year 2001 Rabbi Yosef Cornfeld informed me that there were crowds of
Common Swifts circling around the Western Wall in Jerusalem. They would
fly so low and so fast that the praying people would duck. (See his
reports in the Discussion Forum and in APUSlife). This is
why I consulted Prof. Mendelssohn from Tel Aviv University and we
decided to take a closer look at this colony.
Spring 2002, I spent two weeks in the Old City of Jerusalem and had the
opportunity to study the life of the colony in the Western Wall.
Common Swifts entered 88 holes of the Western Wall inclusive one cavity
in the stone that connects the Wall and the neighbouring synagogue (hole
no. 1), and two more in the wall of the synagogue (holes no. 2 and no.
Three more species
of birds entered this famous Wall. I was able to register two holes of
Jackdaws, five holes with feral pigeons and 15 with House Sparrows. Five
holes were shared by Common Swifts and House Sparrows.
together I counted 412 flight ins of the Common Swift.
of entries the holes
times into 57 holes
times into 25 holes
times into 6 holes
the holes are situated about nine metres high between the 9th and 10th
row of the stones. 16 nesting sites can be found
here alone. The fewest can be found in the southern part. It seems that
more cracks are filled with mortar here. In some holes (nos. 14 and 15)
the Common Swifts entered obliquely, that is,
the cavities are at an angle. In nesting site no. 20 the Swifts
flew straight into the cavity without
touching the entrance hole. In another four nest sites (nos. 41, 76, 77,
87) the Swifts make a 90° turn just before the entrance hole and flew
into it in this position, without touching the entrance. One may assume
that in such cases, the nesting site is at a certain distance from the
entrance hole and that the approach to it is large enough to allow the
bird to fly within it. Two holes are behind vegetation (nos. 22 and
63).When the plants grow further, the nesting sites cannot be reached by
the Swifts anymore.
The free access of hole
number 22 is endangered. The bush is going to cover it. In the middle of
the picture you see a Swift sailing alongside the Wall.
Hole no. 76. Shortly
before entering the parents make a turn of 90° and then fly into the
hole, one tip of the wing pointing down, and the other pointing into the
Sometimes the Pigeons disturb the Common Swifts and sit in front of
their entrance holes and block the entry, as seen in hole no. 62. The
Swifts then patiently fly around and try again and again to get to their
nest; they do not attack the Pigeons or show any aggression.
Hole no. 62 is temporarily
blocked by Pigeons. The owners have to wait (blue circle).
lowest nesting site was in a cavity created by damage to the stonework
in the third row (no. 88). The bird which occupied this nest site had
two feathers missing from its left wing. Despite this anomaly, the bird
was able to live normally and breed successfully since 2001 (after Rabbi Cornfeld).
This bird lacks two
feathers. It was seen for 2 years entering hole number 88, where it
probably rised its young.
The lowest hole in which
Common Swifts breed, about 270 cm above the ground. It is the home of
the individual with missing feathers in the left wing.
highest density of birds was noted around sunset. These observations
were the same as in Tel Aviv (APUSlist No. 2856). All
non-breeders are back from their daily excursions and fly around the
colony. Those who own a nesting site enter the holes for the night,
while those who do not will fly to impressive height and spend the night
on the wing. Mostly the non-breeders from several colonies assemble for
this, and, as dusk gathers, they fly higher and higher while screaming
loudly. This phenomenon could be observed twice directly above the Kotel
Plaza during the study. On the 22nd at 18.54 hours in twilight the
Common Swifts of the Western Wall and those of the Temple Mount
assembled at high altitude. From 19:02 until 19:11 hours this group
increased to about 50 individuals. On the 25th , 40 – 50 Swifts came
together between 19:15 and 19:30 hours at high altitude; some of them
later came down to a lower altitude, as also happened on the 22nd. The remainder of the party disappeared into the
darkness. At 19:35 only their screams could be heard.
days, e.g. on 15th, 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th, there were Common Swifts
at the Plaza in the early afternoon between 15 and 17 hours. In
different periods 2-15 individuals could be counted. On 17th, 21st and
26th , the skies remained empty at this
time except for birds in transit and feeding parents. But an example of
how differently groups can behave was provided by a flock of 20 Swifts
which circled above Ben Yehuda Street on 17th at 13.40 hours.
frontier of the core of the Western Wall colony was the Western Wall
itself with the Plaza in front of it, the neighbouring houses and the
parking place in the south down to the City Wall and some of the ruins
of the Umayyad palace.
The core area of the of
the Common Swifts colony from the Western Wall. (Extract of Jerusalem
Visitors’ Map 1999, Publ. by the Ministry of Tourism, changed)
interesting to see that those Swifts which flew to the Ruins of the
Umayyad Palace never took the short cut above the Temple Mount, but
always flew alongside the Western Wall, and then turned to the East.
Western Wall colony contained about 120 Common Swifts. About 30 pairs
were breeding in the Western Wall. About 25 (20-30) individuals owned a
nesting place, but were not breeding. This can be estimated from the
numbers of birds in the flocks that flew into the colony most often.
About another 30 (20-40) Swifts were non-breeders without a nest site.
They only lived in the colony territory when the weather was suitable.
Heinrich Mendelssohn died 19.11.2002 before the paper mentioned below
was completed. It seems that this joint work was the last part of his
immense contribution to the ornithology of the Middle East. - The idea
of the heading came from Rabbi Cornfeld.
information about this colony:
since 25th February 2008 Amnonn Hahn and the FRIENDS OF THE SWIFTS R.A.
have organised an annual Welcoming Ceremony on the Kotel Plaza with the
Western ("Wailing") Wall and its Swift colony as a breath-taking
background. The home of the Prophet Jeremiah, the ancient City of David
lies just a few yards away. It was Jeremiah who first noted the
periodical and punctual return of the Swifts (Jeremiah 8.7), thus
founding an impressive series of observations of the species at this
This increasingly prominent ceremony
will be lead by the Mayor of Jerusalem and the Rabbi of the Holy Places,
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, and accompanying them will be many
schoolchildren and students, politicians, together with representatives
of universities and the conservation movement in Israel (SPNI, Jerusalem
Papers written about this colony:
U. & Mendelssohn, H. (2005): Phenology and Behaviour of the Common Swift
Apus apus in Israel. Holy Birds, or the Common Swifts of
Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Sandgrouse 27: 82-87, APUSlist
Tigges, U. &
Cornfeld, Y. (2005): Plumage deviation in the left wing of Common Swift
Apus apus. Sandgrouse 27: 162-163, APUSlist No. 2971
more photographs from the colony
above the Al Aqsa Mosque in the evening
loud-screaming flock flying in circles at high speed in front of the
of Common Swifts flying above the Western Wall Plaza
are also some interesting things to report from a neighbouring colony.
Rabbi Cornfeld observed for a couple of years that Swifts fly into the
underground of the Cardo, which might indicate that there is a nest. I
observed the same thing below the overhanging Bonei ha Khoma which
crosses the Wide Wall.
Swifts fly here and seem
to have a nest in the Cardo.
They also fly under the
street which crosses the antique Broad Wall.