Mass bird scare ends in deadly havoc in Walvis Bay

Eileen van der Schyff

People had to look on helplessly on Wednesday as dozens of juvenile Swift Tern chicks, also referred to as Greater Crested Tern, were ran over by vehicles in Walvis Bay’s Hannah Mupetami Road.

The chicks, that cannot yet fly, were startled by something in their nests high above the ground on the roof of a nearby warehouse. The birds fluttered to the ground and were scrambling in all directions, including into the busy Hannah Mupetami Road.
Motorists were caught totally unaware and more than sixty chicks were killed under the wheels.
Employees at a vehicle spare parts dealer, Greg’s Motor Spares, witnessed the tragedy unfolding. They ran to stop approaching vehicles and others grabbed empty cartons, frantically picking up birds, filling up the cartons and bringing them to safety.  A call was made to Namib Times.
A message of the tragedy unfolding reached local resident Mr. Neels Dreyer who in turn alerted people to come and assist getting the birds to safety. The Namibia Dolphin Project played a pivotal role in the whole rescue effort that ensued.
On Wednesday afternoon dozens of chicks were safely back on the roof of the warehouse into their nests. That was thanks to Wesbank Transport who used one of their fork lifts to assist the people to bring the chicks back safely to their nests high above the ground.
It was established the Swift terns hatched some weeks ago in the roof structures of the warehouse. They are still around a month away from being able to fly. Swift terns are gregarious birds, nesting and roosting in large and dense colonies, often mixed with gulls and cormorants, usually on offshore islands, reefs or sandbanks and occasionally on top of buildings.
Birds that hatch on top of buildings have the arduous first task in life of literally having to leap off the high structures, flapping their wings with the hopes of getting the art of flying right the first time. In the days before this undertaking the juvenile bird would build up strength in its flight muscles by performing “push-ups” on the tips of their wings.
The Swift Tern inhabits the shallow tropical and sub-tropical waters of lagoons, estuaries, bays, harbours and even open beaches where it feeds mainly on fish (up to 90% of its diet) as well as squid, crustaceans and insects.
The breeding season for Swift Terns is from late summer through winter into early spring. Pairs are monogamous, meaning the male and female would stay together for their entire lifespan which is estimated at four years. Clutches consist of 1 or 2 eggs and are incubated for around 4 weeks by both parents. Chicks fledge at a little over a month old, but only become fully independent from about the age of 5 months.
Swift terns that are not successful in their first flight from high structures flutter down to the ground. On the ground they can make another attempt to fly. However, in the case of the birds on Wednesday, they were still too young to fly and were left totally exposed to predators and as was the case they landed in a deadly collision course with human activities.

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