RSPB Frampton Marsh visitor services officer Dr Chris Andrews’ latest column for The Standard...
If you want a good sign that spring is here, you really can’t beat the swallow. Elegant little birds, they have dark blue backs, white tummies, red faces and long streamers on deeply forked tails. At this time of year they are returning from their wintering grounds further south, and setting up their nests under the eaves of Lincolnshire buildings.
Tiny little birds, each year they migrate all the way down to South Africa and back again, a truly remarkable feat.
Of course, one swallow doesn’t make a summer. This saying means that initial hints don’t always lead to the true answer. A few swallows always like to push the envelope a bit, and try returning earlier than most. If spring is early, they have stolen a march on their rivals and can grab all the best places to nest. But it is a high risk strategy. Sometimes they arrive when there is still bad weather, and come a cropper. Hence, even after seeing your first swallow there might be bad weather, and so it is too early to declare summer has properly arrived.
With such a long distance to travel, swallows face many perils along the way. Predators, droughts, bad weather, being shot at... It seems a miracle that any survive. But survive they do, and it is wonderful to see them back. Some people might not like the mess that can occur underneath a swallow’s nest, but a strategically placed wooden board will catch any droppings or bits of mud. Remember; no matter if they are being a bit messy, it is a criminal offence to deliberately destroy any birds nest whilst it is in use. And this includes whilst it is being built.
So please don’t ruin all their hard work, and knock down their charming houses, made from beakfuls of mud that are turned almost into little bricks.
Mind you, I always think one of the best things about swallows is their aerobatics. True masters of the skies, they swoop over the fields catching flies and other insects in the air. Pretty nippy too. You may have heard the question “What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” from a certain Monty Python film. Well, it has been shown they are no slouches, clocking up 24 miles per hour!
So lets hear it for the swallows, the heralds of warmer weather ahead (assuming there is more than one, of course).