To many people, the Swallow (Hirundo rustica) is the feathered embodiment of British summertime. Whether you see them nesting in a barn, hawking over a field or perched on telephone wires, there is something wonderful about seeing a Swallow.

This smart little bird will arrive in Wiltshire from as far away as South Africa form mid-March onwards and can stay with us until November.

In recent years, some Swallows have been recorded over-wintering in places such as Cornwall. Something only possible due to warmer winters as Swallows only feed on aerial insects.

The male birds typically arrive first and select a nest site with female birds following later on. The female bird will select her mate based on the size and symmetry of the males tail. Once the bird have pared up they will make a cup shaped nest that is made of mud gathered locally and lined with material.

Each pair will raise up to three separate broods. However, the exact number depends on the weather conditions and time or arrival of the adults. Each brood contains four to five young. By the end of the season, large flocks of young birds can be seen perching on telephone wires preparing to migrate south.

Photo of swallows on a wire

Photo credit: Ellie Dodson, Swallows at Lower Moor nature reserve

In the UK, the Swallow is on the ‘Green List’ meaning they are not of conservation concern. Despite this some declines have been observed both locally and nationally. This may reflect more unstable weather on migration or declines in insect abundance.

Much like the closely related House Martin they will readily take to artificial nests and can return year on year to the same nest site.

These long-distance migrants are a favourite of many people. The oldest Swallow was 11 years old meaning it likely flew well over 125000 miles in its lifetime. Something to think about when your local Swallows return to breed once more!

Seen one nesting in a building near you? Let us know!

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