Bird Notes : Swallow

The Swallow
Hirundo rustica

Flutterers and flappers, swoopers and soarers. There are many things a bird can do with flight. The Barn Swallow, herald of Summer, one of Britons most common and loved visitors, champion long distance sprinter and sometime sky gypsy uses it’s flight ableness to undertake an astonishing annual roundtrip of 12,500 miles and all for the sake of the healthy upbringing of it’s offspring.

Overwintering in South Africa before returning to Britain in April to breed, Swallows use their favourite barn or other outbuilding to build a home, to which they’ll return year after year. As with most migratory birds we have a tendency to imagine them as visitors, in the case of the Swallow a summer tourist, but they are truly a bird with two homes returning to each during it’s own Summer to make the most of the available food sources. Depending on weather they hurtle high or low, taking insects on the wing in their pouch-like mouth, occasionally swooping low over ponds to scoop up water to drink. If you’re a Swallow everything is done on the hoof.

Towards the end of Summer you’ll often see Swallows gathering on any suitable high line, chattering excitedly to one another. These are normally family groups, parents probably passing on “fill your bellies” instruction to their toddlers before the long trip back to Africa they’re about to undertake for the very first time. They may appear similar to Swifts in appearance, migration and behaviour and can sometimes be mistaken. The telltale sign of a Swallow is it’s forked tail - the word “swallow” literally meaning “Cleft Stick”. However they actually originated from entirely separate families, the wondrous logic of evolution shaping nature to the best possible fit for the task at hand, converging on similar conclusions from dissimilar starting points.


Family Hirundinidae (swallows and martins)
Habitat Open countryside with farms, ponds, meadows, usually near buildings for nesting
Size 17-19cm long
Diet Insects
Breeds April-August, two broods
Nest Mud and straw cup
Eggs Four to six. White with reddish speckles
Range Summer visitor across the whole of the UK. Winters in South Africa
Collective noun Kettle
Old names Chimney swallow; swallie; tsi-kuk


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