Saturday, November 3, 2012
Swift, skilful … and noisy
One does not have to be a birdwatcher or a nature lover to notice the swifts which in some parts of Malta have become a part of the urban environment from late spring to mid-summer.
They are noisy birds especially when they are chasing each other through the streets and between buildings.
They can be seen in areas such as Paceville, St Julians, Sliema, Gzira, San Gwann, Mosta, Mdina, Mellieħa and in Gozo.
Swifts started breeding in the Maltese islands about six years ago. The eggs are laid in a rudimentary nest in a ventilator of crevice in buildings, usually in competition with Spanish sparrows.
Since the first colony was established, the number of breeding sites has increased rapidly.
Some time ago it was realised that we actually have two species of swift breeding in the Maltese islands; the common and the pallid swift. These two species are very similar and difficult to tell apart.
Common and pallid swifts, known in Maltese as rundun and rundun kannelli, respectively, are common spring and autumn migrants.
Another species, the alpine swift, rundun żaqqu bajda in Maltese, is larger than the other species and easily identified by its white belly.
All swifts are trans-Saharan migrants. Pallid swift tend to arrive at the breeding sites earlier and leave later than the common swift.
Swifts are fast skillful flyers. They spend most of their lives flying they can sleep and air on the wing and touch land only when they are breeding.
Until relatively recently migrating swifts were used as targets and illegally shot in large numbers by Maltese hunters. The shooting of swifts has now started to decrease as a result of better law enforcement and this has made it possible for these birds to start breeding in the Maltese islands.
In the past five years or so we have had other breeding successes.
Swallows and house martins which also used to be shot in large numbers are managing to breed successfully every year although not yet in large numbers.
This article was published in The Times on 27.06.2012