Birdlife South Africa has elected the Barn Swallow as the “bird of the year” to create awareness about migratory birds in general, wetland conservation and global climate change.
Barn Swallows (Europese Swaeltjies) are one of the most widespread swallow species in the world. Millions of these swallows migrate between Europe/Asia and Africa each year which means covering a distance of about 10,000 kilometers between their breeding and non-breeding grounds.
These swallows start arriving in October and can be seen in all habitats, but especially at a large roosting site that is located on a private game reserve adjacent to Durbanville. At dusk thousands of Barn Swallows create a spectacle as they mill around above the phragmites reedbed. Suddenly, within a period of ten minutes they all drop into the reeds and the sky is empty.
The Tygerberg Bird Club has ringed over 3,000 Barn Swallows over the past three summers and caught 7 individuals that have been ringed in the United Kingdom and one in Spain.
The swallows moult before leaving South Africa in April and the males look magnificent in their metallic blue plumage which sports a pale belly, a deep red face, and long tail steamers.
Next time you see a Barn Swallow, think about how many kilometres it might have clocked in two, three or four years.
The Bokmakierie, as opposed to his secretive cousins in the bush-shrike clan, calls from an elevated perch, giving the impression that they are plentiful. The far carrying call, which can be clearly heard all around the Tygerberg Hills, sounds similar to “Kokkewiet”, its alternative Afrikaans name. The male initiates the duet with his mate so as to announce territorial claims and to reinforce the pair-bond. The split-second timing is impressive in a vocal display known as antiphony.
When seen from behind, the dab plumage on its back is a strong contrast to the bright yellow chest and broad black breast band. Immature birds do not display the breast band and can easily confuse the novice birder. Young birds have to practise their call and at the end of the breeding season one may hear off-key notes.
Bokmakieries eat a variety of invertebrates such as spiders, beetles, caterpillars and grasshoppers. These prey items are supplemented by larger creatures such as lizards, chameleons and frogs.
The duets are heard frequently at the onset of the breeding season. Once the eggs are laid only one bird will be heard while the other is brooding. The nest is placed 1 to 4 meters up in a leafy tree where it is well concealed. It is a large cup-shaped structure made from grass and forbs and lined with finer material.
The eggs, which number between two and five, are pale blue with brown speckling that forms a band around the blunt end. Both sexes take turns incubating the clutch, which hatches after about 16 days. The chicks remain in the nest for about 18 days and are still fed by the parents for a few weeks.