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Our Springtime Avian Visitors, Pt 2: The Swallows

Updated on May 2, 2012

Watch out insects! Here come de Swallows

The House Martin is rather more restrained
The House Martin is rather more restrained
Our gorgeous Swallow, claimed and loved by many lands.
Our gorgeous Swallow, claimed and loved by many lands.

Blink, and the Swallow will Disappear!

We had a brief look at that Jekyll and Hyde of birds, the Cuckoo yesterday. I was awed to see some hubbers had never heard the bird’s distinctive call, the sound of lore and legend, as well as making a lot of Deutschmarks for Black Forest Cuckoo-Clock manufacturers for hundreds of years.

Along with today’s protagonist, the Cuckoo is the harbinger of spring in Britain. The Cuckoo does so with its curious, lilting call, so easy to copy and never forgotten.

Today’s subject, the Swallow, tells us of warmer times by its astonishing flight and colorful presence in our skies.

Curiously, the first swallows I have seen this year arrived two days ago - slightly late this year, perhaps due to the stormy weather south of us - just as I was beginning to write about the Cuckoo.

The birds migrate from Africa; along with about 100 other species making the trip to Europe; they cross the Sahara and Spain to reach our shores. The swallow is a member of the Hirundines family, which also includes the Martins.

Swallows are distinctive by their long forked tails, their habit of nesting inside barns and other human structures (which remind them of their caves they used when humans were but a distant threat).

Also, their extraordinary and furious flight as they pursue large insects close to ground level, sometimes zooming so close to us we feel we could reach out and catch them. Indeed, swallows seem to have little fear of humans: they nest in plain sight on beams in our barns and whip around us while hunting as if we were not there at all!…then sit, chittering on our fences and utility wires as if we had constructed the whole shebang with them in mind.

Well, we didn’t, of course, but it is a surly landowner indeed who does not welcome the brilliant swallows with a glad laugh and a pleasured shake of a grizzled head. Any idiot aiming a weapon at them would get it shoved up where the sun don’t shine and quick!

More than any other reason, it is because the Swallow’s arrival means Spring is really here; and that cheers any morbid English mien.

So now you know it is the Swallow that is hunting at around our head level and above; the Martins occupy the next layer of sky upwards as they chase the smaller and slower insects; they have nowhere near the speed and agility of the swallow. There is another similar bird above even the Martins, but he will arrive in my next article…see if you can guess who he is! Boy, this is exciting, I nearly fell out of my barrel.

There are actually about 75 identified members of the Swallow family world-wide. Our chap, the Hirundo Rustica, or Barn Swallow (You American Cousins got him, too) is one of the most traveled and found nearly all over the planet where there are insects.

He is the Concorde of birds, along with a few like travelers.

Another way to tell the swallow from other members of the family is he is a “power flyer.” Whenever you see him, apart from being on the nest, he is on the hunt and all business; his wings don’t stop their muscular movement. The Martins, on the other hand, do “flap and glide” more in their more leisurely hunt.

Curiously, some experts think the male swallow’s forked tail is “too long” to be a good aid to flight. The reason they advance is that this makes hunting more difficult on purpose…then the female can admire the successful bird even more! Not unlike the human female who loves to see her man overcoming adversity en route to giving her the good life! (Go on, George, fix the damn vote!).

Swallows have been part of many country’s folklore, art and culture for more than 4,000 years. Old paintings exist, as do pottery; poetry and prose. The Swallow may be the best known bird in the world that is not caricatured or copied in toys (like the Penguin or Owl, etc.)

Unfortunately, they are diminishing in numbers, as it is a supreme experience and a deep pleasure to be the maypole around which a dozen swallows swoop and dive as they hunt.

And I sometimes think the sleek creatures enjoy our company as well; their exultant twittering and their very closeness says they do.

Tomorrow (or Friday), another Spring visitor, the -----! Ooo you just can’t wait, can you?




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    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks everyone else for kindly commenting. I find it hard to keep up and comment individually, though I usually make it.

      All read and enjoyed, thanks


    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hello Misty: Just catching up on some comments and saw yours re swallows. I didn't know you grew up on a farm.

      Must have been dairy in Wisconsin


    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Shyron, well, maybe I will


    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      6 years ago from Texas

      I also lived on a farm and loved to watch all the wonderful birds, including the Barn Swallows.

      Now you need to include the Mocking Bird.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      6 years ago from North Texas

      Swallows used to nest in the barn on the farm where I grew up. Swallows were valued, and still are by those who know, because they eat tons of insects, including flies and mosquitoes, which most of us detest. They are also entertaining to watch as they chase after a juicy winged morsel.

      Very good information. I hope lots of Americans will read this hub because many seem not to know, or to have forgotten, just how useful swallows are.

    • clairemy profile image


      6 years ago

      What a great hub, and yes spring has Sprung when the swallows come swooping past. Where was it you would shove their weapon?:))

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Voted awesome and up. A very fine piece that I can actually see as I read. You see, I had my share of swallows, as well. Almost daily, I watch them skim and skip over Boomer Lake, and I admire the orange chests and bellies. I smile as I watch, and dream of doing the same acrobatics in the air...

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 

      6 years ago from Isle of Man

      I love your hub diogenes, but I think Luke Kelly says it better than ever I could with his song

    • Scribenet profile image


      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Not at all...I thought it was funny and that is why I used it! :) It is good to poke fun at ourselves! That way we don't take ourselves too seriously.

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Scribenet. I hope you weren't offended over the word "Gringo," as I am one myself (in the eyes of Mexicans and, perhaps, in fact). Thanks for visit and comment. Please note, I took out the word Gringo ...


    • Scribenet profile image


      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      You are correct... "us gringos" have the swallow; specifically the barn swallow in my neck of the woods! My family has watched many generations of these little guys make their first foray into the world from a birdhouse just outside our kitchen window. I just love the sight of these gorgeous little flyers. Enjoyed reading about them and I am glad they reside all over the world. Thanks!


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