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Water project halted to protect nesting swallows

By Du Juan | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-22 08:16
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A swallow feeds its birdlings on a sandy cliff along the Yongding River in Beijing. GAO SONGMAO/FOR CHINA DAILY

In a serene alcove along Beijing's Yongding River, the construction of a water diversion project halted work this past week to protect nesting swallows, fostering tranquility and ensuring a secure haven for the delicate avian inhabitants, much to the delight of the city's residents and avid bird admirers.

A westward-facing earthen cliff, stretching over 30 meters in length and towering nearly 20 meters high, gleams under the sun's golden embrace, painting a picturesque scene along the riverbank.

From a distance of around 100 meters, people can see the nearly 200 clustered caves carved into the cliff, each about the size of a fist, with brown cliff swallows flitting in and out.

"I visited this charming community of swallows several weeks ago. In recent years, around late April to early May, they grace us with their presence to build their nests, and then bid farewell by early July," said Zhao Yue, an official with the wildlife conservation department in Daxing district's landscaping and greening bureau.

"The water project commenced construction in June, and upon my recent visit, the project had already voluntarily ceased its activities and began deliberating novel strategies to safeguard these cherished creatures," she added.

A collaborative effort among various governmental entities, including the district's landscaping and water management authorities, alongside the construction team, swiftly yielded a consensus: construction activities within the nesting zone would be halted, with operations redirected to alternative areas, Zhao explained.

"Beijing is home to three prevalent swallow species: the Beijing swift, house swallow and red-rumped swallow. The cliff swallow, though less common, resembles the house swallow in appearance but boasts unique habitat preferences, favoring riverbanks and lakeshores where it carves nests into cliffs or sandy embankments," she explained.

"Having encountered bird lovers during my work, I deeply understand their sentiments. While the water project is very important to the city's flood prevention efforts, the forthcoming adaptations remain under deliberation.

"Nonetheless, the safety of over 1,000 young swallows in these 200 nests will be ensured until they mature safely and take flight."

Wu Wei, a bird enthusiast, said on average, each cliff swallow nest contains three eggs. In just a few days after they hatch, the baby birds will spread their wings and fly for the first time.

Beijing's landscape lacks suitable niches for cliff swallows to nest. The upstream mountainous terrain features rocky cliffs, while the downstream plains stretch out expansively and evenly. This fine sandy cliff face stands as a rarity, serving as the most concentrated nesting ground for cliff swallows within the city.

The Yongding River, a cradle of the Beijing Plain, has historically borne witness to recurrent floods. Under the guidance of the municipal development and reform commission, the water management department has undertaken river channel dredging. Upon completion, the project will bolster the river's flood discharge capacity to 3,000 cubic meters per second, fortifying its resilience against a 200-year flood event.

The cliff swallow nesting area inadvertently falls within the project's purview.

According to the plan, the city's government departments will discuss the possibility of altering the project's route to help ensure the swallows can keep nesting in the cliff in the future.

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