"Beyond the Call."

That’s how the Vancouver Police Department describes the work its members do every day, 365 days a year. They don’t just respond, they often go above and beyond their job description, and that includes members of its mounted unit.

Officers and their two-tonne partners regularly patrol beaches, streets and parks in Vancouver, and are invaluable community outreach for the department. Tourists and locals flock to the unit’s horse/human teams, posing for photos and perhaps getting to stroke a soft nose, or give a pat on the neck (horse, not human).

The mounted unit is also deployed for crowd control, including dangerous and unpredictable situations like the 2010 Stanley Cup riots. They are a formidable presence with their heft and steadiness, helping to disperse crowds and clear a path for the boots on the ground. Just like any other member of the VPD, the mounted unit teams enforce the law and protect the public.

But the trusty steeds, and their humans, also play a key role in protecting an endangered species of bird that conservationists say is in trouble.

Every April, like clockwork, a colony of barn swallows returns to their nests built in the rafters of the Vancouver Police Mounted Unit barns in Stanley Park. High above the horses heads, the little birds swoop and dart, chattering wildly while snatching insects mid-air. It’s a species that has evolved to nest almost exclusively in man-made structures, like barns and bridges.