Swallows: true country birds
Trim, elegant, invariably beautifully turned out, the swallow is one of the most attractive of summer visitors. Our swallow, Hirundo rustica, is one of the world’s most successful birds as it occurs throughout the Northern Hemisphere, breeding in Europe, Asia and North America. While our swallows winter in sub-Saharan Africa, Asian swallows go to India and south-east Asia, and swallows from the USA and Canada winter from Panama south to Argentina.
Swallows are real country birds scorning the suburbs where their close cousins, house martins, are happy to live. They like nothing better than old-fashioned farmyards with barns or stables where they can build their mud-cup nests. However, in many rural areas swallows will happily nest in garages, sheds or out-houses while many hides on RSPB reserves boast nesting pairs of swallows.
As they feed mainly on winged insects, swallows play an important role in controlling such pests so the more we can do to encourage them the better. One way is providing them with secure nest sites and even the nests themselves. They will readily adopt our special Schwegler Woodcrete nests which have the added advantage over the natural product in that they are unlikely to fall down (something that, sadly, often happens with the natural mud nests).
Swallows return from their migration in April, displaying an uncanny fidelity to where they were hatched. They remain with us all summer, usually rearing two or three broods of up to five youngsters. The return migration to Africa starts in September and by mid-October most have left us. We know from ringing recoveries that our swallows travel as far south as Cape Province in South Africa. Such a long migration is hazardous; only a small proportion of the huge numbers that leave Britain in the autumn return the following spring. In recent years, breeding success has been declining in Northern Europe (probably due to modern farming practices) so if we want to keep our swallows we should do as much as we can to help them.