It’ll be hard to swallow when they go


A few weeks ago I wrote about a pair of swallows which decided to build their nest on the top of a stable door, resulting in the nest and its contents swinging through 90 degrees every time the door was opened.

As soon as they fledged, I removed the nest thinking that was the end of the story.

Last weekend, however, I was astounded to discover that the nest had been rebuilt and there were three eggs in it!

They are leaving it a bit late now to raise another brood in time for their return migration to Africa, but stranger things have happened.

Outside my house at the moment, the telegraph wires provide preening perches for the local swallows as they limber up for the big journey.

There’s in the region of 50 birds and when they are all on the five wires, they resemble the notes on a piece of sheet music.

European swallows spend the winter in Africa south of the Sahara, in Arabia and in the Indian sub-continent. 

British swallows spend their winter in South Africa. They travel through western France, across the Pyrenees, down eastern Spain into Morocco, and across the Sahara. Some birds follow the west coast of Africa, avoiding the Sahara, and other European swallows travel further east and down the Nile Valley. Swallows put on little weight before migrating. 

They migrate by day at low altitudes and find food on the way. Despite accumulating some fat reserves before crossing large areas such as the Sahara Desert, they are vulnerable to starvation during these crossings. Migration is a hazardous time and many birds die from starvation, exhaustion and in storms.

Migrating swallows cover 200 miles a day, mainly during daylight, at speeds of 17-22 mph. The maximum flight speed is 35mph.

My local swifts have already gone and I dread the day I lose the cheery chattering swallows swooping overhead, catching insects. There has been little enough to heighten the spirits this summer and the loss of the swallows will signify the approach of another wearying winter.