Calgary Area Nest Box Monitors. Photo: Ursula A. Krol

St. Andrew’s Centre hosted the Calgary Area Nest-box Monitors Society this fall and Joyce Moore, Outdoor Journal Columnist, reported on this year’s monitoring results. For decades, this group of ‘citizen scientists’ have encouraged native birds’ continued population by  providing multiple nesting boxes and continued to provide vital data on these birds’ lives. All creatures matter to God and we are grateful to the Next-box Monitors work. Joyce’s two columns below first appeared in the Okotoks Western Wheel and are re-printed with her permission. (Photos: Ursula A. Krol)

ANOTHER LONG HOT SMOKY SUMMER — So read the headline of the Calgary Area Nest-box Monitors Society. It goes on to say that for two years in a row, the Calgary area experienced many hot days with occasional heat records, a dearth of insects (world wide) and resultant failures in many nests. In spite of this, although our populations (of tree swallows and mountain bluebirds) did not reach record levels, they were still very satisfactory.

The Society members gathered as usual in the fall to tally up the total of the two species, the number of nests, eggs, nestlings and fledged young birds. It takes an army of volunteers to do this. In this case, it is 100 individuals who make up 70 teams of ‘citizen scientists’ stretching from Water Valley south to Stavely mostly west of Highway #2.

What are all these people doing? During the nesting season, the monitors check the boxes counting eggs, nestlings and check the nest after the young have fledged jotting down all the numbers. In the fall the nest-boxes are cleaned out and their keepers maintain them in good repair.

Why are the volunteers doing this? Tree swallows and bluebirds are cavity nesters. Lumbering in the early part of the 20th century cut down the trees thus numbers of these birds declined and so groups of people banded together to build and put up nest boxes for the two target species and return their numbers to good levels.

But there are other reasons that were evident at the gathering in late October. People love the work. A few volunteers have been monitoring trails faithfully for as many as 40 years but every year there are folks who are new to the game. The bulk of the meeting time was spent with each monitor telling a short tale of special events or sightings on his or her trail. The newcomers were bursting with excitement. One gal from Madden said, “Everything was exciting! First nesting, first hatchlings! And good exercise!”

Another couple related that it was an amazing experience to monitor the trail this year, that they noticed more things in the out-of-doors than they used to and learned so much more about tree swallows.

Dianne Vallee whose trail with its 125 boxes on Highway #541 stretches west of Longview to the Kananaskis says that it is the ‘best bluebird trail in Alberta”. But there were other contenders for the best and most beautiful route.

One monitor has set up boxes on the golf course at Priddis Greens and the Leighton Centre where he and his partners put them up on May 1st in a metre of snow. They travelled by snowshoe.

Another long-term volunteer has nest-boxes east of Priddis, in the Sandy Cross Conservation are where he has been monitoring for many years and ‘has a marvellous time and still loves it’. He also has nest-boxes at the golf course in Canmore which are made by the Girl Guides an involvement thus includes the younger generation, a theme of many. He remarked that when you are out doing your blue bird and tree swallow business you notice other birds and animals.

You would have to say that this group was high on bluebirds, tree swallows and the out-of-doors


Last week I reported on some of the doings at the gathering of the monitors of the Calgary Area Nest-Box Society, the folks who look after the bluebird and tree swallow trails. When I re-read the piece I realized that I had passed on a few if any statistics, an unusual circumstance since the report is full of numbers.

I am about to remedy that. The Calgary area is divided into four quadrants for the purpose of reporting. Much of the south-west one (that is, west of Highway #2 and south of the Bow) is in the area covered by The Regional. There are forty-three trails that stretch south from Jumping Pound, Turner Valley, Longview, Red Deer Lake, Nanton, Millarville, west of Stavely to name only a few of them. The grand total number of boxes for this quadrant was 2633. When the compiler added up the trail kilometres it came to 836 miles of trail. The number of kilometres that all the monitors in this quadrant drove on a round trip from their homes was 3995. A lot of gas used over the season.

From the report: “We have more people involved now than last year (in the total area) and there are more trails with more boxes. Each team monitors an average of 71.7 boxes and makes a round trip of 113.6 kilometres to do so. If all teams make a minimum of three trips to monitor their trails then we drove 24,879 kilometres a summer.” Those are big numbers.

But the important numbers are those of the birds. Fledglings refer to the young that have matured in the nest to the point where they leave it. Mountain bluebird fledgling numbers came in at 7532, the third best result since the monitors have been keeping track. Total tree swallow fledglings were 14,310 and this was the second best all-time result. Both species are trending upward but levelling off somewhat.

Last week I spoke of the pleasure that monitors experience as they go about their trail business. Sharing the pleasure enhanced the experience as tales were told of taking friends along when checking the boxes. One lady was training her eight-year-old grandson to help. A couple of other monitors said that they were involving the local schools.

Andrew Stiles, the son of the co-ordinator Don Stiles, is invited into schools in Calgary and this year introduced 2500 grade one, two and three children to nest box making. In the end, there was a grand finale when 200 children went to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park ( near Cochrane) for a three-day outing, thus introducing children to bird house making but also to the world of nature, the goal of many naturalists in this world of screens in which we live.

For further information contact Don Stiles the co-ordinator at Phone: 403-271-4689 and e-mail at