Beijing Swifts 2017

I spent Saturday morning with Belgium-based Lyndon Kearsley and the Beijing team at the Summer Palace for the annual Swift banding project.  Led by Professor Zhao Xinru of the China Birdwatching Society, in collaboration with scientists from the UK, including the BTO, Sweden and Belgium, the project has recently been responsible for discovering the Beijing Swift’s wintering grounds and migration route, proving for the first time that these incredible aviators travel to southern Africa and back every year.

This year, we are hoping to prove an even more incredible aspect of the Beijing Swift’s lifestyle.  In 2016 selected birds were fitted with a new type of technology – accelerometers – which can, in short, establish whether the birds are moving or stationary.  Having this morning recaptured seven birds fitted with accelerometers in 2016, and provided the data are good, we should be able to show whether these birds have spent the nine months away from Beijing in continuous flight, just as Susanne Åkesson and her team have recently proved with Swifts from Sweden.  Wouldn’t that be something?

The analysis of the data will take some weeks and months to complete, so we don’t expect to have an answer quickly.  In the meantime, here is a short video of the Beijing Swifts in slow motion, taken this morning at the Summer Palace.  One striking aspect is the sound of the calls when slowed down…  my advice is don’t play this video if alone at night or at Halloween – it’s almost creepy!

Huge credit to our Chinese colleagues, especially Professor Zhao Xinru, Wu Lan, Liu Yang and the army of volunteers who work so hard to make the project a success.  And big thanks to Dick Newell, Chris Hewson, Lyndon Kearsley, Susanne Åkesson, Rob Jolliffe, Geert De Smet and Gie Goris who have all played a key role in the Beijing Swift Project over the last few years.



7 thoughts on “Beijing Swifts 2017”

  1. Fascinating project Terry. I am doing a study on the decline of aerial insectivores due to pesticides. If you note anything of interest please let me know.

    1. Thank you Jane. Yours is an important study. We hope to have some (limited) foraging data from the Beijing Swifts after downloading the data from some of the GPS tags. This should show us how far they travel to feed during the breeding season and it’ll be interesting to compare that with data from Europe. Best wishes, Terry

  2. Also interesting, your Swifts are meeting our Swifts from western Europe in southern Africa. Will they mingle, will ever one of your Swifts take the adventure of travelling west, or the other way round?

    1. Yes, the European and Beijing birds do mingle in the Congo area. But they seem to know where they belong; as far as I know, there are no (known) cases of birds from either race getting caught up in the “wrong crowd” and changing their breeding area. Seems that European males having Chinese girlfriends (or vice versa) is unheard of in Swifts..

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