Wet summers put swallow under threat
THE population of the iconic swallow is on the decline thanks to the widening of the Sahara, wet Irish summers and Mediterranean gunmen, according to a leading bird expert.
On top of dodging nature's predators during their epic 6,000-mile journey back from Africa every spring, the country's swallows have to run the gauntlet of gunmen shooting them for sport as they cross through Cyprus and Malta on the migratory flyways of the Mediterranean.
Niall Hatch, from Birdwatch Ireland, said fewer and fewer swallows were returning to Ireland to nest each spring after their mammoth journey up from their wintering grounds in Johannesburg.
"We're seeing declines in the swallow," he said.
"They are nowhere near the numbers they used to be years ago.
"Their arrival date seems to be getting earlier, which would point to climate change having an effect on migration and the survival of the chicks seems to be a bit lower.
"The Sahara desert is getting wider each year and more arid and fewer can survive the crossing."
While the birds also have to escape natural predators on their way, he said they were shot at for sport when flying over Malta and Cyprus.
"There are also lots of human hunters out in Egypt, Malta and Cyprus," he said. "They catch the birds in big numbers."
The ornithologist said the pattern towards more extreme weather in recent years also could have fatal consequences along with the effects of rain-drenched Irish summers as they had fewer flies to feed on before they leave.
He said: "They can run into terrible rainstorms and thunderstorms which can affect them. They are migrating and they are not as fit so they are less likely to return the following year."
While he said it was still a "relatively common bird" with an estimated population of half a million, the population was on a "knife edge" as so few of the chicks survived to adulthood.
"We are encouraging people to keep an eye out for swallows, cuckoos and swift and when they find them, go to Springalive.net and post their details there and it builds into a huge database."