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English

BARN SWALLOW – BIRD OF THE YEAR 2011: AN OVERVIEW

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), the national bird of Estonia was chosen the Estonian Bird of the Year 2011 by the Estonian Ornithological Society (EOS). The decision resulted from many concerns over the constant reduction in the bird’s breeding population in Estonia. Therefore the campaign concentrated on directing attention to the possible reasons behind the decline and offering advice on what everyone could do to help the Barn Swallow and the House Martin to raise their young successfully. Here is a brief overview of the activities in the year of the Barn Swallow.

EOS re-initiated the home swallow census, which aims to get an overview of the number and breeding success of the Barn Swallow and the House Martin and compare it to the 1990s results. This year over 250 people participated in the campaign and information about 600 swallow and martin nests was received. On average, a household had 3,2 inhabited swallow nests and 6,3 House Martin nests. The number of swallow nests was much higher (8,3) in a household with cattle or poultry. The vicinity of a lake also tends to expand the swallow colony (5,4 nests). 13% of the swallows had a second brood and 1% a third brood. The latest fledglings left the nest on September 29th.

After a decade-long gap in detailed information about these birds, the results were quite dramatic. Barn Swallows had on average only 4,1 young in the nest and regional differences were quite high (3,6-4,6 fledglings). Seemingly the summer of 2011 must have been quite favourable for swallows, but instead, the brood was smaller (4,2) than even in the rainiest year of the 1990s.

House Martin nest cannot be inspect with ease, so the number of fledglings (3,44) may not accurately represent the reality. A few House Martins had a second brood (3,5%).

Swallow and martin survey was repeated in a former study area in South-Western Estonia. The study showed a dramatic decline in the number of House Martins in the area: the breeding population has dropped 3 times in 20 years and 1,5 times in 15 years. At that time the number of breeding pairs of the Swallow has dropped by a quarter. What shocks the most is that in 20 years, one fledgling has “disappeared” from the swallow nest in the area – from 4,76 baby-birds to only 3,86.

Such results from the citizen-science and thorough survey in the long-term study area urge the EOS to investigate further the decline of the both species and expand the number of people taking part in the home swallow census.

In order to raise awareness two animations were released, depicting the life and problems of the Barn Swallow here and abroad. The target groups are kindergarten children and their parents (animation “Jänku-Juss vaatleb suitsupääsukest“/Bunny-Juss watches Barn Swallows) and schoolchildren and grownups („Suitsupääsukese raskest elust“/Hard life of the Barn Swallow). Both of the animations have been very popular and the number of viewers increases steadily. You can watch the animations on http://www.eoy.ee/suitsupaasuke/meedia/animatsioonid/.

During the year of the Barn Swallow, we also tested artificial swallow and martin nests, but these had little luck in the first year. And needless to say – countless interviews were given to radio and TV channels and articles in newspapers and magazines were published.

Photo competition was organized, which called up to take photos of the swallows, martins or swifts. 580 photos from 191 authors competed in several categories. You can take a look at the winning photos on this website (http://www.eoy.ee/suitsupaasuke/fotokonkurss/). The photos will be exhibited also in the lobby of Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport. Welcome to Estonia!

The Estonian birds of the year in 2012 are Plovers (Charadriidae): www.eoy.ee/tullid