Category : educación ambiental

Not just swallows!!

Now that Summer is almost here I’m sure you have noticed that the greatest air acrobats have come to our cities, villages and fields: the swallows.

These birds are expert insect hunters, some of them as annoying as flies and mosquitoes. In fact, they could hunt up tp 150g insects per day, which means around 55kg per year! We think this is more than enough to help for the preservations of these species. What’s more, it is always funny to watch them and enjoy their pirouettes in the air. Don’t you think so?

But… not all the “swallows” we see belong to the same species. We have nine species in the Iberian Peninsula (plus another one in the Canary Islands) spread in three groups: martins, swallows and swifts.

They resemble each other in many ways, all of them are fast and fond of pirouettes, they have similar habits for nesting and they visit us only whith good weather: they arrive in spring and leave at the end of summer. Only the crag martin lives in the peninsula throughout the year.

Let’s see how to tell them apart from each other, helped by Marco Nunes Correia illustrations and a J.A. Sencianes Ortega watercolour.

 

Martins

Crag martin and sand martin.

Crag martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris)

Its scientific name is related to the places where they build their nests: rocky walls, bridges, dams.

Description: it is ash-brown above and paler brown on the underparts, except for a dark stripe on the wings. The tail is short and square and, when it is open, shows white patches near the tip of the feathers.

Nests: are open half cups built with mud and lined with feathers or other soft material. They usually nest alone.

 

Sand martin (Riparia riparia)

It is the smallest martin in the Iberian Peninsula.

Description: just like the crag martin, it is evenly ash-brown on the upperparts. However, is white on the underparts except for a brown band on the breast. The tail is slightly forked and has no white patches.

Nests: in contrast to all other species, these are not muddy nests but galleries dug in earth banks.

 

Swallows 1

Barn swallow, red-rumped swallow and house martin.

House martin (Delichron urbicum)

It is, by far, the most abundant species of those we are talking about. It owes its scientific name to its regular presence into the cities.

Description: it is steel-blue on the upper side except for the rump (right above the tail), which is white. The underparts are completely white as well. The black tail is not as forked as in other species.

Nests: they hang their nests on house eaves, bridges, dams, etc; nests are built with mud and they are cup-shaped, with a narrow opening at the top. They frequently breed colonially.

 

Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)

It is the biggest swallow in the peninsula and also the most common.

Description: the most distinctive trait is the red patch from the forehead to the throat. The upperparts are steel-blue and the underparts are off-white or reddish (males and some females) or white (females) excepting a dark blue breast collar. The tail is deeply forked with the outer feathers very thin and elongated. It is completely black with some white spots in the central sections of its feathers.

Nests: are half cups built with mud and are hung on buildings eaves or between barn beams.

 

Red-rumped swallow (Cecropis daurica)

It is similar in appearence to the barn swallow but prefers open and rocky spaces.

Description: although it resembles barn swallows, with dark upperparts, it has a white and reddish rump. The red patch on its head goes to the back of the neck, leaving a white throat and a steel-blue cap. It has off-white underparts and the tail is black, without white spots.

Nests: made with mud, they are half-bottle-shapped and they are placed under bridges or into building ruins.

 

Finally, let’s talk about swifts, known for their wide wingspan (lenght between the wing tips once they are spread out).

The scientific genus name, Apus, is from the ancient Greek “apous” (footless), given their small legs and their highly aerial life style.

One of the most peculiar traits of these birds is they spend most of their lives in the air, flying. They only take land to lay eggs, incubate them and breed the offspring.

 

Swifts 1

Common swift and pallid swift.

Common swift (Apus apus)

Is the most frequent swift species in the peninsula.

Description: it is completely dark but for the throat, which is paler. The tail is forked and the wings are long, thin and pointed, giving it a sickle-shape.

Nests: they are placed into holes and crevices both from rocky places and buildings.

 

Pallid swift (Apus oallidus)

It resembles common swift so much that sometimes is hard to tell them apart.

Description: even though it has dark colouring, is paler than common swift’s and the white patch on the throat is wider. Wings are shorter and blunter. The tail is also shorter and not so forked.

Nests: they are placed in cliffs but also in eaves or bridges.

 

Swifts 2

Alpine swift.

Alpine swift (Apus melba)

It is the largest swift species in the peninsula, with more than 50 cm wingspand, and the one with slowest flight speed.

Description: it is dark brown above and a dark brown collar separates the white underparts. The wings are long and thin and the tail is slightly forked.

Nests: they are built into holes and rock crevices as well as in old buildings.

 

White-rumped swift

White-rumped swift

White-rumped swift (Apus caffer)

Besides being the smallest swift, is a rare species in the peninsula. Not present in Asturias.

Description: it is completely dark except for the white throat and the white rump. Wings have a narrow white band on the tip of the feathers closer to the body (secondaries).

Nests: it seizes red-rumped swallows nests and decorates the entrance with white feathers.

 

To conclude, let’s mention the plain swift (Apus unicolor), a regular species on the Canary Islands. Despite the resemblances to the common swift, it is smaller than this one and it has uniform dark brown plumage and a pale throat.

Have you seen any of these species where you live? And in the field? Which one do you like the most?

COURSE “INITIATION TO ORNITHOLOGY” IN BEJES

From 26th to 28th of May we are going to be in Bejes (Cantabria), giving a course of initiation to Ornithology. We will learn to use binoculars, terrestrial telescope and bird guides; in one word, we will learn to identify the most common birds in these valleys with the means we need to do it.

The classroom is gorgeous: Bejes, a small village in the Liébana region (Cantabria), surrounded by mountains. This valley, dug by the river Corvera, climbs from the eastern section of La Hermida gorge and is part of the eastern natural boundary of the Picos de Europa National Park.

Bejes (Cantabria)

The base camp is the Hostel La Aldea, a lovely place run by a lovely cuople. They provide the accomodation and meals from Friday evening untill Sunday afternoon. If you need more information about the hostel, visit Hostel La Aldea.

Friday evening is to get to know each other, distribute binoculars and talk about we are going to do next days.

On Saturday we are going to walk around different ecosystems like beech groves, oak groves and alpine grassland. Depending on the weather this day, we could eat at the hostel or, if we are lucky, we might have a pic nic and spend more time outside, in the field. Finally, at the end of the day we are watching a film relating to birds and their world.

Surroundings of Bejes (Cantabria), in Picos de Europa

On Sunday we are going down to the rivers Corvera and Deva, in the La Hermida gorge. Lunch will be at the hostel and, after a nice converstion summarizing what we have seen, we will bid each other farewell.

Along the course we are learning how to distinguish one species of chough from the other or the griffon vultures from the egyptian ones. We are also learning to identify some of the most common birds around us, what the feed on or if they migrate to warmer lands after summer.

Even though this is an initiation course, if you alredy know something about birds join us and enjoy the species from this area!

We lend you the binoculars as well as the bird guides and do not hesitate to bring your camera in case you have one. Tight foodwear, a hat, sun block and water are highly recommended.

Prices:

Course + full board: 125€

Course: 70€

For more information and reservations: (+34) 942 733 561 / (+34) 628 736 966

Places are limited.

We are waiting for you!

I FOUND AN ABANDONED BABY BIRD, WHAT SHOULD I DO?

When Spring arrives, birds start their procreation process, mate and focus on a really hard task: breed successfully their offspring. Sometimes they repeat this process twice each year.

Once the eggs hatch, the chicks spend a few weeks in the nest growing up until, at last, they can fly away and leave home.

This phase of the breeding overlaps with an intense hicking activities in the filed, due to the good weather. We also go out more often because there are more light hours per day and we like to enjoy the blooming nature. Sometimes, while we walk, we may find a little baby bird on the ground. If we follow our basic instincts, first thoughts we have are: poor little guy, maybe fell from the nest, maybe is an orphan, I should help him….

The question is: will we face properly thi kind of situation? Following their good intentios, some poeple take the little birds home, to feed them and take care of them. But they are wrong, though.

We should let these chicks right where we found them. Most commonly they have fallen from the nest but this doesn’t mean they are necessarely abandoned. Although they are not into the nest anymore, their parents still feed them even when they are on the branches under the nest or even on the ground. Sometimes we also might find fledged youngsters: they are quite grown up ones who might have fallen from the nest during their learn-to-fly exercises.

But now and then what we discover is a precocial bird: they hatch with open eyes and a coat of down, which lend them a certain degree of independence. Obviously the parents are always around looking after them but sometimes we might think the chicks are lost or abandoned.

But finding a little bird with little or no down is a different story, since they are incapable of generating heat. In such cases parents could only feed them but no warm them. Even though we feel sorry, we should never take the little bird home, nor try to raise it. And don’t think about feeding it with bread and milk like you might have seen in some films, birds don’t drink milk!

Best thing to do is get in touch with a willife recovery center or the authority (in Spain, we have SEPRONA, for example; just dial 1 1 2); they know the best way to do the right thing and they will tell you what to do.

Find more information at the Spring Alive website.