A recent study by the UPLB Museum of Natural History (MNH) and the School of Environmental Science and Management (SESAM) revealed that businesses along P. Burgos St., in Batangas City were unaware of several issues or aspects on the thousands of migratory barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) which roost along the said thoroughfare.

Batangas City has been put in the spotlight on several occasions due to the swallows’ phenomenal urban roosting during the months of November to March. An estimated 250,000 birds roost on top of power lines, trees, posts and even buildings every dusk during those months. (Related story: Stalking the swallow swarm)

The Barn Swallow is a migratory species that come from other countries to escape the winter temperature and stop over and rest in tropical climates like the Philippines on their way to their breeding places.

In an interview, Dr. Juan Carlos T. Gonzalez, MNH Curator for Birds and current Professor at UPLB’s Institute of Biological Sciences said that although people along the area may have become accustomed to the birds’ presence, the supposedly affected businesses have yet to get the right information from the proper authorities.

“We surveyed 85% of the businesses in the area and interestingly we found that while more respondents perceive the barn swallows as nuisance, most of them answered that the birds do not directly affect their establishments,” Gonzalez said.

“This would probably mean that there is already a degree of tolerance on the part of the businesses,” he added. Florante A. Cruz, MNH extension specialist, also noted that most of the respondents have not been able to correctly answer where the migratory birds really come from.

“Although the barn swallow issue have been extensively covered and explained in the media, only 20% knew that the swallows came from other countries,” Cruz said. “Almost a fourth of those surveyed also believed that the birds may carry Avian Flu,” he added.

According also to Gonzalez, a lot of those who participated in the survey did not know that these birds have fleas, gnats, etc. which can cause human disease. But the presence of the birds in Batangas City may also have beneficial effects. “For example, birds are voracious insect eaters and can control insect pest populations,” Gonzalez said. However, 70% of those interviewed were unaware that birds can control insect pests.

“The phenomenon of bird migration has been fancied in many parts of the world, and some localities have actually gained more exposure and income through eco-tourism,” Gonzalez furthered. Only about 30% of those surveyed thought that the city can benefit from the birds through eco-tourism.

Dr. Ma. Victoria O. Espaldon, head of the project Ecological Profiling and Ecosystem Baseline Data Gathering in Batangas City which included the barn swallow problem as one of its studies remain optimistic.

Respondents have identified the City offices in charge of environment and health as the ones which should deal with the problems brought by the roosting swallows. “So this is a clear step towards more effective management,” Espaldon said.

“Despite this apparent gap in information, we are very hopeful that the City Government can correct the misconceptions and protect these birds and even benefit from their periodic appearances,” Espaldon added.

The report of the study, presented as a scientific poster during the East Asian-Australian Flyway Congress held in Cebu City last December 3-5. 2014, was authored by Dr. Juan Carlos T. Gonzalez and Florante Cruz of the UPLB MNH and Cheamson Boongaling and Dr. Ma. Victoria Espaldon of SESAM.

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