Bird Nest Box Programs
The City of Richmond Nest Box Program focuses on:
- Barn Owls,
- Black-capped Chickadees and
- Tree Swallows.
These birds typically nest in tree cavities where they can incubate eggs and raise their chicks protected from the elements and predators. As suitable trees vanish nesting boxes can substitute for a natural hole.
Data about nesting birds, gathered by trained volunteers, is uploaded to Project NestWatch, a national database facilitated by Bird Studies Canada. The data is used to follow the health of bird populations and the condition of their environment through long-term monitoring of nesting activity.
As of February 2022, Richmond’s nest box program inventory consists of:
- 15 Barn Owl boxes
- 41 Tree Swallow boxes
- 32 Chickadee boxes
Barn Owl Nest Box Program
Richmond’s Nest Box Program was initiated in 2010 with the focus on Barn Owls.
Historically, Barn Owls were common in Richmond thanks to nests in barns and plenty of rodents to eat. The current loss of farmland and buildings have drastically reduced nesting sites and food is reflected in the profound reduction of these owls. Prior to the installation of nest boxes there were only one or two breeding pairs of Barn Owls in Richmond.
Funding to initiate habitat improvement was compensation funds from the construction of the Richmond Olympic Oval. The funds enabled the construction of three Barn Owl boxes installed on poles in Terra Nova Rural Park. One pair nested and reared young in the first season.
The success in the first year supported expanding the project throughout Richmond. Custom made boxes have been installed on metal poles and building facades that have evolved into durable, long-lived boxes than those initially installed. The nest boxes are monitored a licensed Canadian Wildlife Service bird bander on contract to the City through the Fraser Valley Conservancy.
12 of 15 boxes are currently occupied for either roosting or nesting. Richmond now supports up to nine breeding pairs of Barn Owls. In a favourable breeding season, program-wide, the nest boxes can fledge up to 30 young Barn Owls.
As the population of Barn Owls increases, the City is working to enhance their feeding habitat. The Terra Nova Old Field Habitat Management Strategy aims to enhance grasslands in the park to increase the numbers of voles and mice, the primary food source of Barn Owls and other raptors.
The owls reared in Richmond are part of provincial and federal conservation projects. Owls born in Richmond are a part of Environment Canada’s Urban Owl Conservation Project and a South-western BC - monitoring program for the Barn Owl. Blood samples have also been taken as part of Environment Canada’s study on how rodenticides are impacting the Lower Mainland’s Barn Owl population.
Barn Owls are nocturnal and naturally very secretive so educating and engaging people about them can be challenging. Prior to COVID, the City of Richmond and the Richmond Nature Park Society featured programs and evening events about owls that attracted up 2,000 attendees/year. The Barn Owl nestbox programs were featured at education booths hosted wildlife biologists who monitors the boxes and bands the young owls. The Richmond Nature Park also has a demonstration Barn Owl box on permanent display in the Nature House.
Members of the public have had opportunities to see the birds close up through Barn Owl nest box programs where people can observe and assist with owl banding. These up-close and personal sessions must be done after dark and kept very low key so as not to distress the young owls. The impact of an intimate program has on individuals is profound. Although these sessions are done in small groups, previous participants have left the sessions encouraged to share their experiences with others.
The long term success of the Barn Owl nest box project has inspired other municipalities to follow the lead of Richmond and have started to install boxes in surrounding municipalities with similar success.
Additional resources available at: Terra Nova Barn Owl Nestbox Program
Chickadee Nest Box Program
This Chickadee nest box program began in 2014 with two nest boxes in the Richmond Nature Park. Both boxes were fitted with small internal cameras and the live footage was streamed into the Nature House for visitors to see. Visitors have been inspired by the rare look into the secret lives of nesting birds.
With community partners, the Terra Nova Nature Pre-School and the Richmond Garden Club, additional Chickadee nest boxes were installed in Paulik Park, Terra Nova Rural Park, and Terra Nova Natural Area in 2019. The Terra Nova Pre-School staff hosted a nestbox building workshop with their pre-school children and families to produce 15 boxes at Terra Nova. The Richmond Garden Club held a similar event to build and installed 15 boxes at Paulik Park.
In the fall, volunteers from each group clean out nest boxes and record which boxes were occupied and by what species. The nesting data is uploaded to Bird Studies Canada Project NestWatch.
Chickadee nesting was recorded in all 3 parks where boxes were installed in Paulik Park, Terra Nova Rural Park and Terra Nova Natural Area. 14 of the 32 Chickadee boxes were utilised and two boxes had two clutches of eggs in one season.
Additional resources available at: Chickadee nest cam highlights
Tree Swallow Nest Box Program
In 2020, the City of Richmond and a volunteer wildlife biologist, initiated a Tree Swallow program at four City parks. Detailed research was carried out to ensure the program followed best practices. Predator baffles were added to the nest box design to protect the birds from predators such as rats, raccoons and house sparrows. Custom built nest boxes were built by professional carpenters and installed on metal poles in suitable habitat.
Tree Swallow nesting was observed in all four parks where nest boxes were installed by the City of Richmond. In total 14 of 41 boxes were utilized and an estimated 54 young swallows fledged despite the ‘Heat Dome’ weather event in summer, 2021. Typically, it can take several years before a target species starts nesting in new nesting structures, especially in areas where the birds haven’t nested in recent years. These results indicate an unmitigated success!