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Innovative bird habitat now in operation at Pickering Nuclear

An artificial bank swallow habitat is now in operation at OPG’s Pickering Nuclear Generating Station site.

North America’s first artificial bank swallow habitat is now in operation at OPG’s Pickering Nuclear Generating Station site.
An artificial bank swallow habitat is now in operation at OPG’s Pickering Nuclear Generating Station site.

In April, OPG’s Nuclear Projects team finished setting up the test habitat, marking the start of a seven-year monitoring program designed to evaluate the viability of these artificial habitats around Lake Ontario.

Bank swallows are a migratory bird species at risk that have seen a significant decrease in population in Canada over the last 40 years. As a result, the ecological community has taken a great interest in preserving this unique, but threatened, bird species.

The small songbird nests in burrows in natural and human-made settings where there are vertical faces in silt and sand deposits, usually on banks of rivers and lakes. The loss of nesting and foraging habitats, as well as widespread pesticide use reducing the populations of insects they eat and the impacts of climate change, have all contributed to the decline of these aerial foragers.

The new 52-feet-long concrete habitat structure at Pickering has 126 burrow holes to accommodate the birds. Behind each burrow hole is a mixture of sand and loam, which mimics the natural material bank swallows burrow into at the lakeside.

The innovative habitat was built to help meet requirements set out by Ontario’s Ministry of Environment for the construction of the Darlington New Nuclear Project. The project proposes to build a grid-scale Small Modular Reactor at the Darlington site within this decade, pending regulatory approvals.

Bank swallows currently live in the natural bluffs near the proposed Darlington New Nuclear site, and a similar habitat solution built in that area could help offset any potential negative impacts related to future construction.

OPG will be sharing its artificial habitat design and knowledge with other projects in similar situations to help protect bank swallows and support biodiversity across the country.