On top of dodging nature’s predators during their epic 9,500km journey from Africa every spring, swallows have to run the gauntlet of gunmen shooting them for sport as they cross Cyprus and Malta on the migratory flyways of the Mediterranean.
Niall Hatch of Birdwatch Ireland said fewer swallows are returning to Ireland to nest each spring after their journey from wintering grounds in Johannesburg.
He said: “We’re seeing declines in the swallow. 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.
“There is nowhere for them to rest or drink or feed. They have to get across in one go and fewer are making it each time.
“There are also lots of human hunters out in Egypt, Malta, and Cyprus. They catch the birds in big numbers. A lot of it is just for fun. In places like Malta and Cyprus, it is appalling because it is flouting EU law and affecting our migratory birds.”
Mr Hatch said wet Irish summers also mean the birds have fewer flies to feed on before they leave.
While the estimated swallow population is half a million, he said the population is on a “knife-edge” and, on average, a pair that nests successfully raise 100 chicks but 98 will die.
To log swallows, swifts, or cuckoos in your area see: www.springalive.net