Birds in plight
SWALLOWS, house martins and swifts are surely one of the most welcome and uplifting sights of spring and summer but these harbingers of summer, that rely on our homes and other buildings to raise their families, are under pressure and they need our help.
Gifted-fliers need our help
These gifted-fliers are all long-distance migrants that catch their insect food in flight. They spend their winter in southern Africa and to return to the UK they travel over 200 miles-a-day at speeds of 17-22 miles per hour. Despite accumulating some fat reserves before crossing large areas such as the Sahara Desert, but migration is a hazardous time and many birds die from starvation, exhaustion and in storms.
Swallows, house martins and swifts are often confused with each other but if you get a good look at them you can easily tell them apart. Swallows have long, forked tails; house martins have short forked tails and a clear white rump which can be seen at the top of the tail when they swoop and turn. Swifts are all dark and have long, narrow, crescent-shaped wings.
Rebecca Barrett, Biodiversity Lead at the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership, said: “For many people, these birds are very welcome lodgers on their houses or outbuildings. Swallows like to nest on beams or in sheltered corners of buildings, barns or in porches, making nests from a mixture of mud and dried grass. House martins like to nest under the overhanging eaves of buildings where they sculpt a cup-shaped nest from mud. And swifts nest in sheltered cavities within the walls and under the eaves at the top of buildings and the only time that these mysterious birds land is at their nest during the breeding season.”
The traditional houses, farm buildings, churches and chapels of the North Pennines offer many ideal nesting sites for swallows, house martins and swifts and are often returned to year-after-year by these long-distance travellers.
Don’t destroy nests
Rebecca continued: “Though loved by many, these birds are not always greeted with a warm welcome. One reason for this is the mess that can accumulate below their nests from droppings. This can lead to people blocking up places where birds have traditionally nested or even knocking down nests while they are being built which is illegal. These birds and their nests are fully protected by law; it is an offence to kill or injure any wild bird or to intentionally damage or destroy their eggs, young or nest whilst it is being built or in use.”
The impact of droppings below nests can be reduced by taking simple measures such as placing newspaper where droppings accumulate. As necessary, the paper and droppings can be added to a compost heap, dug into the ground (droppings make wonderful fertilizer) or placed in the dustbin. Similarly, a blanket or sheet can be used to cover a car or structure and moved when needed. Another solution is to install a board two or three feet under the nest to catch the droppings. This should be cleaned regularly to prevent infestations of insects and mites that may live in the accumulated debris. Before attaching a board, observe the comings and goings of the birds to prevent installing something that could interfere with their access to the nest.
Have you got house guests?
The North Pennines AONB Partnership is keen to know where swallows, house martins and swifts are nesting within the North Pennines. If you are lucky enough to have one of these birds nesting on your property or know of a traditional nesting site you can record this information through the WildWatch page on our website: (http://www.northpennines.org.uk/WildWatch). If you are not able to do this then you can contact us on 01388 528801.
Released: 15 July 2015