My Tree Swallow Project With The City Of Richmond

Tree Swallow Project in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

You may remember from previous posts that I designed and built 42 Tree Swallow nest boxes for the City of Richmond. The city paid for them and installed them over 3 different parks. The agreement was that I would monitor them, enter the data into project nestwatch and do a report. I would also need to clean them of course at the end of the year. Since Swallows are declining and because there is a lack of cavities for Tree Swallows, I thought it would be a worthy endeavor. I came up with this idea during the 2020 pandemic. This is the first program for the city of this kind. Sadly my friend Monica, told me about a naturalist group in Salmon Arm who was doing the same thing; only to have 32 (!!) of their boxes vandalized by a disturbed person who killed swallows and nestlings.  I hope no one ever hurts these swallows. Swallows bring so much joy but all nesting birds in public spaces are of course vulnerable. This is why I have put them up extremely high with large baffles to also protect them from terrestrial predators.

Anyways, it was a beautiful day and we started at Garden City Lands. This is a large park in the middle of Richmond with busy streets all around it and a Walmart across from it. It still has a pond and large fields though. Most of the swallows at this park present before the boxes were put in were Violet-green and Barn. Around the little pond I put  6 boxes and in the fields 22. One of the boxes require us to take a boat out to it. Once on the island we found a female incubating eggs!. Another active box had a full cup nest and two agitated parents. We hope they will soon lay eggs. We will be back in 3 weeks to see if they were successful. It is a lot of walking in this huge park with the ladder but worth every minute to see these successes!. In the large field far from the water, we were surprised to find many partially built and complete nests even  one with a female incubating eggs!. Tree Swallows were never in this park until the boxes went up, which to me is marvelous. In this scrubby field we were in awe to find Anna's Hummingbirds drinking from tiny flowers on the ground beside singing Savannah Sparrows. I'd never seen that before (except one time I saw an Anna's eating ants off the ground). The hummers were literally rubbing their bellies on the ground as they fed.

Female Tree Swallow incubating eggs in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After this, we went to Terra Nova Park. As we got out of the car an Osprey was flying low straight at us squawking with a fish in his talons!. It was fantastic and our first time seeing Osprey at the park. We also saw an Olive-sided Flycatcher.

Osprey at Terra Nova in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Olive-sided Flycatcher at Terra Nova - Photo: Melissa Hafting

People having picnics looked at us in our vests and asked about the project and were eager to learn about the nesting habits of swallows. The first of the 5 next boxes we opened around the pond had 4 out of 5 active nests. One of the females looked almost like a male. We could tell she was a very old female to be so dark and blue. 

Old female Tree Swallow (L) with a similar coloured Male - Photo: Melissa Hafting

When the females flew out on their own, we went back and counted the eggs. Each female had 5 eggs in a beautiful soft feather cup. 

5 Tree Swallow eggs in a comfy feather nest - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Female Tree Swallow at nest - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Signs put on my Tree Swallow Boxes in Richmond

In the largest field that requires a key from the city to enter, we walked through a beautiful field full of buttercups and singing birds. Common Yellowthroats were doing flight displays and a Black-headed Grosbeak was singing its heads off. There was also 2 Olive-sided Flycatchers and a Western Wood-Pewee. Barn Owls were roosting in their boxes. This field is several kms to walk to get to each box but it was a beautiful walk. We were eager and excited to see if the birds would use this field that is so far away from water. Here we found 2 pairs of Black-capped Chickadees that had 6 fledglings each in two of my swallow boxes. This is still a success since Chickadees are cavity nesters and native birds, which was nice to see. One of the clutches of nestlings were blind (only a few days old) with no eyes open and the other box had downy young. They were so darn cute. 

Black-capped Chickadee nestlings in Tree Swallow nest boxes - Photo: Melissa Hafting

As we continued through the field with singing Red-winged Blackbirds and a variety of Swallows flying overhead and Rufous and Anna's zipping by our heads, we began to become happily surprised. We found several confirmed completed nests with eggs. Some of the boxes only had one egg which means the female was in the process of egg laying. Tree Swallows don't lay all their eggs at once. They come in and lay one on one day and so forth.  There were several suspected nests but we don't say confirmed because they don't have eggs but still had fully complete nests with cups and feathers. It just shows how much nest boxes were needed in the city of Richmond, where so much green space is destroyed by urban development.

Tree Swallow eggs inside a nest box in Terra Nova - Photo: Melissa Hafting

How we access the Tree Swallow Boxes - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Tree Swallow at box - Photo: Melissa Hafting

At Garden City Park where there is 3 nest boxes a pair of Tree Swallows are nesting. This is the box that made me the most happy because it is my local patch and where I go birding everyday. This is a very new nest and the other boxes at this site are not being used. I am crossing my fingers the most for these guys to be a success and hopefully attract other Tree Swallows to nest here next year!!.

It was a very uplifting day. I'll do another final update to see how successful this whole first year project is. If the outcome continues to be a success I will ask the city to put up Purple Martin boxes in Garry Point Park. This is the first year that Purple Martins haven't returned to Iona (devastating news for an already rapidly declining species) so I think they need some extra help out in Richmond too. My friend Rob Lyske is giving me one Purple Martin box to put up at Garry Point Park and if the city sees success with that one box, I hope they will be keen for others.

Anyways, it was a really nice day to be out in the company of beautiful and peaceful swallows. You can't be unhappy when you look at or listen to swallows. You just can't. I was very nervous that we would go today and only find empty boxes because the parks (except for Terra Nova) are so urban. So I was so relieved and happy for the swallows. We decided to celebrate the success on the water at the Blue Canoe's outdoor patio in Steveston. A great end to a great day.

A big thank you to Richard Kenney and the City of Richmond for partnering with me on this project,


  1. Fantastic! You never cease to amaze me. Great read, thank you

  2. Melissa you are a gem! Thanks for doing this.

  3. Delighted to hear of your success. What an amazing story and thank you for all your hard work and time. It just goes to show how well birds can respond when we give them a chance.

    1. thank you so much Q! I really hope that all the active nests remain this way and that they have successful young and fledge. every year I notice less and less swallows so wanted to do a small thing to help them out. hopefully I can do the same for purple martins to if this pans out.

  4. kudos again. What a great project. It is so nice to see that at least some of them are active this first year. You do so much for the community, I know the TRES are thanking you :)

    1. thank you very much ken. I hope it succeeds. I hope all the active tree swallows will fledge and then I can expand to a purple martin project at garry point park. hopefully that will keep me busy. we have lost so much natural nesting cavities in richmond every day it seems a new high rise is going up. have a great weekend my friend


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