Vital clues shed light on avian migration routes

By XIN WEN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-08-03 07:15
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Swifts fly over Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace. ZHANG LONG/FOR CHINA DAILY

Citizen science

Several decades ago, a large number of volunteers from civil groups in China first took part in observing and banding birds.

As they have become more involved in this work, the volunteers have turned their hobby into a type of citizen science to help ornithological research and protect migratory birds.

One of the volunteers, Fu Jianping, 66, has been banding birds for 24 years as an important way to study migratory species. This work generally involves placing a metal ring with an identification number on a bird's foot.

"It is exacting work," Fu said, adding that to prevent the birds dying of dehydration or isolation, every two hours the volunteers need to inspect the nets they put up during the day.

"If we hold a bird too tightly, we're afraid we will hurt it, but if we hold it too loosely, it might slip through our fingers," she said.

When a bird is recovered, relevant information about it is traced through the ring, and the location, date of discovery and other information are provided to the sharing data platform operated by bird-banding organizations.

Fu said, "In many countries worldwide, bird-banding is carried out by volunteers."

During the May Day and National Day holidays, instead of heading for a number of scenic areas, Fu always visits a location in Beidaihe, a picturesque coastal resort in Hebei province, where after being trained, volunteers place bands on birds.

After several years, the volunteers banding birds with Fu became highly proficient, but she said they might injure their fingers if the bands were not attached properly.

Research on the Beijing Swift is advancing as efforts from different sectors are stepped up.

Yuan, from the Beijing Central Axis Heritage Protection Center, said a study on the birds' living habits carried out in 2018 concluded that they used soil to build their nests, and that the feathers they left on the wooden architecture of the Zhengyang gate had no significant impact on the ancient structure.

After placing seven video cameras at the top of the gate to monitor the swifts' nests, Yuan and her colleagues observed that each bird usually laid two to four eggs. Their young hatched in about 21 to 23 days.

"Despite seeing the newborns every spring and summer, I still feel I'm not that familiar with them and that a lot of work needs to be done in order to fully research and protect the swift," Yuan said.

Zhao said priority should be given to research efforts, as genetic and ecological studies of the swifts are vital for their protection.

"More attention should also be paid to citizens' participation in the scientific research and conservation of the species in China," he said. "Scientific research and environmental protection can attract participation from people in different industries, which is also a positive driving force for the development of society.

"I hope that research on the Beijing Swift is only a beginning, and that more volunteers and citizens from various sectors will actively take part in observations and scientific studies of the species."

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