Sue Easterday is a citizen member of the Fitchburg Parks Commission. She and other members of the commission were seeking a way to work with nature rather than against it at Byrne Park, 2535 Richardson St.
Barn Swallows have been making a mess in the picnic shelter in recent years, their excrement having a tendency to cover the ground and tables beneath the nests that the Swallows build in the structure.
Easterday said Barn Swallows are useful for killing mosquitoes and other large insects. However, she said like other bird species, Barn Swallow populations are down an estimated 40% in Wisconsin over the past several decades
Easterday used the social media website Nextdoor to seek out Fitchburg residents with carpentry skills. Through the website, she was connected with Dan Kerkman, who has completed construction projects for Dane County and City of Madison parks.
Using construction plans developed by the Ontario Department of Transportation, Easterday provided Kerkman with a plan for a Barn Swallow nesting structure, six feet wide by three feet tall.
Kerkman enlisted the help of friends Gene Call and Ken Phelps to build the structure, which took the trio of volunteers approximately six hours. They finished the structure in several separated components for easier transportation to the park.
Volunteers Kerkman, Call and Phelps finished piecing together the Barn Swallow nesting structure on site at Byrne Park on Wednesday, May 6.
The parcel of the park where the structure was erected is dedicated for stormwater management purposes. Stormwater retention areas are attractive to Barn Swallows, where the birds are known to consume mosquitoes as well as other large insects.
Easterday discovered a company called American Artifacts in Massachusetts which builds wooden nest cups and six cups were acquired for the nesting structure. She said it takes 15 hours for a Barn Swallow to build a nest from scratch, so these cups will help cut down on that time.
The intention is to allow the Swallows to continue nesting in the park shelter this year, but hopefully the Swallows will find and become acclimated with the new nesting structure over this summer. Next year, the Parks Commission will be modifying the park shelter, which will block access to the existing nests. The hope is the birds will then begin to populate the new nesting structure nearby instead.
Discussions for the project began in January. Some funds were donated, but mostly city tax money paid for the materials. Easterday said she was impressed by how quickly the project came together.
On Thursday, May 7 city staff used a forklift to raise the completed heavy structure upright and set it into its permanent place at the park atop tall posts.
Easterday and other commission members will continue to monitor the structure throughout the coming year, to see if the Barn Swallows begin nesting inside.