12 Dec 2016

Bite-size bird tales from Eurasia

Common Kingfisher with a bite-sized snack. © Pierre Dalous
By Shaun Hurrell

Across Eurasia and Africa, conservationists have been visiting schools and communities to inspire children and adults about migratory birds and nature, through BirdLife’s Spring Alive project. What starts for some national partners simply as educational school visits can sometimes turn into something bigger. With the 2016 Spring Alive season coming to a successful close, the project teams in several dozen countries can relax, knowing they’ve done what they can to engage children with conservation and to take action for birds. Along the way, they’ve picked up some great “little anecdotes”, those which help make the work all the more worthwhile.

Read on to find out more….


How to save a Swift? "Chuck" it out the window*…

Common Swift (© Madis Veskimeister)

DOPPS (BirdLife in Slovenia) reports of a case where a student, Urska, phoned the office saying she had found an immobile Common Swift Apus apus lying on the floor, which she swiftly took to her flat on the eighth floor to care for, thinking it was too dehydrated or hungry to fly. However, she was very shocked when Tilen, the DOPPS Spring Alive coordinator, simply told her: “Throw it out the window (with utmost care), it’ll be fine!”

Normally it is not best to interfere with birds found on the floor, as they might be fledglings with watchful parents nearby, but Swifts are different – these airborne-feeding “flying aces” are actually terrible at walking, and if they end up on the ground they cannot take off again, left stranded vulnerable to predation.

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Of course, Urksa called back later saying excitedly: “It flew from my hand! It flew!”

*(not literal!) Only if it is clearly strong and uninjured, by holding palm flat near a windowsill.

From “Postman’s duty” to “neighbourhood watch” for Storks

Stork Village, Macedonia. (© Ksenija Putilin)


In some places in Europe, White Storks Ciconia ciconia are “village heroes” and become part of the community, nesting proudly on people’s rooftops and telegraph poles where they are welcomed back from migration each year. In Hungary in the 1960s, postmen had the official duty of “stork monitors” for the annual stork census, counting the birds and nests as they walked the entirety of villages. BirdLife’s Czech Partner, CSO, says that the police used to do stork counting in 1940s too.

Now, MME (BirdLife in Hungary) reports that because of the Spring Alive project’s live stork nest cameras, locals have grown so attached to the birds that they voluntarily monitor nests and call MME’s office, or even the fire brigade or police if they have the slightest concern. But this is not just an overreaction: in one case the team received calls that a pair’s nest now only had one adult sitting on it. After investigation, the team found a severely injured adult stork nearby, which they took in for recovery. With only one parent left, they had to rescue the eggs and take them to an incubation centre, where the hatchlings were raised and placed for surrogacy into a different stork’s nest. Their development was all captured on the webcam filming the nest, which was adopted by a popular acapella choir. The injured adult was finally released with a satellite tag and the whole thing was a highlight on the local news. Also, MME’s GPS-tagged storks are now followed on the national TV weather forecast, so viewers can track their migration to Africa.

CZIP (BirdLife in Montenegro) speaks of similar issues when they came to translocate a White Stork nest from a dangerous electricity pole to a new platform. Having grown attached to their local stork nest, and misunderstanding the situation, the locals came out shouting “don’t harm the storks!” The stork pair are now safely nested on the new nearby platform and CZIP are pleased to have such strong support for birds.

In Macedonia community spirit is just as strong, thanks to MES (BirdLife Partner) providing information about the importance of storks through Spring Alive education in schools. Cheshinovo-Obleshevo is a “stork village”, with storks on their coat of arms, on their local signs, and in their hearts. A disused community centre has three massive stork nests on its roof and MES have plans to turn it into an education centre with the resident storks as the main attraction. As a result of the school visits, the Municipality has now even approached MES to work on conservation projects to improve local habitats, even though there are no protected areas there. This is something that will benefit local colourful European Bee-eater Merops apiaster colonies and other wildlife too.

Swift Emergency in Uzbekistan

Despite being listed at “Least Concern” by BirdLife on the IUCN Red List, Common Swift populations are decreasing, owing to loss of nesting sites through building renovation. UzSPB (BirdLife in Uzbekistan) took action through Spring Alive with a “Swift Emergency” campaign with full branding of a special “swift emergency number” hashtag. With a part-focus on saving injured swifts, allowing children direct contact with the special birds, this was the first time the small organization had reached out to schoolchildren. The campaign also concentrated on putting up new nest boxes, and a construction company then volunteered to install 200 swift nest boxes in the new houses they were about to build.

Nest box bikers

And finally, in Bosnia & Herzegovina, there are reports from ‘Naše ptice’ that a local motorcycle club has become a Spring Alive group. So imagine big, burly men riding around helping put up bird nest boxes!