Swallow

Hirundo rustica

17-21cm

Appearance

The Swallow has a wide-based bill, tail-streamers (male's usually longer than female's in spring), and a distinctly forked tail which is spotted white beneath. Plumage is shiny bluish black on top, white underneath, except for a darkish band across the chest and reddish-brown throat and sections of face. Juvenile birds have shorter tail-streamers than adults, and they are paler and more matte.

Habitat

Prefers expansive countryside and generally avoids villages and other largely populated areas. It is a flexible feeder, going to whatever areas offer up the most food; this may be lowland or upland and ranges from water to areas in close proximity to cattle.

Character

Appears robust and nimble when flying, particularly when feeding as it dips and changes direction, often quite low. Spends a lot of time in flight but also perches regularly, and collects debris for its nest from the ground. Nesting commonly occurs in small groups, with flocks forming from July.

Food

Majority of diet is flying insects including bluebottles, house flies, bees, hoverflies, mayflies, aphids and flying ants. One brood of Swallows requires about 6000 flies on a daily basis.

Breeding

Nesting often occurs in farmland structures, and begins in April or May. Female lays 4 or 5 eggs which she incubates for about 18 days, and she usually has two broods over the season. Hatchlings are able to fly at about 18-23 days old but are fed for a week beyond this.

Population

Swallows usually arrive in April and majority of them are gone by the start of November; traditional sites are used while on the migration route, which crosses the Sahara Desert. There are approximately 860 000 pairs in the UK and 100 000-250 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

Swallows can be quite tolerant of human observers, and this contributes to the simplicity of spotting them during spring and summer. Look for pairs nesting, as they are often not too hidden. May be seen sharing perches along wires with House Martins.

Voice

Has a piercing 'tsvit' call, often sounded during flight or when it feels threatened. Male has a fast warble, most commonly heard from a perch close to his nest.
Back to Bird Index