En­vies the birds sun­ning them­selves in Africa

Kate Tit­ford

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - GREENSPACES - Tit­ford works for the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust as an in­ter­pre­ta­tion and dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer

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.

Kate

nest un­der the eaves and mi­grate for win­ter

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