Just a few days ago I wrote about house martins. Nothing weird about that but, only yesterday, I saw about eight of them perched on the telephone wires outside our house. Talk about coincidence! I’d never in my life seen any house martins in the flesh (or in the feather!) so I was a little taken aback.
At first I wasn’t sure that they were house martins, so I had to get my binoculars out to check. House martins are very similar to swallows you see – the only ways to tell them apart are to look for a red throat and tail streamers, both of which swallows have but house martins don’t. Swallows are actually smaller than house martins but from a distance, with nothing to compare size, it’s hard to tell.
Just like house martins, swallows make their nests out of mud. They’re much more likely to make them indoors though and many outbuildings, garages and lofts become nest sites. They make quite sturdy structures and some nests have been in use for half a century – some human buildings don’t last that long!
If there are any swallows near you then make the most of it – they won’t be here much longer. They only visit Britain during the summer months and will be leaving just a few weeks from now. The journey ahead of them is a huge one – they’ll cover about 200 miles every day until they reach South Africa, 6,000 miles away! The trip is fraught with danger and many swallows won’t make it. Starvation, heat and exhaustion all take their toll.
You’ll notice that predators weren’t on the list of threats. That’s because there are very few that can catch a swallow – they’re just too agile in the air. And if their nests are in danger swallows will mob whatever has come too close, be it a magpie, a cat or even a human.
For all their survival skills though, swallow numbers are on the decline. The main reason is climate change which makes migration, nesting and breeding more difficult. Modern farming is also having an effect as swallows like to catch flying insects over grazing land. As more cattle are reared indoors the amount of grazing land has fallen, bringing the amount of insect prey and so swallow numbers with it. Let’s hope that things soon improve for these spectacular summer visitors.