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Will a swift response save the devil's bird?


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Aerial existence: swifts eat, mate and even sleep on the wing. Photograph: Willi Rolfes/Picture Press/Getty
The common swift is struggling to survive. An Irish project hopes to help

 

Swifts are a bit of a mystery. Many accounts of their behaviour are still prefaced by the phrase “very little is known . . .”.

 

These birds eat, mate and even sleep on the wing. We know a little more about the sleeping bit now, from some remarkable Swedish research. They climb to about 3,000m, then close down just enough of their brains to keep snoozing at the same altitude, free of predators.

They land – if that’s an appropriate word for their habit of shuffling around on their breasts in narrow crevices, as their feet can hardly support them – only to nest and to raise their young.

 

This aerial existence might make them seem very remote from humankind, and they had the medieval nickname of the devil’s bird.

Paradoxically, however, the common swift (Apus apus) has been intimately linked to the built environment for many centuries, if not millennia. Today this species seems, in many places, to be almost completely dependent on humans for its nesting habitat.

 

Rob Fuller, a leading British ornithologist, has described how his deep knowledge of bird habitat and breeding behaviour was turned upside when he entered Bialowieza primeval forest, in Poland.

 

 

In its depths Fuller found familiar birds such as robins, blackbirds and wrens – as well as swifts – that nest in and around his suburban house in England. But they were often living in radically unfamiliar ways, in response to a very different environment and to different predators.

 

Read more: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/will-a-swift-response-save-the-devil-s-bird-1.1419743

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