Swifts – the symbol of Green Pilgrimage
For over 2,000 years flocks of swifts, who spend years in the air – eating, sleeping and mating in flight – have faithfully stopped at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on their annual journey from southern Africa in order to do the one thing the cannot do while aloft: to nest and lay their eggs. The small black birds, which weigh between 35 grams and 45 grams each, typically arrive in late February and stay for about 100 days before heading home.
For the past several years the Friends of the Swifts Association has organized an official welcome.
In 2002 German bird researchers mapped out 88 swift nesting sites that the Friends of the Swifts Association (FSA) now carefully protects. Any restoration work on the wall must take them into account to avoid disturbing or ruining them.
Built by King Herod in the first century, the Western Wall supported a huge platform where the ancient Jewish Temple once stood and today serves as the foundation of Islam’s Al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. and only a small portion of the once enormous retaining was still remains today.
It was found that other buildings besides the Western Wall have swift colonies, including the ancient Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, and different churches and mosques in the region.
A few facts about the Swifts:
Common swifts are migratory. Their summer breeding range runs from Spain and Ireland in the West across to China and Siberia in the East. They breed as far South as Northern Africa (in Morocco and Algeria), with a presence in the Middle East in Israel, Lebanon and Syria, the Near East across Turkey, and the whole of Europe as far North as Norway, Finland, and most of sub-Arctic Russia. Swifts migrate to Africa by a variety of routes, ending up in Equatorial and Sub-Equatorial Africa.
Their scientific name comes from the Ancient Greek words α “without”, and πούς, “feet”. ἄπους, apous, meaning “without feet”. These birds have very short legs which they use only for clinging to vertical surfaces and they never settle voluntarily on the ground, where they would be vulnerable to accidents and predation.Their call is a loud scream in two different tone pitches, the higher of which issues from the female.
For a bird of its size, it can live a long time, and swifts have to known to live for as long as 21 years. It can survive bad weather by entering what is called torpor, a coma-like condition in which its metabolism slows to almost nothing.
The most amazing thing is the adaptation of the species to flight. The body is the perfect development for flying in the air. The Common Swift does everything in the air, except breeding. It finds its prey there and feeds on the wing. It preens and plays in the air. It sleeps there most of the time in its life. It mates and collects nesting material on the wing. The wings are narrow but long which makes it a rapid and precise hunter of its targets such like flying insects and spiders. From quiet waters it drinks while flying or takes showers when its bill dives and splashes water.
The Common Swift return to the breeding places in their old colony approximately the same time each year. It is faithful to its breeding place so that the pairs may breed together for many years. When one partner doesn’t come back from Africa or dies during its stay, its place will be immediately taken by another bird of the same sex. Swifts lay 2-3 eggs and breed and hatch the chicks together. In these days they fly late until dark, while the non breeders of a colony assemble and fly high in the sky to sleep there on the wing. At the end of July the young will fly out, mostly right after sunset and will never come back to the nest. They need no exercises in flying and after a few moments they practice as well as the adults.