This week the first swallows arrived from their journey from Africa. Their excited swooping and chattering in and out of our barns at Giddy Gate Farm never fails to put a smile on my face!
The swallow we see in the UK is the worlds’ most widespread swallow the ‘Barn Swallow’ which can be found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. One of 84 species recognised worldwide with the scientific name Hirundinidae which includes Martins too. Males and females are virtually identical with dark black/blue on the back, white below and a dark red forehead and throat with a black band across their chest.
Swallows overwinter in Africa , South of the Sahara, with those from the British Isles often travelling to Botswana and South Africa, some 8000miles!
Birds fly low and travel 200 miles (320km) during the daylight on their migration, roosting in flocks overnight. Catching and eating insects on the wing throughout their journey keeps them on track as they travel at speeds of 17-22mph (27-35km/hr) and even up to 55Km/hr ( 35mph).
One study has estimated that most swallows will return to the same nesting colony, with 44% using the same nest as last year! Probably a good idea if you have flown 8000miles. Nests take up to 1300 separate journeys to build using small pellets of mud and saliva to be moulded int a cup shape. Male birds only do 25% of the nest building work, with more attractive males (longer tails) being the least helpful!
Pairs raise 2-3 broods each summer with 4-5 eggs in each brood.
These little birds are highly adapted for aerial flight. A long forked tail allows for maneuverability and agility on the wing, enabling them to catch insects, avoid predators and fly low to take sips of water in flight. Small feet are suited for perching rather than walking. Their long eyes give them visual acuity with sharp lateral and frontal vision to help track prey.
How can we help them?
Swallows only feed on flying insects, the only way we can attract them is to provide suitable nesting sites. Leaving a small hole or entrance into any outbuildings so they can take advantage of any ledges to build on. Anywhere with a ready supply of mud from a pond or other water source is a great way for them to have access to the material they need to build their nest.
One of our swallow fledglings at Giddy Gate Farm from last year. Cant wait for this years’ little guys!