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Swallow

Barn Swallow Swallow Both Sexes
Metallic blue upperparts and tail streamers, cream belly and russet throat.
Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.
Hirundo rustica
Length: 17-20 cm  (7-8")
Wing Span: 30-35 cm  (12-14")
Weight: 16-25 g  (½-1 oz)
Breeding Pairs: 570 000
Present: Summer
Status: Amber

Description

Swallows have long wings and long tail streamers and are often found circling gracefully overhead or swooping low over water and ground.

The sexes are very similar, having metallic royal blue upperparts and breast band, cream-buff underparts and russet (red-brown) forehead, chin and throat. The tail has white markings along the inside edges of the fork. The bill and legs are black.

The female's tail streamers are shorter than those of the male.

Juveniles are duller, lack both the russet forehead, chin and throat and the tail streamers are much shorter.

Swallows herald the arrival of spring as they arrive back in Britain after wintering in southern Africa (see migration). As the time to return to Africa approaches they become restless and can often be seen perching in large flocks.

Voice

Choose from Quicktime and mp3. Song
  Quicktime mp3

Their song is a rambling warble of trills and twitters sometimes sounding almost like a sparrow.

Feeding

Swallows, like other hirundines and Swifts, feed on the wing by catching insects in their large gapes.

The long tail feathers give Swallows exceptional manoeuvrability, better than House Martins and Swifts.

Nesting

Both adults build a nest from mud and plant fibres against a beam or shelf in buildings or a ledge on cliffs. Existing nests are often refurbished, and there are instances were nests have been reused for nearly 50 years.

The eggs of the Swallow are about 20 mm by 14 mm in size, and are smooth, glossy, and white with reddish speckles. The duties of incubating the eggs are performed by the female. The newly-hatched young are fed by both adults, who catch insects on-the-wing and collect them in their throats before returning to the nest. Once fledged, the youngsters receive in-flight food from their parents.

Breeding Data
Breeding Starts Number of Clutches Number of Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
April-May 2-3 3-8 14-16 17-24

Movements

Swallows are summer visitors, arriving from late March to mid-May and returning to their southern African wintering grounds in September and October.

A few individual birds winter in southern England and Ireland.

Conservation

The weather has a significant effect on the Swallow's life and so the population varies greatly from one year to the next. Among these fluctuations, there has been a decline in the European population and so they are on the Amber List of Species of Conservation Concern. The main possible causes of this decline are:

My Garden

Until summer 2000 I didn't think there were any Swallows in the area but then I discovered some on my local patch. Otherwise we occasionally see them fly through on migration, usually the autumn journey to Africa.


Last revision: 21 Feb 2015
Copyright © David Gains 1999-2015.
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