Collapse in number of migratory birds

The nation’s favourite species of globe-trotting birds are disappearing, with numbers of swallows, swifts, and cuckoos all plummeting.

Birdwatch Ireland development officer Niall Hatch yesterday said preliminary readings from the latest nationwide bird atlas showed an alarming drop in the population of cuckoos.

The migratory species of swallows and swifts are also falling fast, largely due to a decline in the insect population because of changing farming practices.

Mr Hatch said: “Cuckoos are particularly thin on the ground. They used to be a common bird but they are disappearing from many areas. There is confirmed breeding in much fewer places now than 20 years ago.

“We are currently examining the data from the bird atlas conducted from 2007 to 2011, which will be published next year, and while there are still many, many thousands of swallows across Ireland, there would be a lot fewer than there would have been a generation ago.

“The numbers of swifts are also declining.”

The first swallow of the year in Ireland was logged on Mar 1 in Clonakilty, Co Cork.

Mr Hatch encouraged bird lovers and children all over the country to help catalogue the population of swallows, cuckoos, and swifts in Ireland by logging their first sighting of the incoming migrants to an international web network, Spring Alive.

He said the radical change in the country’s agricultural landscape in the past 20 years has been responsible for the decline of our best-loved birds.

“Swallows don’t eat anything but small flies. I remember when I was a child and we would drive to Gorey in Wexford every year and when my father got out of the car the first thing he would do was wipe all the flies off the windscreen. It doesn’t happen now. There have been such changes in the environment that it has really affected the number of insect species, which has affected the bird species.”

He said most of Ireland’s swallows tend to head to South Africa once winter sets in, but a small breakout group is only heading as far as Spain. He said some population of swallows are not even reaching Africa, but stopping off in Iberia.

“Our swallows spend the winter around Johannesburg. It is a risky journey and most don’t survive the journey, but they have no option. Blackbirds and robins can stay here because they go from eating worms in the summer to eating berries in the winter.”

* If you have a sighting of a swallow, cuckoo, swift or white stork visit springalive.net

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