9 Dec 2015

A little story from spring alive

Zambian children in a Spring Alive event. Photo: Victor Siingwa
Zambian children in a Spring Alive event. Photo: Victor Siingwa
By Shaun Hurrell

Every once in a while, you come across a little story that makes you smile, makes you breathe a sigh of hope. A small act that could be easily missed, but which represents something a lot bigger. This story is one of those stories.

Spring Alive is an amazing movement started by BirdLife that encourages kids to be interested in and act for nature by teaching them about the wonder of bird migration and more. 

Last week marked the end of the African season of Spring Alive, and already we have some impressive statistics from this educational conservation initiative (see below). However, I think this little story from Victor Siingwa in Zambia epitomizes the project in a way that statistics cannot capture:

"Sometime around the year 2010 in the province of Luapula, Zambia, I heard that a bird was burnt by local people, as they suspected a metal ring on the bird’s leg to be associated with witchcraft.

Certain birds such as owls are believed by some local people to be associated with witchcraft, however the bird they burnt was a Lesser Spotted Eagle which had been ringed in Romania and migrated to Zambia.

The barn swallow with Bulgarian ring was freed. Photo: Victor Siingwa

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Of course, bird ‘ringing’ (or ‘banding’) is a way scientists study bird distribution and migration patterns. At the time I worked as a Spring Alive Coordinator in Zambia so, capitalizing on the story of the poor eagle, I explained the concepts of bird ringing and migration to school children through a Spring Alive project. 

One of the teachers asked a question about whether birds with dark colouring are associated with witchcraft. Realizing one of the Spring Alive focal species is black (Common Swift), I used this as an example and wrote notes about bird migration and ringing for school newsletters.

During the 2014 spring migration, a Barn Swallow was picked up by school children after it had hit a communications tower. The swallow had a ring on its leg. However this time, when the kids saw the ring they reported it to their school nature conservation club patron and let the bird go.

It was very exciting when I heard the success of the migration lessons to the local people. And how citizen science can be helpful in conservation efforts.

The school children had participated in Spring Alive and discovered from the ring that the swallow they rescued was originally ringed in Bulgaria.

School kids are amazing."

Victor Siingwa, Spring Alive in Zambia

It was only one Barn Swallow that was saved in this little story, but who knows who these children will grow up to be and what they - and other children who have been involved with Spring Alive in Europe, Asia and Africa - will do in the future.

Spring Alive projects have supported teachers in Europe and Asia too, totalling 3,400 teachers helping children learn about birds and nature conservation.

“Spring Alive has been a great addition to my classroom. I have always been interested in nature, but wasn’t sure how to get my pupils interested as well.” Máire O’Connor, teacher, Ireland.

Children enjoying a Spring Alive event in South Africa. Photo: Kristi Garland

This year, Spring Alive urged children to make their gardens, balconies and school yards bird-friendly.

Other Spring Alive activities in Zambia have included nature walks, tree planting, snake identification and handling. One of the school children who won a Spring Alive drawing competition even has another little story where a brown house snake was retrieved from the school yard!

Spring Alive 2015 in numbers:


  • 14 African countries involved
  • 40 European and Asian countries involved
  • Over 6.4 million people reached
  • 106,734 observations
  • At least 629 events and 55 conservation actions
  • Nearly 500 volunteers involved
  • Over 1400 Facebook fans
  • 35,000 views on YouTube

Spring Alive is an international campaign to encourage children’s interest in nature and the conservation of migratory birds. Spring Alive is organised by OTOP, the BirdLife Partner in Poland, on behalf of the BirdLife Partnership. Wildlife groups, teachers and others who would like to become more involved in Spring Alive should contact the International Manager, Karolina Kalinowska, at

For more information go to:

Follow Spring Alive on facebookYouTube and flickr.

Spring Alive project would not be possible without the great support of The Mitsubishi Corporation Fund for Europe and Africa (MCFEA), Spring Alive’s main sponsor. The aims of the MCFEA are to encourage the appreciation and conservation of flora and fauna with an emphasis on endangered species.

Thanks also to our competition sponsors Opticron and Meopta-optika, s.r.o. for providing binoculars as prizes.