September 2015 - Swallows


Fledgling Swallows

We had a new shed built last winter, with an open fronted out-building at the back. There is a ledge up at eaves level which now houses a swallow family. There have been 2 broods this year (first brood 2 young; second only one). I suspect, as they arrived in our shed in June, there was a previous nest elsewhere which had been compromised. Interestingly, research (RSPB) has shown fewer eggs laid now than in the past. As swallows return to the same nest year after year ours may return next year.

The adults are beautiful sleek, fast flying birds with glossy blue/black plumage, red throat and forehead, and creamy buff under-parts. Unlike house or sand martins, or swifts, they have deeply forked tails. Unlike house martins they do not have a white rump. They also tend to fly much closer to the ground than these similar birds, as they search for insects over grasslands and water meadows. They use barns, outhouses and boatsheds for nesting sites.

Swallows need wet mud for nest building, and warm humid days which encourage an abundance of insects for feeding their young. A cold, windy summer is disastrous to their breeding. If a nest falls, a shallow plastic container can be fixed to the old nest site with the remains of the old nest and young placed inside. The parents will continue to feed their offspring (NWT). Swallows will mob perceived threats including humans in protection of their young.

Swallows are migratory birds and herald spring in the UK, arriving April/May. They depart again in their hundreds in September/October.  In Norfolk, there are reports of birds arriving as early as February, and staying as late as November. British swallows winter in South Africa, travelling through western France, across the Pyrenees, down eastern Spain into Morocco, and across the Sahara to get there (RSPB).  Some birds follow the west coast of Africa avoiding the Sahara. They fly by day and find food as they go. They may travel 200 miles a day, flying at speeds of 17 to 22 miles per hour. Many birds will die of starvation, exhaustion or in storms.

Due to loss of suitable nesting sites, and deterioration in the quality of feeding habitat in both breeding and wintering grounds, swallow populations have declined across Europe and these birds are now amber listed (medium conservation concern). It is estimated that the population in the UK is in the region of 375,000 pairs.


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