Return to Britain in April on trailing tail streamers heralds summer.
Family:Swallows and martins
17cm to 19cm
32cm to 35cm
16g to 25g
The swallow is a small, agile bird with characteristic long, forked tail streamers. Adult upperparts and breast band are shiny blue-blacks. The Forehead, chin and most of the throat is a rich blood-red. Underparts are buff-white extending to underwing and under tail coverts. Wings are narrow and elongated. When the tail is spread while braking and turning, it reveals white marks on the outer tail feathers. It has a small bill with a wide mouth, held open as the bird chases insects. The female has shorter tail streamers than the male. Juveniles are similar to adults but have less shiny plumage, a paler head, mottled breast band and no real tail streamers.
The swallow is a noisy bird, with loud calls uttered in flight giving a cheerful “vit”. It has a pleasant, warbling song with some rattling notes, and advertises its presence in Britain from mid-April, heralding summer. The alarm call is a loud, short “chit”.
david m, XC618215. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/618215.
Swallows prefer to look for flying insects over old pasture, agriculture crops, along hedges, woodland edge and over water. They will take insects on the wing. They will also eat mosquitoes and bees.
Swallows are summer visitors to Britain and Ireland, mainly seen from April to October. They often roost communally in reed-beds outside of the breeding season, and this can be a good place to look for pre-migration flocks. They are usually found where there is a good supply of small insects such as open pasture with access to water.
It can take up to a thousand trips to collect enough mud, carried back in the bill, to complete a new nest.
The swallow’s red face is surprisingly difficult to see from a distance, and the bird will appear mostly all dark in flight. The flight is fast and powerful with clipped wing beats.
In the UK, swallows have generally started breeding by early June. By July, most young will have left the nest. Parents then raise another brood, followed sometimes by a third. The mud and straw nest is usually built-in recesses inside building and under bridges.
For a full guide on Barn swallow nesting, check out this article.
The swallow can live for up to 16 years, but the average lifespan is around 2 years.
The swallow is migratory, overwintering in the southern half of Africa.
In September and October, swallows gather in their thousands in preparation for their migration. It is the traditional harbinger of summer, returning by mid-April. They return to the same nest site each year. Males arrive first in order to guard their territory.
To find out more about the migration behavior of barn swallows, check out this complete guide.
UK conservation status is Green. There are 860,000 breeding territories in the UK.
The Eurasian crag martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) is a small grey-brown member of the swallow family, found across southern Europe, north Africa. An exceptionally rare visitor to UK skies, crag martins are a common sight in rocky landscapes of southern Spain and Portugal.
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