Dear readers,
With the launch of e-newsletter CUHK in Focus, CUHKUPDates has retired and this site will no longer be updated. To stay abreast of the University’s latest news, please go to Thank you.

No Secret

The Fall of a Swift

IT IS NO SECRET THAT CUHK is in love with the House Swifts. The attraction is mutual. The territory’s largest number of Apus nipalensis, as our airy neighbours are known to the ornithologists, have made CUHK their home.

In many a late afternoon or weary evening can colleagues be seen dragging their heavy legs down the steps by the side of the Library. Their spirits would be revived by the jyurrring and churrrring of the birds cheerily circling overhead.

Despite their petiteness, house swifts are in fact long-distance flyers. Native to Asia, the species was not seen in North America until 2012 when a dead member was found in British Columbia, Canada. Scientists have ruled out the possibility of the bird hitching a hike on some ship or vessel and concluded that the tiny creature must have crossed the Pacific Ocean by itself, a journey that could take up to 10 months.

Swifts indeed can fly for months on end and traverse great distances. They can sleep while air-borne by shutting off the two hemispheres of their brain in turns.

But their vulnerability to the elements is equal to their braving of the same. They are often victims of severe weather conditions. Deceased members would sometimes lie on the ground off the Library building after a storm. Some of you may have at one time or another seen a lump of wet feathers feebly heaving and thought of offering first-aid. You may have even itched to take the injured bird home to nurse it back to avian vivacity.

But, alas, a Good Samaritan should know that a charitable act may not necessarily have benign effects. By touching, removing or in other ways dealing with wild birds and animals, dead or alive, the species-friendly might have inadvertently contravened the laws regarding wildlife and public health. Because of the recurrent threat of avian flu in recent years, dead birds or their droppings should be out of bounds under any circumstance.

A more sensible course would be to inform campus security who will come to provide expert rescue and care including alerting the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department or the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong).

Prince Hamlet thinks that ’there is special providence in the fall of a sparrow’ (Hamlet V.ii.215–216). We earthlings can do worse by taking the fall of swifts into our own hands.

This article was originally published in No. 502, Newsletter in Sep 2017.

campus wildlife swifts library