24 Feb 2016

Spring Alive for Swallows this spring!

One of the most familiar and popular birds, Barn Swallows © Spring Alive
One of the most familiar and popular birds, Barn Swallows © Spring Alive
By Shaun Hurrell

One of the most familiar and popular birds in the world is declining. Rather than being sad, let's celebrate the swallows of our neighbourhood because they give a great start for young people to care about conservation.

Barn Swallows are small, pretty birds with dark, glossy-blue backs, red throats, pale underparts and long tail streamers – so-called ‘swallow tail’. They are extremely agile in flight and spend most of their time flittering around us catching insects.

Swallows used to breed in caves, but now almost always nest in the eaves of buildings – such as farm barns (hence the name) and even in busy restaurants – meaning that the bird is one of the most familiar bird species in the world!

The BirdLife Partnership is not just about saving endangered species. BirdLife (as the authority for birds on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species) lists Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica as ‘Least Concern’ and their population size and range is huge. Nevertheless, they have marked population declines in some areas which means their global population trend is listed as ‘decreasing’ – so in the future this common species might not be so common. Unless people care for their future.

"Look after us!" Where can you find and watch over your nearest Swallow nest?

This is where YOU come in!

All along their migratory routes, children and adults will be excitedly preparing for the arrival of swallows and other birds with Spring Alive, an international project that launches its 2016 season in February. Spring Alive is a BirdLife International educational conservation initiative organised by OTOP (BirdLife in Poland) that encourages children to take action for the conservation of the migratory birds they learn about.

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Intimately associated with humans, swallows are a species that anyone, almost anywhere can help with, through the Spring Alive 2016 season theme:

Swallows of my Neighbourhood

We will soon be sharing tips and advice on how you can look after swallows in your neighbourhood, but for now we want you to be a Swallow Scientist!

  • Listen out for their arrival! You can learn to hear their calls here: http://www.springalive.net/world/springalive/swallow_migrations
  • Monitor your neighbourhood and note how many swallows and nests you see
  • Adopt a nest, without disturbing them, and note the key dates of arrival, egg-laying, hatching and fledging so we can compare them to next year
  • Stop people from destroying swallow nests, even if their droppings make a mess – help put up a board to catch the droppings instead
  • Learn the difference between Barn Swallows and House Martins and the best ways to look after each species
  • Plant lots of flowers to make your garden insect-friendly – so the birds have lots to eat when they arrive
  • Follow www.facebook.com/SpringAliveForBirds to learn more about Swallows and get updates on their migrations!

Barn Swallows from Europe spend the winter in Africa south of the Sahara, in Arabia and in the Indian sub-continent. Their wide range also makes them great ambassadors that link many countries in their migrations, with initiatives such as Spring Twins which pairs schools in Africa and Eurasia.

The life cycle of the Barn Swallow © Wild Bird Society of Japan (BirdLife Partner)

As well as the Swallow theme this year, every season by posting their first sightings of Barn Swallow, White Stork, Common Cuckoo, Common Swift, and European Bee-eater on the www.springalive.net  website, children from Europe, Central Asia and Africa create a real-time map of the incredible journeys these birds take every year.

Not convinced? Here are 10 reasons for your child/student to celebrate spring with Spring Alive.

Swallows are beginning to start their spring migration, where they travel hundreds of kilometres a day at a speed of over 30km/h – pretty tiring! These small birds are vulnerable to starvation, exhaustion and storms – so when they arrive in your country they will need all the help they can get to recover!

Spring alive for birds! How you can get involved with Spring Alive this year:

1.         Check the Spring Alive events calendar and birds events map on the Spring Alive website to go to an event near you.

2.         Share in the wonder of birds with others from Europe to Asia to Africa. Share your photos of swallows, Spring Alive events, make videos of swallows nesting and actions to make your gardens/balconies bird-friendly on the Spring Alive facebook page. Keep checking it for exciting photos and facts about the migratory species you can see, and tips on how to help them. 

3.         Get outside and take photos of swallows and birds in your garden as later this year we will be holding a photo competition on our flickr page.

4.         Swallows of my Neighbourhood: be a Swallow Scientist (see instructions above)

5.         Record your observations of Barn Swallow, White Stork, Common Cuckoo, Common Swift, and European Bee-eater on the website.

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 karolina.kalinowska@otop.org.pl

For more information go to: www.springalive.net

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 for providing binoculars as prizes.