Swallows return to a greener capital
A private home in a Beijing hutong has welcomed a group of rare guests — five fledgling swallows.
“I haven’t seen a swallow’s nest for over 30 years,” said Fan Liandi, a retired teacher who lives at the Dazhiqiao hutong, just south of the capital’s Xuanwumen District.
“Last year, I had the house gate repainted, and in spring, swallows started building a nest under the roof,” Fan said.
Many years ago, swallows were a common sight in the city, said Gao Wu, an ornithologist and professor at Capital Normal University.
“When the population rose quickly, birds started to leave because they couldn’t build nests on modern apartment buildings,” said Gao.
“The fact that they are coming back is a good phenomenon, it means the area is quiet enough, and there are abundant food resources,” he said.
The Dazhiqiao hutong is 186 meters long and before the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it was a drainage ditch. Teahouses and restaurants started to be built in the late Qing Dynasty and it eventually became one of the most crowded and chaotic alleyways in the capital.
Since April last year, illegal structures and hole-in-the-wall restaurants have been dismantled. Wires that used to criss-cross overhead were buried underground. Roads were expanded, and dilapidated houses repaired.
“The environment is much quieter now, and I guess that’s why the birds are coming back,” said Fan.
Beijing’s efforts to dismantle illegal constructions, build parks and wetlands, and restore ancient alleyways have helped clean up the city environment.
Beijing has built 210 large parks around the city and its greenery coverage is about 26.8 percent, up about 12 percentage points compared to five years ago. There are currently some 50,000 hectares of wetland, with plans to add another 3,000 by 2020. Greenery coverage will be at least 30 percent by then, according to the city government.
Beijing Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, which monitors the wild bird population, said that from 2014 to 2015, there were about 150 species of birds in the city, rising to 200 since 2016.
“These swallows will grow and one day they will leave my house, but I hope more birds will come and build nests here, like they did when I was young,” said Fan.