To celebrate World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) on May 9th, let’s take a closer look at the Welcome Swallow Hirudo neoxema . This small aerial gymnast is a strong flyer and moves between regions of Australia in search of food. It is an insect eater; during the winter months in south eastern Australia many migrate north to find better foraging sites. In spring they return in huge numbers and build their cup-shaped mud nests in barns, under farm verandahs, below bridges or overhanging rocks. They hawk for insects over paddocks and dams, above woodland, but they particularly like bodies of water, so rivers and swamps are favourite spots. Banyule Swamp is a great place to watch these energetic birds; all year round it is rare not to see some flying low over the water at speed. Or perched for brief rests in the dead gum trees. In midsummer their numbers peak as insect larvae emerge from the water – mosquitoes, may flies, damsel flies etc. They have striking plumage of chestnut face and neck, blue black cap and back fading to blackish brown wings and tail, and pale underparts. The keys to their flying speed and manoeuvrability are the deeply forked tail and the long pointed wings. The theme for this year’s WMBD is “Birds Connect Our World”, chosen to highlight the importance of conserving and restoring the ecological connectivity and integrity of ecosystems that support the natural cycles of migratory birds. The words in italics could be lifted from WCS’ constitution. How magnificent that the Welcome Swallow keeps returning to Banyule Flats.
Front photo by Rodger Scott. Second photo by Anthea Fleming