Sand martin becomes the bird of the year and ambassator of the river Drava in Croatia

WWF together with nongovermental asossiations Natural-science  society Drava, Green Osijek, Croatian society for birds and nature protection, Baobab, ZEUS and rafting club Matis have proclamed sand martin the Croatian bird of the 2016 year.Through this uniquely interesting bird, associations wish to warn about continuous loss of the natural habitats along the river Drava and want to urge the needs to protect and renew the habitats for this smallest member of the swallow family.

Sand martin is the ambassador of the living and healthy river Drava. She lives in rare habitats like natural, steep,sandy banks of the river. In areas where we see sand martin also lives other endangered bird species like beekeeper and kingfisher that depend on natural dynamic habitats, said Branka Španiček the head leader of the projects in WWF Adria.

Sand martin isone of the most endangerd bird specie along the river Drava in Croatia. On the river Drava there is still 50 % of Croatian population of sand martin.However, in the last 30 years the number of pairs has been reduced for 90%. Bird experts estimate that the national population in the 80-ies of the 20th century numbered more than 30,000 pairs, and today just 5000-8000 pairs. In the area of crossborder biosphere reserve Mura-Drava-Danube (European Amazon) in the year 2015. there were recorded less than 4,000 pairs.

The dramatic drop is caused by the destruction of their habitat-natural steep of the river- mainly caused by river regulation (exp. construction of river dikes) as well as the drying out of wetland areas, and the use of pesticides which kill insects which are their main food source. “If the negative trend continues, we fear that in the next few years we will lose the bird that was once very common on the river Drava“ said Ivan Darko Grlica, Croatian exspert for the sand martin from the association Natural-science society Drava who tracks the population of this bird species for more than 10 years.

But the situation is not lost yet and here are opportunities to preserve these extraordinary birds. The last remaining nesting sites must be preserved and protected, and it is nessesery  to stop and control the use of pesticides along the river corridor of Drava. „We have to act now to save this specie. In addition to preserving the existing colonies, it is necessary to restore the previously destroyed habitats“, said Dinko Pešić, the project manager in associations Green Osijek

Sand martin (Riparia riparia) is the smallest European swallow approximate size of 12 cm and weight 14 grams. It is very social specie witch nests in colonies and build their nests in natural,vertical, sandy river banks. When the sand martins in April return from Africa on the  river Drava, they start to dig about  70 cm deep holes in the steep banks of the river. Sand martins feed on small, flying insects, for example, mosquitoes, and one family can eat to 10,000 mosquitoes per day, and with that they make a great favor to people and other animals, especially cattle.  As a part of the campaign “Sand martins – Bird of  year 2016”, WWF, Green Osijek, Natural-science society Drava, in cooperation with other partners, will conduct activities to protect these beautiful birds, and work to raise awareness about the importance of live and healty  river Drava.