Some kind of war is being waged on what are, to many Shuswap residents, beloved and benign creatures.
Overnight on May 1, eight bird boxes at the Salmon Arm Foreshore Trail, the nesting homes of swallows, chickadees and bluebirds, were knocked down and destroyed.
On Monday, May 10, 14 more were smashed. As of the weekend of May 15, the total destruction rose to more than 30 of the carefully constructed and painted boxes. All but one were being used by nesting birds.
As the destruction escalated, so did the carnage.
Dianne Wittner, a biologist and member of the SABNES (Salmon Arm Bay Nature Enhancement Society) board and the Shuswap Naturalist Club, has, as club president Janet Aitken said, “put her heart and soul into creating the bird boxes along the foreshore trail, putting posts in the ground to mount the boxes, moving the poles when high water threatens, cleaning the boxes each year and celebrating the nesting success.”
On Friday, May 14, Wittner had the heartbreaking task of going up and down the trail, repairing and replacing boxes, sometimes as the frantic parents waited to get back inside the nests to tend to their now missing eggs and babies. On the weekend, more volunteers were out, making repairs.
“As breeding season progresses in earnest, the perpetrator is no longer targeting partially built nests; he (assuming it’s a he) is now destroying eggs and nestlings,” wrote Wittner in a post to the naturalist club. “Much to my horror, one broken box had a female swallow that had clearly been bludgeoned to death.”
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The bulk of the bird boxes were created in 2019 as a community project.
Many people contributed. At the Makerspace in the Salmon Arm Economic Development building, students from the Outdoor Learning program came to build the boxes after learning about birds. SABNES and naturalist club members volunteered and local businesses donated the use of a post-hole digger as well as paint and posts. BC Nature also contributed.
“It was a lot of work and very rewarding,” Wittner said.
At first it was thought the destruction was from vandals bored on a Saturday night.
Then, because it began just before the sign went up keeping dogs off the trail for two months while the birds are nesting, it was thought it could possibly be a dog owner angry because they can’t walk their dog at the foreshore.
Wittner added that most dog owners are respectful of the regulations. She noted the bird sanctuary is on Nature Trust land and is an ecologically sensitive area.
Police are are now involved and Fish and Wildlife have been notified.
Wittner described the week as devastating, full of horror and frustration.
If anyone would like to donate a bird box or provide information, you can email SABNES at email@example.com.
Wittner said she doesn’t think everyone realizes how valuable swallows are.
“Swallows eat flying insects, primarily mosquitoes,” she said.
She also pointed out that scientific studies have shown the sound of songbirds is beneficial to the mental and physical well-being of humans, lowering blood pressure and other effects. She said studies have also shown that songbirds, which feed on insects, are crucial to the well-being of forests. Without them, bugs can rampage and the forests can die as fast as two years later.
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