In this wildlife radio documentary, about The Common Swift (Apus apus), presenter Derek Mooney learns about efforts being made across Europe, from Cork to Warsaw, and from Belfast to Baku in Azerbaijan, to learn more and thus help save this favourite summer visitor!
Pictures of Swifts courtesy of BirdWatch Ireland; photos by (l) Paulina Skoczylas and (r) Artur Tabor
We start the programme by saying Slán To The Swift, as Derek meets with staff from BirdWatch Ireland (including Niall Hatch and Brian Caffrey) and Dublin City Council's Biodiversity team. He then travels to Cork, to meet Professor John O'Halloran from UCC, to learn about their swift monitoring project...
From left: Swift Nestbox Monitor; Swift Nestboxes; John O'Halloran
From there, Derek and Niall travel to Baku, in Azerbaijan, to find out from Samir Nuriyev, Director of the State Historical Architectural Reserve, Icherisheher, about work being done in that city to protect swifts...
Displaced Azeri Swifts Of Baku
Left: the famous Maiden Tower; Right: a new building with swift boxes
In the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, the famous Maiden's Tower has been home to swifts for many years. Holes in its crumbling walls provided nestplaces for about 250 Swifts for the past 30 or 40 years. The tower is now being conserved to solve a hundred years of weather damage. But the conservation, when completed, will leave only about 40 holes usable by the Swifts. So special swift boxes are being installed on local buildings to rehouse the birds.
From there, Derek and Niall visit Poland, to talk to OTOP's Karolina Kalinowska, the International Manager of the Spring Alive project. OTOP is the BirdLife International Partner in Poland, and Spring Alive is an international campaign to encourage children’s interest in nature and the conservation of migratory birds. For more information about the project, visit http://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/news/spring-alive-swallows-spring
Derek and Niall then visit Peter Cush, Senior Scientific Officer with the Biodiversity Unit in the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, to learn about swift cities, and how they can help swift numbers...
Left: Niall Hatch and Peter Cush; Right: information on swift cities
The Swift is an iconic and intriguing urban bird. But it’s amber-listed in Ireland due to a decline in its population – thought to be due to the loss of available nest sites – and that’s compounded by the brevity of their breeding season which is shorter than any other breeding birds other than the cuckoo. They arrive here in May and depart for Africa in early September.
Swifts are supreme aerialists and are Ireland’s fastest birds in level flight – clocking up about one hundred and eleven km/h. Their wings are long and narrow and superbly adapted for fast flight and their forked tail is closed for maximum efficiency. This enables them to fly to heights of more than ten thousand feet (3 km) and to travel about 19,000 km a year. In 1964, an 18-year-old tagged bird was found dying in the UK. It was estimated that in its lifetime, it had flown about six and a half MILLION km – the same as flying to the moon and back 8 times!
The Swift has tiny feet and virtually no legs, which makes taking flight from a standing start virtually impossible – so they never purposely land on the ground. But they have little need to as they do pretty much everything in the air – from eating and sleeping to bathing and preening. A young Swift will spend its first two or three years in constant flight only landing in high sheltered locations to nest. They are the only known species who actually mate on the wing.
But it’s the extraordinary flying habits of Swifts which makes them so hard to study, because they’re so fast and totally aerial - and a team of scientists in Northern Ireland is currently finding a way round this problem.
They’re fitting Common Swifts with "backpacks" containing tiny GPS units, to find out where they forage. This research is crucial to shedding light on key feeding areas, which have previously been impossible to monitor. As Swifts can feed many miles away from where they breed, it’s essential that conservationists identify those sites so that they can each be protected – with the aim of safeguarding the species to secure its long term survival.
We conclude our focus on The Common Swift as Derek meets Dr. Kendrew Colhoun (Senior Conservation Scientist with the RSPB), Róisín Kearney (trainee bird ringer with the RSPB), and Philip Carson (Conservation Advisor with the RSPB) to learn more about this exciting project...
Clockwise from top left: (i) Róisín Kearney trainee bird ringer RSPB, Philip Carson, conservation advisor with RSPB and Kendrew Colhoun, senior conservation scientist RSPB; (ii) swift nest site, Northern Ireland; (iii) Preparing swift cage trap for catching swift as it leaves its nest site; (iv) Fixing make shift net in place against the wall covering the entrance to the nest
Clockwise from top left: (i) Bird in the hand; (ii) Ready for tagging; (iii) GPS logger fitted 0.8g; (iv) GPS tag
Hedgerows: It is an offence to 'cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy hedgerows on uncultivated land during the nesting season from 1 March to 31 August, subject to certain exceptions'. For more information, click here.
UPDATE: February 29th 2016 - Press Release From BirdWatch Ireland:
Putting the record straight: Dates for burning and hedge-cutting have NOT changed
BirdWatch Ireland, Ireland’s largest conservation charity, is very concerned about misinformation that is currently circulating regarding the dates within which the burning of vegetation and cutting of hedges is permitted. It would like to remind landowners that all burning and cutting must cease on 29th February this year and that burning and cutting remains prohibited from 1st March to 31st August.
Despite attempts by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys T.D., to change the laws regulating these dates by introducing the Heritage Bill 2016 earlier this year, it is important to note that the proposed date changes were ultimately NOT made. This is because the bill failed to pass through both houses of the Oireachtas before the recent dissolution of the Dáil in advance of the general election.
The laws in place governing the dates for hedge-cutting and upland burning therefore remain unchanged. The period within which cutting and burning is prohibited are set down in Section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976 (as amended in 2000), which states that:
(a) It shall be an offence for a person to cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy, during the period beginning on the 1st day of March and ending on the 31st day of August in any year, any vegetation growing on any land not then cultivated.
(b) It shall be an offence for a person to cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy any vegetation growing in any hedge or ditch during the period mentioned in paragraph (a) of this subsection (above).
The existing law provides exemptions for road safety and other circumstances and should be read carefully to ensure compliance.
Section 40 of the Wildlife Act exists to protect nesting birds. Many of our upland bird species are in decline and are in danger of extinction in Ireland; amongst them is the Curlew, which has declined by 80%. Many birds which nest in hedgerows into August are also in serious decline, including the endangered Yellowhammer. The changes to the cutting and burning dates which had been proposed in the now-defunct Heritage Bill 2016 would have caused serious impacts to these birds. A petition launched by BirdWatch Ireland in conjunction with several other national conservation organisations to stop these changes attracted more than 16,200 signatures and rising.
BirdWatch Ireland would also like to advise members of the public that if they see hedges being cut or fires in the uplands on or after 1st March, such activity could be illegal. In such cases, we would encourage people to contact the National Parks and Wildlife Service (www.npws.ie) to report such activity.
BirdWatch Ireland warmly welcomes the demise of the Heritage Bill 2016 and sincerely hopes that any future administration will consider the importance of Ireland’s natural heritage and will not attempt to reintroduce such a flawed and damaging piece of legislation.
To contact your local wildlife ranger, click here for contact details. To read the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, click here.
Please DO NOT send any live, dead or skeletal remains of any creature whatsoever to Mooney Goes Wild.
If you find an injured animal or bird, please contact the National Parks & Wildlife Service on 1890 20 20 21, or BirdWatch Ireland, on 01 281-9878, or visit www.irishwildlifematters.ie