Envies the birds sunning themselves in Africa
ON A cold, dreary day in January, I dream of being in Africa; warm sun, blue skies, wide open spaces and myriad species of birds to enjoy. Some of them are birds that we know very well.
Swallows, housemartins and swifts are familiar and welcome summer visitors to the British Isles where they nest and raise their young, and entertain us with amazing aerial acrobatics.
It seems incredible, but centuries ago people thought that swallows spent the winter hibernating in mud! Nowadays we know better, and thanks to research by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), our knowledge of migrating species is remarkably detailed.
Through bird ringing, surveys and observations the BTO studies migrating birds to understand how and why their populations change over time.
These birds use different parts of the world at different times of the year for breeding, spending the winter and also preparing for their epic journeys, so it’s importan that conditions are good for them in all these areas.
According to the BTO, a third of British swifts have been lost since 1995, and the reasons for this decline are unclear. Swifts are among the great aviators of the bird world, spending two years flying non-stop between fledging and breeding. Incredibly, they can even sleep on the wing!
Tiny geolocators attached to a small number of swifts in 2010 gave new information about the routes they travelled. For example, one individual travelled the 5,000km back to the UK from Africa in just five days.
Very little is known about the journeys that housemartins take, so this year the BTO is carrying out major research on this bird, whose population is declining rapidly in the UK.
They hope to discover what’s causing this fall in numbers so that it can be stopped and hopefully reversed. Long may we continue to see the house martin’s mud nest on the side of our homes.
I find it amazing that the swallows, swifts and house martins that are sunning themselves in Africa today will be flying thousands of kilometres back to us in a few months’ time.
nest under the eaves and migrate for winter