Wildlife watch: the Swallow

David Chapman

The writer and photographer, David Chapman, introduces us to this beautiful summer house guest



If you have a large garden which borders onto open country then there is a good chance that you will have swallows. If, also, you have a large shed, car port or even just an open porch then you might also be lucky enough to have them nest on your property.

Swallows habitually nest inside buildings; they make their cup-shaped nest by collecting beaks full of mud and tying the layers of their nest together with strands of dried grass. Inside this they make a lining of feathers before laying between three and five eggs.

The swallow is a beautiful bird; it has a graceful profile with long tail streamers, sleek body and pointed wings. The birds with the longer tail streamers are males. In flight you could be forgiven for thinking that the swallow is simply a black and white bird but no, the black is a shimmer of gun metal blue and the swallow has a lovely chestnut red throat patch and forehead.

Having returned to Britain in April most swallows will now have a clutch of eggs to incubate but it won’t be long before these eggs have hatched. Then the parents will be faced with several demanding mouths to feed before the young birds are ready to leave the nest.

The treacherous lifestyle of the swallow, involving an annual migration across two continents, means that the parents will need to raise as many young as possible so they will have a second and maybe even a third brood before heading back to Africa in the autumn.

People sometimes confuse the swallow with the house martin which has stubby wings and tail as well as a noticeable white rump which shows from above and below. Like the swallow, the nest of the house martin is made from mud but it is always on the outside of the house usually under the eaves.

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