Swifts Return to the Holy City

TAU researcher hosts ceremony to welcome migrating swifts back to Western Wall nesting site


Alongside the notes and prayers lodged in its ancient crevices, the Western Wall in Jerusalem has also long been home to the migrating swift, a highly aerial bird similar to swallows that can fly at an average speed of 30 miles an hour. According to Dr. Yossi Leshem of Tel Aviv University's Department of Zoology and Israel's foremost ornithologist, this holy site is one of the birds' oldest nesting colonies. In recent years, approximately 40 pairs of birds have been spotted nesting among the 2,000-year-old stones.

In a recent ceremony attended by Dr. Leshem and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the swifts were welcomed back to their nesting site from their winter home in Africa. Dr. Leshem hopes to make the swift's annual pilgrimage a draw for bird lovers from all over the globe.

During their 100-day nesting period, these master aerialists fly high above the city, eating, sleeping, and even mating in the air. The swifts, which weigh in at a tiny 1.2-1.6 ounces apiece, arrive in mid-February and return to Africa in June.

TAU, along with the Friends of the Swifts Association and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, are working to protect the swifts, who prefer to nest in man-made structures. The organizations hope to safeguard current nesting sites and build additional sites.

"Ever since humans started building cities, the common swift has found our buildings perfect for nesting sites, including ancient holy sites such as churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples, and has become dependent on us," says Dr. Leshem. To preserve this habitat, the birds' 88 nesting sites have been taken into account during work to strengthen the masonry of the Western Wall.

For the full story on the returning swifts, see the Jerusalem Post story:

For more environment and ecology news from Tel Aviv University, click here.

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