost entirely reliant on human-made structures and the ones that I have visited in Ottawa are maintained by the Innis Point Bird Observatory volunteers.  These birds live in colonies so the nesting structure they prefer is a "Purple Martin Condo".  The ones in Ottawa are more structured and the entire condo can be lowered for maintenance.  The nestlings in Ottawa are also tagged by IPBO volunteers and they offer public banding events in late June - early July, which provides a great opportunity for anyone who is interested to see the birds and even hold them!  I definitely recommend this event - details are listed on the IPBO Facebook page.

Osprey Nest Platform 

While not located in the urban core of Ottawa, I have seen Osprey nest tripod platforms located close to smaller northern cities (like Lindsay, Ontario).  Those nesting platforms were located over water where as the Ottawa nesting platforms just on the edge of Kanata are located on land but still in proximity to the Ottawa/Outaouais River. Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) will be found near water as they fish in nearby waters rather than hunt prey on land.

So what type of human-made structures have you seen that have totally baffled you?  

Are there any structures that you think should be created that haven't been?  

What do you think about these efforts to support wildlife in the city?

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