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ABSTRACTS by Miguel Carrero and Enric Fusté

Miguel Carrero Gálvez  (Associación APUS)


Wind farms - A new threat for swifts, a new challenge for researchers

Wind power is a clean and sustainable source of energy, reducing CO2 emission from fossil fuels and thus decreasing global warming. However, wind farms are also a threat for birds and bats with negative impacts from collision with turbines, as well as displacement or fragmentation of habitats. Many thousands of birds and bats have been killed by wind farms worldwide, mainly during the migration periods.

Although wind power is not yet one of the main sources of mortality for birds, it is already something to be concerned about (to play with the old saying: “which straw will break the camel's back?”). This issue has been the subject of study over recent decades. So-called “Smart” policies and guidelines for wind power have been documented and implemented but the problem is still far from being solved. Environmental and risk studies conducted so far have not proved to be good indicators of the risks associated with a wind farm for bird casualties.

Although soaring birds and raptors are the most studied casualties from wind farms, in the USA it is known that the majority of birds killed at wind farms are songbirds.

This paper focuses on Common Swifts (Apus apus) and House Martins (Delichon urbica) killed by wind turbines in the province of Cádiz, in Southwest Spain, where there are 63 wind farms with a total of 921 wind turbines, producing 1,25 GW. Due to its habitat diversity, and to the presence of the Strait of Gibraltar (a major Euro-African bird migration route), the province of Cádiz is a very important area for birds.

From 2005 to 2011, 79 Common Swifts have been reported as killed at wind farms in the province of Cádiz. In addition, in this seven-year period, 37 Apus melba, 23 Apus pallidus, 164 Delichon urbica (!), 2 Hirundo daurica, 9 Hirundo rustica, 6 Ptyonoprogne rupestris, and 2 Riparia riparia, were found dead in the same wind farms. The sex and age of all these dead birds were not determined (e.g., for Common Swifts, only 11 were labelled as adults and 15 as young, with the remaining 53 as unknown). Raw data seems to indicate that both adults and young birds are affected.

The data seems far from reliable and is now thought to underestimate the problem.Trained dogs are currently the best way to find dead birds in a wind farm, detecting more than 95% of the carcasses, but it is people not dogs who usually look for dead birds and therefore probably less than 50% of bats and passerines killed on wind farms are reported. The rest are not counted because they have already been taken by predators or have decomposed, or were simply not found by the people in charge. Thus, we do not know the real figure for dead Swifts on wind farms.

We do not know how wind farms affect resident swifts nearby. As wind farms could be suitable areas for feeding, this also needs to be studied and may be crucial for Hirundinidae.Some solutions for reducing bird collisions are currently being tested: trained human watchers who give orders to stop the turbines, sometimes called "idling"; radar surveillance systems to stop turbines; sound-recording and analyser systems to stop turbines; radio-controlled predator simulators to drive birds away from the wind farm. Changes in "cut-in" speed (increasing the wind speed that makes the blades begin to operate) has been proved to reduce bat mortality; could it also be helpful to reduce mortality of some bird species, such as Delichon urbica?

More research is needed, studying the effect of wind farms not only on soaring birds and raptors but on Swifts and other non-soaring birds. Solutions under test need to be studied and evaluated so they can be adapted/tuned for Swifts and other non-soaring birds. For that purpose, procedures and standards are necessary to develop better methods, metrics, and predictive models - and developers should be encouraged to take responsibility for this.


Miguel Carrero Gálvez on behalf of the children of Virgen del Rocío School


Proyecto Vencejo Amigo ("Our Friends the Swifts" Project)

 Colegio Virgen del Rocío (Huelva, Spain)
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The Project "Vencejo Amigo" was born in 2007 in Virgen del Rocío School based on a simple idea: swifts and people should be able to share buildings. Even more than that, people should learn to share urban habitats more generally with Nature. This became one of the main ideas supported by Virgen del Rocío School within its International Eco-School Programme.Common Swifts used to nest in the school window-blind boxes but problems soon arose. The school needed to be restored. Nesting Swifts were a source of noise and distraction, and some people even raised possible health risks. Therefore, in order to protect the Swifts, the first nest boxes were hung on the school walls in 2008.

In 2009, the boxes were occupied by Swifts.In 2009, a Swift nest was discovered in a closed window just behind the glass, and there was a great expectation amongst the teachers and pupils at the school. Puchini, a beautiful Common Swift, was born and raised in front of the childrens’ eyes, and one happy day he flew away.Apart from noise, distraction and fear of health risks, new problems arose; windows blinds cannot be kept closed in a school and some unfortunate accidents happened when the blinds were closed every night.

In 2010, Puchini's parents returned to their nest in the window and four eggs were laid; the school children were very happy and excited. Three eggs were lost but from the fourth one, Pocholita was born.

Sadly, Pocholita did not survive. But this strengthened the project. In 2011 and 2012 new boxes were built and hung for swifts and artificial nest places for house martins were also installed. The next steps will be the installing of cameras in the nest boxes, uploading to the Web and the sharing of the experience with other schools.

Swifts, especially Puchini, Pocholita and their parents, have become “friends” to those at Virgen del Rocío school, "vencejos amigos", but they have also been ambassadors for Nature. Now, it is not only Swifts which are of concern to the school. Every animal, every garden, every piece of Nature or environmental issue, is seen as an opportunity to educate the children to a better world, a world in which every living being has a place and should be preserved.



Miguel Carreo Gálvez and Enric Fusté Henares

Proposal for ethical guidelines for the study of Swifts and Swallows

Context: The signatories of these guidelines recognise that there is a need for more research on Swifts and Swallows so as to inform and optimise efforts to sustain their populations, which are under severe threat. However, there is a risk that such research, where it involves interference with living birds, can damage individual birds, mitigating against their ability to fly, breed and, in the worst case scenario, leading to the death of individual birds. We believe that any unnecessary and avoidable harm to individual birds in this way is unacceptable. These Guidelines set out a practical ethical framework for such research which should ensure that such impacts do not occur.

1. Any research resulting in dead or injured birds is unacceptable, no matter what the aim or purported benefit of the study might be.Each and every bird, no matter its physical condition, is a living creature which should be respected and treated with the utmost care.

2. No new experiments or research should be undertaken until all previous similar experiments have been studied.Before beginning any research a thorough search of relevant bibliographies should be undertaken to identify any previous studies using the same methods or with the same research objectives. Interfering with birds to undertake research that has already been done or where appropriate data or conclusions can be drawn from previous studies is ethically and scientifically unacceptable.

3. Any experiment should be immediately terminated if birds are in danger, even where the danger is not related to the experiment itself.Survival of Swifts and Swallows is the prime and overriding objective. Research can never be an excuse for causing damage or danger to a bird. Any damage that does occur during research should be reported and published in detail so that similar instances can be avoided in the future.

4. Any research project should include an element of activity directly related to helping Swift or Swallow survival.Just as many research bodies require a “public good” element be included in project proposals, we believe that every Swift or Swallow research project should include a “Good for Birds” element. Swifts and Swallows are under severe threat and this is a way of “paying” them for the privilege of using them for our research. The action actually taken to help them can come in many forms e.g. installing new nest boxes, giving some money to charities who work to help Swifts and Swallows, undertaking education work in schools to help children understand and love these birds, working as a volunteer carer...

5. Any research project involving live Swifts or Swallows should reflect the following “state of the art” protocols.These include a presumption that the number of birds involved in and affected by any research should be kept to the minimum compatible with achieving reliable results. Sound pre-planning and strong statistical models should be used for every project, resulting in a documented project plan.

In addition, no project should begin unless it is reviewed by an ethical committee or peers. These details must be clearly stated in the results and in any subsequent publications. A protocol describing procedures and precautions to ensure the welfare of the birds during the research should be documented before the project starts and must be followed during the research. Research results should always include the full details of this protocol.

A proposal is made to establish an Ethical Committee with the aim of ensuring that these guidelines are disseminated, applied and developed as necessary.

The Committee would always consider any proposal for research or experimentation involving living Swifts or Swallows from the point of view of whether it would genuinely help their survival.

Those who signed up to these protocols would seek to ensure that all proposals for research involving living Swifts or Swallows:

  • voluntarily and fully complied with these guidelines
  • are submitted to the Ethical Committee before the work is started and again once the results have been established;
  • include reference to the guidelines along the following lines: "This research has been undertaken in compliance with the Ethical Guidelines for the Study of the Common Swift and has been approved by the [Ethical Committee - name to be agreed]."

It is also proposed that any research which is not compliant with these guidelines should not be accepted for presentation at conferences, seminars, publications (including web pages) by signatories to these guidelines.





Enric Fusté BSc (Hons) MSc MSB

General aspects of insect and non-insect diets when hand-rearing Swifts

Nestling growth and development requires the integration of a variety of factors. The conditions under which the birds are maintained, their diet and the amount of parental care received, have a profound influence on the health and development of nestlings. Husbandry management needs to take into consideration all the factors which stimulate growth in their counterparts in the wild.

Diet is an essential factor and nestlings in captivity should be fed the same foods the parents would have fed them in the wild, however, duplicating this is a challenging task. Wildlife rehabilitation centres dealing with insectivorous species may encounter difficulties in the hand-rearing of large numbers of chicks as there is a limited selection of commercially available insects and they tend to be expensive. Even where it is possible to use insects to feed insectivorous species, diet is often limited to a single insect species. The nutritional composition of commercially produced insects has been studied by some authors who have demonstrated that they may be inadequate without appropriate supplementation. Cost is usually the limiting factor in using insects, an important constraint which has resulted, along with issues of effort and accessibility, in the use of alternative diets. The formulation of a diet is extremely complex; a balanced diet requires the precise combination of 45 different nutrients (chemical elements and compounds). A properly formulated diet needs to evaluate the large number of nutrient interactions, consider the differing bio-availabilities of these nutrients from different ingredients and be able to include the micronutrients into the diet. Several authors have developed diet formulas where the main components are non-insects or these are combined with insects, and claim good results with nestling passerines, stating that some of these diets can be used as a stand-alone substitute for insects. Insectivorous bird species, particularly aerial feeders, consume a huge diversity of invertebrate species which presumably supply a complete diet, enriched besides by the intestinal content of the prey.

Research done by the author comparing different insect and non-insect diets revealed how final fledgling weights, feather condition and flight performance on two non-insect diets (rat mince and Kibble), were questionable when compared to chicks hand-reared with insect diets and birds raised in the wild. The results were paralleled when comparing two insect-based diets, cricket and mealworm. The author emphasises the success of the mealworm diet and that it has even proved successful when hand-rearing Chimney Swifts. There have been concerns generated by negative information on the use of an insect-based diet to hand-rear Common Swifts but this negative information has not been validated and should be scientifically investigated as it may adversely affect husbandry improvements. Rehabilitation centres without enough resources to use the recommended but expensive cricket-based diet may step back and keep on using non-optimal diets because an insect diet is “supposedly” dangerous for hand-rearing Common Swifts.


Success in hand-rearing Common Swifts (Apus apus) using a diet based on mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) at a wildlife recovery centre: Analysis of survival and fledgling weights compared to those on previous diets not composed of insects.

Diets for insectivorous birds represent a major challenge. The optimal diet would be composed of different insect species and some rehabilitation centres currently hand-rearing insectivorous species do use diets based on mixed insect species (crickets, drones, wax moths larvae, flies), although involving only a limited number of admissions. A diet based solely on domestic crickets (90%) and large larvae of the wax moth (10%) is used in some rehabilitation centres in Europe specializing in hand-rearing large numbers of Swift chicks, with optimal recovery results. However, the crickets produced commercially are extremely expensive.

The results of a comparative study on diets conducted in CRFST (6th European Zoo Nutrition Conference) posed concerns for the non-insect based diets. In contrast, the study demonstrated excellent results using a diet based only on mealworms, an insect produced commercially but five times cheaper than the cricket. The mealworm diet is somewhat controversial as some anecdotal reports attribute health problems to it. Despite this, mealworms are used with success in hand-rearing Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica) in the US. Histopathological analysis performed on three Swifts fed on mealworms for more than 20 days documented an optimal physical condition and no evidence of disease or organ damage that may be associated with the mealworm diet.

Concerns about the poor results observed in non-insect diets (rat mince and Kibble cat food) and the contrasting results with insect diets, led CRFST to make a drastic change in insectivore diet protocols. The mealworm diet was used in the breeding season 2010 and onwards as a base diet for the hand-rearing of Common Swift, Alpine Swift and other insectivorous birds. The results for the 2010 season using the mealworm diet show a significant increase in final weights and also on survival rates when compared to 2009, where the diet was based on Kibble cat food, and over 2008 and prior years where the diet was rat mince. The mealworm diet showed a survival rate nearly 30% higher than for the two previous non-insect diets – particularly notable in acute clinical categories (72.4 % mealworm diet, 44.0 % cat food and 45.7 % rat mince). Euthanasia based on the physical condition at admission was discarded in 2010 (previously acute cases, representing around 25 % of the Swift admissions, were sacrificed as no improvement was observed under rat mince and cat food). Despite this, after a period in the centre even with the insect diet, around 17 % of chicks were sacrificed due to the irreversible condition of the plumage. As for final weights, there was an average increase of 5 grams (adult weights around 40g) with a remarkable increase of 7g for the youngest chicks. Importantly, the increases were parallel in all clinical categories, including acute severe cases. Looking at the results, we recommend that the use of non-insect diets when hand- rearing Common Swifts is discontinued and a pure insectivorous diet is adopted. Mealworms could be a very good alternative when crickets cannot be used for economic reasons.

The success demonstrated is given greater significance by the fact that all the birds fed on the insectivorous diet had a high possibility of survival, even those in an initially acute condition. This renders any protocol based on poor clinical condition at admission as redundant.