Swallows used to breed in caves and in cliffs, but now seem to have adopted humans as neighbours - building their nests under bridges or in buildings such as farm barns (hence the name), garages and even in busy restaurants - meaning that the bird is one of the most familiar bird species in the world! It is now rare to find a Barn Swallow nest in a site that is not manmade. Their nests are a bowl of mud and grass, lined with feathers.
Swallows are excellent flyers
Swallows are small migratory birds often seen skimming low over fields with a fast, flowing, graceful flight. They mostly capture their food in the air, but in bad weather sometimes feed on the ground.
Swallows eat insects!
Swallows are friends of farmers because they tirelessly scour the countryside to eat lots of insects which would otherwise eat crops. Swallows eat many flies, beetles, wasps, wild bees, winged ants, true bugs; some moths, damselflies, grasshoppers, and other insects; and a few spiders and snails. Only occasionally they eat a few berries or seeds. The number of chicks that swallows successfully raise gives an indication of how healthy the environment is: more food available = more chicks raised!
Swallows are found all over the world - their migratory lives are shared with everyone!
Swallows are migratory, meaning they fly huge distances between breeding and wintering grounds in the Spring and the Autumn. Swallows have the power to connect people together for conservation along their migrations - such as with Spring Alive's "Spring Twin" programme.
Pesticides are eliminating their insect food and damaging their breeding capacity.
Loss of habitat - wetlands where Swallows like to fly and feed.
Changes in rural areas - human rural population decline, abandonment of traditional activities and new styles of architecture, together cause the loss of suitable nesting sites.
Urban environments, a lack of mud makes it hard for Swallows to build their nests.
In Africa and on migration routes changes in climate may be having a serious impact. Research has shown that swallows are returning to their breeding areas in poor condition and are laying fewer eggs than previously.
Adverse weather conditions in Europe are affecting swallows:
Cold springs with late frosts are tough for these small birds.
Hot, dry summers means pools where insects emerge are drying up and nestlings can die of overheating.
The Sahara desert is expanding - meaning swallows have a tougher migration to face and can die of heat and exhaustion.
How can I help?
Spring Alive 2016 theme:
Swallows of My Neighbourhood
Become a Swallow Scientist!
Welcome your migratory neighbours!
As well as eating insects in your neighbourhood, Swallows and House Martins are amazing to watch flying and nesting, and have had a great connection with humans for a long time. How can we return the favour?
Some people think that having these special birds nest in the houses or buildings are a nuisance and make a mess!
You must tell them that about how amazing Swallows and House Martins are, how they are declining and how they need to be our welcomed guests. Also, it is easy to solve the problem of mess: instead of destroying nests, put up a small board underneath to catch droppings. :)
Encourage insects for the birds to eat by planting lots of insect-friendly flowers and plants in your garden!
Use this amazing Barn Swallow Observation Guide from the Wild Bird Society of Japan - an excellent guidebook for schools and teachers with survey forms and instructions on how to conduct Swallow surveys!