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Artificial nesting boxes for sand martins

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  • Project initiator: Montreal Port Administration
  • Partners: Government of Quebec; Comité ZIP Jacques Cartier
  • Duration of project: one year
  • Cost of project: CA$200,000. The government of Quebec contributed CA$30,000 through the Saint-Laurent Action Fund for the project in Montreal.

Context of how the project emerged:

The populations of six species of swallow in Quebec have been subject to significant reductions since 1970, reaching as much as 90%. The sand martin, a migrating swallow, is one of these species.

Most swallow species have not been accorded any protective status, and depend on voluntary initiatives to help them to conserve their populations in environments propitious for nesting. The different factors that affect the levels of bird colonies are changes in insect feeding areas, the use of chemical products such as pesticides, and climate change.

To preserve this endangered species, the Port Authority of Montreal has developed a simple initiative to create artificial nesting boxes.



Strategy and objectives

In the greater Montreal region, the sand martin seeks sandy cliffs and sandpits along the Saint Lawrence river. Sand martins generally dig their burrows in almost vertical slopes (of at least 70 degrees) at a height of more than 2 m.

Thus, in 2019, the Montreal Port Authority decided to create habitats to provide favorable conditions for colonies of sand martins to nest in artificial structures less vulnerable to erosion and climate change.

The action focused on 2 sites:

  • At Contrecoeur, a site where the Port of Montreal plans to build a container terminal;
  • At Montreal, in the framework of the Fonds d’action Saint-Laurent, an initiave aimed at protecting the ecosystems of the Saint Lawrence River and its Gulf,  funded by the government of Quebec. The works to create two artificial habitats were carried out by the Comité ZIP Jacques-Cartier, a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect, rehabilitate and enhance the banks of the Saint Lawrence River.


The project’s innovative characteristics


The developments are a hybrid model that use sand banks, concrete walls and walls made of perforated wood, which provide secure and good quality habitats for reproduction.

In addition to the design of these habitats, monitoring is planned for the Montreal site to observe migration and the nesting period of the sand martin by the Comité ZIP Jacques-Cartier.


Results and outlook


The use of nesting boxes and the presence of chicks augur well for the reproduction of this species and the growth of its population in Quebec.

In the framework of the project there are also plans to select more efficient structures to install additional similar nesting boxes on the islands under the management of the Montreal Port Administration. The Montreal Port Administration is currently working to convert these islands into national wildlife reserves.

How can this project be duplicated on other rivers?


Simply by developing similar structures on sites where the bird passes.


Solution follow-up

One year later


How the project will be carried out

The project to develop artificial nest boxes is completed. A follow-up is underway and will be spread over several years. The budget was respected despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which delayed the second and final phase of development of the nesting boxes. These were to be installed before nesting (May) and because of the work ban at that time, the work was completed after nesting (in September 2020).

The expertise of the Grand Council of the Waban-Aki Nation was called upon as a consultant for the construction, as well as the monitoring and inventories of the shore swallows. This partnership will be renewed for the next few years.

The design of the facilities was revised slightly after a literature review but also by the experiences drawn from the first phase. In particular, the way of manufacturing the concrete structures, the size and layout of the nesting boxes.


The two berth development project will impact approximately 800 natural burrows along the shoreline. The existing man-made facilities can accommodate at least 1,200. The rate of use has exceeded our expectations in such a short period of time. Shore swallows, a species at risk, have quickly adopted the nesting boxes.

In 2020, the activity rate (active burrows per available burrow) was 79%, which is well above the ambitious target of 50% at this stage. The reproduction rate (confirmed broods by active burrows) was 68%, compared to the target of 30%. A total of 316 chicks were recorded.

Artificial nesting boxes offer more stable and safer nesting conditions than natural bank nesting boxes. Moreover, artificial nesting boxes are still in competition with colonies nesting on nearby banks since the two berths have not yet been built.

It can therefore be considered that the presence of artificial nesting boxes will contribute to the preservation of the species.


In order to disseminate this project, the APM participates financially through the Fonds d’Actions Saint-Laurent (FASL) in an experimental project in Montreal that includes concrete, wooden and sand nesting boxes for shore swallows. Also through the SLASF, the NPA also contributes financially to the development of black swallow condos on the Îles-de-Boucherville archipelago, which it manages. The NPA is working with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) to convert the Boucherville Islands into a National Wildlife Area.

#Biodiversity #Migratorybird #Nestingbox #Quebec

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Photo credit: Bank Swallow and Nests / APM

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