Blue Swallows were declared a vulnerable species in 2010, and the number of breeding pairs is rapidly declining. This intra-African species is getting hard and harder to find, and its rarity attracts bird-lovers from all over the world. Tillietudlem has had Blue Swallow spotting’s before, given its location in western KwaZulu-Natal. Please enjoy this compilation of Blue Swallow information, as well as why Tillietudlem is one of your best chances of spotting one.
The Blue Swallow is a stunning African species, sporting a metallic, dark blue appearance, with long tail streamers, particularly in males. Their wingspan is between 101mm and 119mm, so they are a relatively small species. These birds prefer to spend their mating season in south-eastern Africa, where there is high rainfall, high altitudes and high humidity.
The number of Blue Swallows has been steadily dropping in recent years, due to deforestation, or agricultural purposes. With an estimated 100 birds or less left, this species is increasingly hard to find.
According to the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the KZN Midlands has the largest remaining population of Blue Swallows, so one needn’t stray further than Tillietudlem Nature Reserve to spot one! Tillietudlem falls within the mist belt grasslands region, characterised by undulating hills, frequent bodies of water, and lots of rainfall. Further, we are just east of the montane forest regions in Lesotho, consisting of mountainous vegetation. Firmly within the birds’ favourite conditions, Tillietudlem is a good bet for your Blue Swallow-spotting adventures.
Our nature reserve is a birding paradise, with regular sightings of vulnerable species, namely: blue crane, secretary bird, and yellow-breasted pipit. Further exciting spots are: orange-breasted long-claw, buff streaked chat and ground woodpecker!
The Blue Swallow is much less common, but with a history of sightings, and research data to support, Tillietudlem is a great bet for those wanting to catch a glimpse of that stunning metallic blue.
The Blue Swallow’s preferred habitat, as mentioned, are grassland area of high rainfall, humidity and altitudes. Human impact and imposition has been detrimental to the environment, particularly grassland regions given their utility as agricultural land and pastures. Furthermore, these conditions are perfect for the cultivation of pine trees.
The Afromontane forests themselves are deforested for furniture, building, fuel wood and the like, as their prototypical yellowwoods, mountain hard pear, Cape beech and Mountain Cypress are perfect for these functions.
The KZN mist belt grasslands are a globally Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA). They are the primary site of Blue Swallow breeding and need protection. Unfortunately, only 10% of Blue Swallow breeding in South Africa takes place on protected land. This means the 90% of breeding is unprotected, indicating a vital need to extend these protection in order to preserve their integrity.
A good start at preserving these natural breeding grounds is to encourage private land owners in the mist belt region to enter into Biodiversity Stewardship, as run by BirdLife South Africa and other conservation authorities.
Raising awareness of the Blue Swallows’ plight will increase our chances of saving this gorgeous African species!
Blue Swallows are a rare species that requires our help. Preserving the natural biodiversity of our province can be as simple as making your Midlands property a protected biodiversity site and conserving its natural beauty. Endangered by human impact, the least we can do is give this dying breed a good chance at survival.