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The swallow (also known as barn swallow), or scientific name Hirundo rustica in Latin, is one of the 20 most common garden birds found in Europe. They are migratory birds that inhabit rural areas as well as urban ones. They can be found living in abandoned and open-fronted buildings, on fences, under bridges, and on street signs.

This article will explain how to identify this bird: appearances, feeding, and behaviour as well as how they make their homes by choosing suitable areas for a nesting site. The article also includes several swallow images so you can get an idea of what they look like in their natural environment too.

How To Identify a Swallow

Swallow (Hirundo Rustica)
The swallow (Hirundo rustica) sits on a wire

Barn swallows have short, forked tails and can be differentiated from true flycatchers by their long, pointed wings. They are small birds with brown upper parts, red throats, and whitish throat patches forming a W-shape on each side of the head. The wings are brown with two white bars. The breast is light brown, fading into white underneath.

The barn swallow has a stocky body. The head of this bird species features a black beak that extends forward to be big enough to swallow small animals whole.

The swallow’s low weight gives it an advantage over other bird species because each bird can carry up to three times as many insects as any other type of bird on average. The swallow length is generally up to 23 cm long.

What Do Swallows Eat?

Barn swallow in flight with blue skies in the background
Barn swallow in flight

Swallows are insectivores, meaning they mostly eat insects. Those insects usually come from plants such as berries or nuts. They also live on insects that are found on leaves, reed beds, flowers or fruits. They mainly feed on fruit flies but also consume moths and butterflies when available.

Additionally, this bird will feed on the wing, catching flying insects in flight and then using its beak to smash them against the ground. Swallows feed on the bits with their feet and consume them right away. Its mouth is very big, so it can engulf large amounts of food in a short period of time without chewing it up.

Swallow birds will also hunt their prey during migration across the land when they reach a spot where their food source is abundant, such as catching insects lying on leaves or fruit fallen from trees.

Swallow Bird Nest Habits

Nest of swallows

Swallow birds build their nest in open spaces in trees, on rooftops, bridges and other parts of buildings. They also love to make their nests in man-made structures such as car parks, railway stations, service stations and airports.

The nest is made up of a bowl-shaped depression which the bird uses as its base. As for materials, the nest site is primarily made of dried grass and twigs.

They line their nest with mud pellets and small sticks so they can add more material when it’s time for them to build a new nest. Most swallows will reuse their previous nest if necessary.

When Do Swallows Nest?

Swallow birds (Hirundo rustica) usually start nesting from March until September in most cases because they lay eggs in the following month.

When the eggs hatch in May, they will stay in their nests until they’re old enough to fly. The male and female swallows will continue to care for their young after they are born and feed them worms, insects and other small animals as well as offer them water.

Swallow Bird Eggs

Barn Swallow feeds juvenile swallow

An average swallow lays between 3 and 6 eggs per nest. The average weight of swallow eggs is about 17 grams. They are creamy-white with tiny brown spots that have light brown or black ring lines around them that makes the egg look very colourful.

These eggs are incubated for around 17 days by both the parent birds. During incubation, female swallows do all of the work while male swallows stand guard and fly off if they get a call from the other parent bird if he thinks something is wrong.

Swallow Migration

Barn swallow feeding juvenile swallows sitting on the ground

Swallows are summer visitors to the UK. In fact, they are long-distance travellers with some fairly impressive migration routes. In early September, British swallows migrate down from the UK through western France and eastern Spain before ending up in Morocco. They then cross the Sahara Desert down into their wintering grounds of South Africa. This return flight from the UK to Africa takes about six weeks in total.

Swallows and Folklore

  • Swallows are often seen as symbols of happiness, innocence and purity.
  • The swallow image is often used in flags, languages, churches and other places without distinction.
  • The Ancient Greeks had a custom of keeping swallows in their homes as living decorations, and they were also used to represent guardian deities.
  • Swallow’s are often seen as signs of divine protection, and the Chinese believe that swallows were originally born from the tears of gods.
  • They are furthermore commonly seen on coins, seals and other customs in China where the swallow represents good fortune and longevity because it symbolizes longevity in Chinese culture – for example, when a Chinese man gives up smoking so that he can live longer.
  • In Spain and France, swallows are often used for weddings. A swallow is incorporated into wedding customs even today because it was believed to bring good luck to the family that raised it.
  • The swallow represents birth, and the swallow’s clock charm is widely used as a symbol of luck in England since the 1500’s when it was given out to babies born at midnight.
  • They are also said to be a good omen of love and marriage.
  • Many cultures in Africa believe feeding swallows is good luck.

Sources and References

  1. Swallow Identification – allaboutbirds.org
  2. Barn Swallow Hirundo Rustica – audubon.org
  3. Lore Of The Swallow – thimsternisse.com

1 thought on “Swallow (Hirundo Rustica)”

  1. In 2002 I had around 27 nests in my barn in south west france plus more in other buildings, the swallows seemed to have two or three broods per summer, now I have only three nests , and the second brood seem to be abandoned and chicks dying off, I have noticed a huge decline in the numbers around my area, can anyone say why? Thanks in advance, Ron

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