This intra-African migrant is uniquely adapted for these misty conditions and is a grassland dependent species.  Their breeding habitat forms part of the KZN Mistbelt Grasslands Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) and with less than 40 pairs left in South Africa, BirdLife South Africa’s Landscape Conservation Programme manages the Blue Swallow Stewardship Project in collaboration with Conservation Outcomes and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.  The Blue Swallow Stewardship Project aims to formally protect the last known breeding sites of the Blue Swallow in South Africa under the national Biodiversity Stewardship initiative.  BirdLife South Africa is working jointly with KZN’s provincial conservation authority, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and project partners, Conservation Outcomes, to secure these remaining Mistbelt sites.

The rolling green hills of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) have only fragmented patches of Mistbelt Grassland left. It is in these fragmented patches of grassland where the Blue Swallow (Hirundo atrocaerulea) come to breed every summer.

Only 10% of the breeding population of Blue Swallows in South Africa occur on formally protected land and, thus, the onus falls on the private land owner to protect these special birds. These birds utilises the same habitat that is of high agricultural value to farmers. The area where Blue Swallows occur is a high production dairy, beef and timber area. This landscape is a highly competitive one for Blue Swallows as well as landowners. To date, the benefits received by private landowners entering into Biodiversity Stewardship in South Africa have been minimal. Linking with Candice Stevens’ Biodiversity Stewardship Fiscal Benefits Project we are aiming to, not only protect the Critically Endangered Blue Swallow habitat in South Africa, but also make it worthwhile for the landowner to do so through the use of ‘green’ taxes.

By encouraging landowners to enter into Biodiversity Stewardship we hope to ensure that the Blue Swallow has somewhere to come back to and breed every summer. The Blue Swallow is a flagship species for the KZN Mistbelt Grasslands IBA and by protecting their habitat we will also be securing the future of other important grassland birds and biodiversity such as the Endangered Mistbelt Chirping Frog (Anhydrophryne ngongoniensis) and the Critically Endangered orchid Satyrium rhodanthum.

BirdLife South Africa is a co-author on the draft Blue Swallow Biodiversity Management Plan, jointly prepared by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Conservation Outcomes, Endangered Wildlife Trust and BirdLife South Africa.

BirdLife South Africa project team

  • Steve McKean (BLSA/CO)
  • Dr Melissa Whitecross (BLSA)
  • Brent Coverdale (EKZNW)
  • Dr Kyle Lloyd (BLSA)

The Blue Swallow Monitoring Project is kindly supported through funding by the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, the N3TC and the Baynesfield Estate conservation fund.


Working with landowners to conserve Blue Swallows and their habitat amidst a pandemic

Mistbelt grasslands and forests in southern KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) have been systematically destroyed and fragmented over the last hundred years. These grasslands and forests are amongst the least protected biomes in South Africa, with less than 2% of Mistbelt Grassland and 18% of Eastern Mistbelt Forest conserved within formal Protected Areas. Both vegetation types are classified as “Endangered”. The area of natural grassland is decreasing due to land transformation for agriculture, timber plantations, infrastructure, and housing development. There has been a 23% decrease in grassland area since 2008 – we are losing our natural grasslands at 6% annually.