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The Kennedy Wild Bird Food Guide to the Swallow

You may recognise the swallow from the Pirates of the Caribbean films – despite Jack Sparrow’s surname, the bird immortalised in ink on his hand is actually a swallow. There’s more to this bird than Johnny Depp, though; these small birds have a beautiful metallic-coloured plumage (often in greens or greys) and are among the most agile birds you’re likely to find in the British countryside.

Swallows catch the majority of their food in flight, which means they spend most of their time in the air. This fascinating bird is pretty much worldwide when it comes to migration, although they’re not fond of colder regions or those which are more remote.

Here’s a little more about Jack Sparrow’s favourite bird.

Swallow bird – meaning

The swallow has gone down in tattoo history, and for good reason. The image of the swallow was originally used by sailors to show off their experiences on the high seas. It was said that, should the sailor die in action, then the swallow would fly the sailor’s soul up to heaven. While the bird doesn’t have quite as heavy a symbolic weight for people today, the image has stood the test of time.

What is a swallow’s migration habits?

As just mentioned, they don’t like colder regions. They tend to visit the UK in the summer, and if you’ve seen swallows flying in the UK around April time then they’ll have just arrived all the way from Africa. Breeding occurs around early June and so, by July, the first brood have usually flown the nest.

Once early September rolls around, most swallows prepare to migrate. The majority will leave the UK at some point during the month of September, although some will often stay a little longer into October.

Returning to Africa takes about six weeks. Our swallows travel down through western France and eastern Spain and end up in Morocco before crossing the Sahara Desert. from there, on to South Africa and areas around Namibia.

What do swallows eat?

Swallows are insectivores, and they catch insects in mid air with wide-gaped bills and expert flight. They also drink mid flight, scooping their bills across the surface of the water as they fly.

How to identify a swallow

Swallows have glossy, almost metallic backs (in green or blue), with red throats and long distinctive tails. The shape of the long tails indicates status – the females are likelier to go for males with more symmetrical tails.

What does a swallow sound like?

You’ll also hear a swallow coming by the sound of its call – a short, high-pitched warble. Click the link below to hear it for yourself!

click here to listen

Swallow bird nest habits

Recent wildlife studies found that 44% of swallow pairs reoccupy the same nests upon return. This phenomenon, impressive when you consider the distance between Africa and the UK, is called philopatry (or simply ‘nest-faithfulness’).

Swallow facts

Before we leave you, here are some fascinating facts about swallows.

  1. Open-fronted buildings (barns, stables, and cowsheds mostly) are firm nesting favourites for swallows.
  2. It takes a pair of swallows around 1,200 journeys to build a nest, and it’s up to the females to line the nest.
  3. The biggest swallow numbers are found in Poland and Bulgaria. There is an estimated 1million in the UK, which puts us eleventh worldwide swallow populations.
  4. Wildlife experts think that swallows were likely rarer before the age of agriculture.
  5. Male and female swallows are almost identical in appearance.
  6. Before migrational habits were researched and understood, the world believed that swallows spent the winters buried in the mud of ponds and lakes.

There you have it! If you’re ever unsure about what you should be feeding the swallows that might frequent your back garden, you can’t go wrong with sunflower seeds for birds. We’ve also got a helpful guide that should help you out, ‘Choosing the Right Bird Food’.


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