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18 Nature Notes Lots to enjoy in the Great Outdoors


Everything comes to life in May with a rush of colour, sounds and smells – it is definitely a month of energy and hope. Hibernators are reappearing and so are the young and the migrating birds.


A summer of swallows


The arrival of swallows is always an event to be celebrated. British swallows spend their winters in South Africa arriving back in the UK in April and May. Nesting begins around June and the new flock take to the skies in July disappearing in September and October to warmer climes. Migration is a perilous journey with many birds


succumbing to starvation and exhaustion. The birds cover about 200 miles a day, mainly during daylight, with a max flight speed of an astonishing 35mph.


Swift, swallow or housemartin? The inimitable swoosh of a swallow is unmistakeable…..but are you sure it’s a swallow ? It could be a swift or a housemartin. This band of migratory birds are all proficient fliers and feed by catching and eating insects in mid-air. They all move so fast it can be difficult to identify them at first glance, but look closely and you’ll spot the differences. (rspb.org.uk)


Swallow ● These graceful and acrobatic fliers have long tail streamers which help them to manoeuvre in the air.


● Pale, whitish underside with a reddish chin and glossy blue-black plumage.


● They make their cup-shape nests of mud in old barns and outbuildings.


● Common in the countryside near water and often seen roosting in reedbeds and wetlands.


House martin ● These smaller cousins of the swallow are often seen ‘hanging out’ with their larger cousins in mixed flocks.


● Shallow forked tail and no tail streamers.


House Martin


● All white beneath with white patch on their rump and otherwise blue-black back and head.


● They often will return from wintering in Africa to the same nest in the UK saving on valuable nest building time.


Swallow


Swift ● The largest of the 3 and they are often the last birds to arrive in the UK and the first to leave.


● They are a uniform sooty brown colour all over.


● Nest in colonies in cavities in walls, returning to the same nesting sites which are often higher up than swallows and house martins.


● They feed, sleep and mate in flight and only come to land to nest.


● They have a distinctive screech and are often seen in parties swooping low and chasing each other.


Strange but true: Swifts have very short legs and can’t take off from the ground. You won’t see them perching on wires.


The declining number of swifts mean they need our help! Visit swift-conservation.org to find out how you can help with their nesting sites.


Want to hear more ? Check out A Summer of Swallows Podcast on Radio 4 following Britain’s swallows throughout the summer and their breeding season.


Swift


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