The data rescue intern: Jonathon Diamond
The Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) is one of the most familiar and most common birds in eastern North America. While it normally nests in tree cavities excavated by other species like woodpeckers, it also readily accepts nest boxes. Birds Canada has monitored roughly 300 nest boxes of tree swallows from 4 sites around the Long Point Biosphere Reserve, Ontario, from 1974 onwards. Each year, May through June, volunteer research assistants check nest box contents daily, and band the adults and their young. The study was run by David Hussell of OMNR/Bird Studies Canada for many years, until the 2000s, when it was passed to Birds Canada.
This data rescue project involves bringing data on nest box observations, clutch initiation dates, clutch size and egg weight, nest success, and banding data, from its current status in proprietary software (Microsoft Excel®, Filemaker Pro®) into an open, accessible format. The original database underwent multiple format and structure changes over the 40 years of observation, with information represented by colours, notes, and variable codes. LDP intern Jonathon Diamond cleaned, reformatted and structured all of the original data tables from the year 1977 until 2014 into a collection of CSV files stored on Figshare. The data are now composed of 5 interlocking files, one each for for the egg, nest, nestling, banding, and nest box check data. This is complimented by the necessary meta-data explaining the files, and codes. File templates and R scripts to facilitate importing the newest data in an accessible and clean format were included to encourage good practices in the data collection and archiving moving forward.
Weekly meetings between David Bradley (Director at Birds Canada, BC), Joey Burant (Post-Doc for the Living Data Project) and Jonathan Diamond (Living Data Project intern) helped to shape the way in which the data was restructured and stored – as well as to build the new data entry templates for the continuation of the Nest Box Productivity Project.
This data is now open access, ready to be used by anyone interested in long term data on Tree Swallows. Some research ideas are: shifts in egg mass over time and with respect to weather and diet, effects of wintering grounds on egg mass and nest success, nestling provisioning rates, and nest success trends with respect to rainfall.
Diamond, Jonathan; Bradley, David; Burant, Joseph B. (2021): Tree Swallow Nest Box Productivity Dataset from Long-Point, Ontario, Canada (1977-2014). figshare. Dataset. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.14156801.v1
A screenshot from one of the weekly meetings, between Joey Burant (left), David Bradley (bottom), and Jonathan Diamond (right) where they were discussing future potentials using the Nest Box Productivity data.