Spring Comes, Swallows Return

Spring Comes, Swallows Return

As April is in full swing and spring has finally fully sprung, the shores of the UK are welcoming back some of our summer visitors. Between March and May every year, migratory birds, such as the majestic swallow, return to breed and make use of the bountiful food that is available to them here in the summers. After a long winter break on the southern tip of Africa (alright for some!!), the swallows fly over 6,000 miles across deserts and two continents back to the very nesting site at which they were born! 

As anyone living in rural and semi-rural areas will know, the appearance of the first swallows really does signal the start of the warmer weather and the bounty of spring.

Here at Palores, we love the understated swallow and cant wait to get a glimpse of them back around our base in North Cornwall. We have even made them the star of the show in our March bird food subscription boxes, with our limited edition Lino print. 

In today's post, we will be exploring some spectacular swallow facts, learning how to identify them in your gardens and outside spaces, and generally venerating this beautiful bird.

Super Swallows

The barn swallow or Hirundo Rustica, colloquially known as the swallow across Europe, is the most common swallow species in the world and is thought to have the largest distribution of any songbird or perching bird. It is most common for swallows to nest in man-made structures, and as such, with the population increase in humans, the population of swallows also boomed. The Swallow’s huge range is also a reason that their populations have maintained in numbers, as they have a large area of the world in which they can feed and breed. 

This close proximity to humans, and their habit of eating pestilent insects, has meant that swallows have long been venerated by humans. Their arrival in the Spring was even spoken about by Aristotle in his works on ethics with the line “For as one swallow or one day does not make a Spring, so one day or a short time does not make a fortunate or happy man”, appearing in his work Nicomachean Ethics. 

After the swallow arrives in its summer home in the springtime, it usually starts to breed by June with its first brood leaving the nest by July. Most swallows will then breed once or even twice more each summer, with anywhere between two and seven eggs in each batch. The swallow's nest is made over the course of two weeks and is made from a mixture of mud, hair and various other materials, they also like to use old nests from previous years of breeding, for ease. 

Swallow chicks in a nest

As September comes (Green Day plays in background), most swallows will be preparing to migrate back to warmer climes to spend the winter in more prosperous places for birds to be. However, over the past few years, there have been isolated but increasingly common cases of swallows overwintering in southern England and Wales, mostly due to increasingly warm winters as a result of climate change. One particularly hardy bird affectionately named “Rambo” was a common sight on Marazion Marsh, Cornwall, in 2009, becoming somewhat of a local celebrity. Most swallows will be heading towards Africa, across the Sahara desert towards the southern part of the continent, a journey that takes over six weeks. Swallows are able to cover over 300km a day on their journey through western Europe and North Africa at speeds of up to 35km per hour. As swallows feed on the wing, or in flight, they do not need to fatten up before leaving, however, migration can still be treacherous and the risk of starvation is a very real one. 

How to Spot Swallows in Your Garden 

Although swallows can easily be mixed up with martins and swifts they do have a few distinctive identifiers that make it relatively easy to recognise them. 

Firstly, and most distinctively, the swallow has a long forked tail with two streamer-like feathers on each side. Swallows also have an orange/red throat, creamy white underside, and a head and back that are black with a blueish hue. Swallows are most often seen darting and gliding at low levels around gardens and outbuildings or singing from perches or trees. Also look out for nests in garages, gables and other structures, which all make the perfect place for the swallows to nest. Swallows prefer semi-rural areas and are much less common in cities and other overly populous areas. 

Swallows in Flight

So every year, when the winter starts to break, don't forget to look out for the swallows that signal the commencement of Spring and remember just how hard they have worked to get here just to enjoy our wonderful outside spaces. We’d love to hear of your swallow stories or see any pictures if you're lucky enough to have a nest where you live, get in touch via our Instagram or Facebook pages.