This article is intended as a guide for Swift enthusiasts, and in particular for teachers with an interest in natural history. It shows ways in which the protection of wildlife (in this case, Swifts) and the subject of environmental protection may supplement the normal curriculum, especially in elementary school.
In addition to the guidance offered, real situations can be exploited to supplement the guidance, these could be:
- Threats to existing nest sites from construction work
- Collecting funds to buy nest boxes
- Setting up new local colonies with nest box projects
Complimentary activities can be spun off these situations and practised with the pupils and if the situation is suitable, interested parents may be involved too.
The result of this approach at the school in question was the conservation and enhancement of its resident Swift colony, and also a great increase in public awareness. In addition, the school was honoured with awards for its environmental work.
How the Hans-Herrmann-School was turned into a “Swift School”
One of the aims of the Bavarian Curriculum for Elementary Schools is for pupils to be trained in social skills and it encourages teachers to practise with them the practical application of democratic rules of ethics. Furthermore it calls for the children to be made aware of the importance of the environment and nature and, in particular, learn to respect nature and be conscious of the need to protect it. In addition, in 2000 the Minister of Education appealed to all schools to work towards distinguishing individually.
Since the opening of the Hans-Herrmann-School in 1960, a group of Common Swifts has been living at the school building and breeding in the shutter boxes of the windows each year. In April 1996 the whole school building had to undergo a refurbishment, including the installation of new windows. The bird population would clearly be at risk from these building operations.
Fig. 1 Common Swifts flying into the shutter boxes of Hans-Herrmann-Schule
The following article describes the most important steps we undertook to create the identity of a “Swift School”. Our long-term commitment to protecting our “home-bird” ensured that everyone in Regensburg now knows Hans-Herrmann as the “Swift School”. We are recognised as having a swift- protection identity and we have won a lot of prizes for what we have achieved.
Material and methods, results
Building operations represent a danger for creatures which breed in or on buildings. Unfortunately financial arguments often take precedence over other considerations when building permissions are being considered. Therefore, we set out to find “allies” and decided to bring this problem before the public in order to get the town, as the owner of this public building with responsibility for supervising the construction work, to stop the work on the buildings during the period May to July, in compliance with existing nature conservation laws. We planned different activities with our pupils and at the same time we sought to get a range of supporters interested in the issue, including parents, neighbours and nature lovers.
The pupils were required to work on the topic “environmental care” in different streams within the curriculum. In working with children aged 6-10, it was most important to appeal to their emotions in order to persuade them of the long-term necessity to take good care of the environment and nature.
Fig. 2 Poster showing examples of how to become a “Swift-expert” in the Elementary School
We had three goals which we approached in different ways:
1. Undisturbed breeding
The teachers explained to their pupils about the different dangers for the swift sanctuary and appealed to their emotions by asking them to describe how the birds would feel when they came back and their nesting places had been destroyed. The teachers also gave the children additional information about the physical characteristics of the swift, their habits and about the time the birds spend in our latitude.
Fig. 3 Poster showing examples of how to become a “Swift Expert” in the school of special education
We also drew attention to the fact that Swifts do not soil house walls, are not noisy and do not damage or harm anything or anybody. The students watched documentary films about Swifts, did their own research on the internet under professional supervision and wrote short, imaginative stories. They also wrote letters to the municipality and architects asking them to delay the construction work until the birds were gone. The children also created big placards about Swifts and their habits. These were shown in the lobby of the school to inform other pupils and visitors about the birds.
Result: The various efforts of the children and their teachers succeeded in postponing the construction work near the nesting places until the birds had finished breeding.
Fig. 4 Swifts made of wool by the students
2. Building new nesting places
The students created swift mobiles, crafted swifts out of clay, sang a “swift song” which they had composed and sold their arts and crafts. Through these activities they collected money to buy new nesting boxes. Through newspaper articles about these events, many people, including the municipality, became aware of this project and were encouraged to donate money too. The imaginative stories, which the pupils wrote in their German lessons, were very popular and motivated the children to do even better. Most of these stories were published on the school’s webpage.
Result: The old nesting places in the shutter boxes of the windows could be replaced by new nesting boxes which were hung up on the school building. Swifts were attracted with the use of a “swift calls” tape and moved into all the new boxes. Our efforts paid off and were well worth it.
Fig. 5 A still of “our” Swift parents, Martinet and Herrmann, in the special Webcam - nesting box
3. Sustaining the motivation of the children to protect the environment and building up a bigger community of friends for the Swift
This was most important in the ensuing years. In the year 2003/2004 we installed two web-cams into a two-chamber nesting box and broadcast the birds breeding live on a monitor in the school lobby and on the internet (www.mauerseglerschule.de). The broadcast was used in class as a basis for writing observation papers, using the correct scientific language, and for inspiring ideas for new make-believe stories.
We found that pupils were watching the breeding on the monitor even in breaks when they were not under supervision or fulfilling specific tasks associated with observation of the birds. They also discussed the birds and their behaviour outside of class and we were very encouraged to see that they were so interested in nature.
Results: The pupils had a lot of fun but were also seriously interested in observing the birds in their nesting places through involvement in preparing structured observation papers. They asked a lot of questions and developed different hypotheses based on their results. The feedback which the children received on their essays made them feel very proud and the teachers knew that they had fulfilled the requirements of the curriculum.
The Swift colony was saved and grew even bigger despite the running of construction works on all three of our school buildings. The students were so interested in the Swift as a protected species and as a class subject, that they were highly motivated to fulfil their tasks in class and worked with the greatest of ease.
The teachers capitalised on the natural interest of their pupils to develop a variety of assignments in different streams of the curriculum. They were very pleased to find that, along the way, the pupils learnt a great deal about their town, the organisation of the municipality and how public opinion is shaped.
The families of the children and lots of other people became infected with “Swift fever” and hung up nest boxes on their own houses to attract the birds and then spent time watching them.
The Head of the school received a number of prizes from the town for the school’s efforts in support of bird protection and the development of a mixed programme approach to the teaching of nature.
For the same reason the author was awarded the title of “Green Angel” by the Bavarian Environment Minister, in 2010 at Nuremberg, Bavaria. This prize is awarded by the Bavarian State Ministry of Environment and Health each year to a maximum of 50 people.
I am grateful to Mandy Mayer, London for helping me with the English text.
Lehrplan für die bayerische Grundschule, genehmigt mit Bekanntmachung des Bayerischen Staatsministeriums für Unterricht und Kultus vom 9. August 2000, Nr. IV/ 1-S 7410/ 1-4/ 84000
© APUSlife 2011, No. 4842 Simultaneously published and printed 2011 in Ecologia Urbana, special issue 2/2011 with papers from the Commonswift Seminars Berlin 2010
 Elementary school, high school and schools for special education.